About EVERYTHING, anything, and nothing

A series of paintings created in the course of my ink painting studies in response to assigned subjects. 

Cut for whom to see?
《借“See”瓜 自勉》

This painting of watermelons is a reflection upon a discussion on the contemporary audience of Chinese ink artworks, and whether the audience would be able to appreciate the technical complications, since most people nowadays are unfamiliar with the workings of ink and brush on paper, unlike its traditional Chinese audiences of the past.

There are also the larger issues whether or not Chinese ink paintings, or even other types of paintings, are relevant to contemporary art, with the advent and prevalence of more convenient image making methods, such as photography, from the West.

These are questions posed by this work with the inscriptions on the painting “切给谁看” literally meaning “Cut for whom to see?” The blatant irony is implied in the way the verb “see” is used instead of “eat” which would have been obviously referring only to the subject of the painting. This manner of confounding the image of watermelon with the subject is in the vein of Rene Magritte’s The Treachery of Images.

The artists’ resolution of the inquiries is finally suggested by a small “idle seal” in the left side of the painting, which says “自强不息” meaning, “self-improvement without rest”, which concludes that the practice of painting, after all is for the sake of self-cultivation.

The work draws upon an inter-language word-play as watermelons are referred to as 西瓜, literally meaning “West melon”, and pronounced “xi gua”, of which the first character sounds like the English word “see”. The last character of the seal “自强不息” is also pronounced “xi”.

It was presented at Perceptions, Lim Hak Tai Gallery, NAFA from 25 Jan - 25 Feb 2018. 

A bit anyhow 凊彩淡薄》

This painting is premised upon a wordplay with “青菜” (pronounced qing cai and meaning green vegetables) sounding like the Hokkien phrase凊彩 (pronounced qin cai) which roughly means “anything goes”. “凊彩” is commonly translated into Chinese as “随便”, which is included to the inscription on the painting, “随便一点”, which roughly means, “take it easy a little” or “a bit anyhow” that is taken as the English title of the work. These terms do not have perfect equivalence in the languages, so the translation is rather imperfect, befitting to the playful, relaxed, and casual theme.

After all, the common vegetables are those that are very humble and mundane and do not call for severity. The rendering and placement of the subjects in the painting is also casual, for instance in their placement, being strewn across the paper. One is made to wonder if the inscriptions are referring to the subjects or the painting, or are actual appeals to the artist herself or the audience viewing the work to be forgiving of its imperfections.

The two “idle seals” included to the painting adds to the theme, one stating “无中生有” literally meaning “from nothing comes something”, referring to both the subjects being naturally grown from the earth and the painting itself having been born of the artist. The other “idle seal” states “舍得” roughly meaning “bearing to (let go of something)”.

This work was donated to NAFA for inclusion to the Huichun spring couplet fundraising event in 2018. For the Chinese, vegetables (especially the radish included in the painting) also invoke the auspicious connotation of 好彩头or “good omen” during the Lunar New Year period. The title “凊彩” also sounds alike the Chinese term “精彩” which means exciting, lending another favourable association for the work. The larger context of being donated also adds to the work’s concept of being about letting go and going with the flow.