Throughout history, ink art has been an integral part of artistic tradition throughout Asia, particularly in East Asia. The use of ink art has been rising in popularity in the past decades, with contemporary artists reshaping the medium by incorporating new formats, colors, different subject matters, elevating the style beyond its traditional origins.
In this article, The Artling has collected together 10 talented contemporary ink artists who are redefining the ancient art form.
Suisen Nakatani (b.1946) is a Japan-based calligrapher. The motifs of her artworks are Kokotsu-bun; the ancient Chinese hieroglyphic characters left on bones or tortoise carapaces and Kin-bun; those left on bronze vessels.
Suisen’s fluid forms with Sumi ink express a subtle intelligence and energetic resolve that maintain a correspondence with the art’s ancient practice even as they communicate contemporary energy and vital force. Suisen says she can feel a lot of energy from ancient characters that imply the meaning of life, nature, and people’s feeling in ancient times. Therefore, she is fascinated with ancient characters and practice calligraphy to affirm her life, including both the sadness and happiness of her experience.
Zhang Xioli was born in 1989 in Guizhou, China. She received the Ms. Chu Lam Yiu Scholarship and moved to Hong Kong in 2008 to pursue higher education at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where she received her BA with first honours in Fine Arts and Biology in 2014.
In her early series, Zhang’s works replaced elements in Chinese landscape painting – trees, mountains, rocks, and figures – with depictions of Lego bricks, as a contemporary way to create dialogues with tradition. In the “Boxed Landscape” series, Zhang presented surreal landscapes inside small containers, using the traditional style of Gongbi ink painting to depict memories and experiences. Particularly, her boxed landscape series correlates to the “subdivided flats” housing problem in Hong Kong, which the artist experienced while studying in Hong Kong. Her current series "Private Collection" is inspired by the concept of the Cabinets of Curiosities (Wunderkammer, 15-18th century), incorporating astronomy, physics, physiology, molecular biology, and even mathematical concepts. The small, boxed objects allow a window into the artist's imagination while expressing wisdom, poetry, and beauty.
Tay Bak Chiang is a Singaporean artist and graduated with a Diploma in Fine Arts from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in 1995. Tay reinterprets the painting convention of monumentality in his stone series that intersects the idea of the stone with history, Taoist philosophy, and nature. The motif of the stone as the exemplar of monumentality in Chinese ink painting traditions is deconstructed and laid bare as ruins for us to explore.
Nan Qi was born in Yongkang City, Zhejiang Province, China in 1960. Unlike most Chinese artists, he was trained as a painter not in an art school but in the army. He graduated from the Chinese painting course at People’s Liberation Army Fine Arts Academy, Beijing. In 1990, he traveled to England and France to study European art. He moved to Hong Kong in 1995 and had several international exhibitions in Tokyo, Singapore, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, and China before returning to Beijing in 2002.
Nan Qi also made oil and acrylic paintings but later decided to focus on ink. He is now considered by many throughout China and the world to be the master of ink dots. The constant evolution in his technique and narration makes him a singular artist whose use of ink is on par with 3D technology. Nan Qi’s work has been recognized and awarded in both China and abroad.
Oh Chai Hoo, an award-winning Singaporean artist, has carved out a reputation for making art that is quietly contemplative and timeless over the span of his 30-year career. His various series shows an artist with a deep passion for bringing to life his notions of establishing a balance in life, through exploring a wide range of mediums and styles as a means of achieving greater self-expression.
Cheriue Ka-wai Cheuk, born in 1989 in Hong Kong, obtained a BA in Fine Arts with first-class honours at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2012. She finished her MA in Fine Arts in CUHK in 2017, specializing in Chinese Gongbi painting.
Her compositions are often filled with symbols and memories, as well as subjects inspired by her personal experiences and emotions. Her practice also probes the development of Gongbi after it reached its peak in Northern Song Dynasty, attempting to rejuvenate this traditional Chinese art form in the contemporary world. By combing abstract and figurative painting, the artist searches for a new perspective in ink painting and simultaneously expresses her understanding and feelings towards the universe and life. She hopes to respond to Lui Shou-Kwan's personal philosophy as demonstrated by his Zen paintings; that sort of feeling for life force, calmly facing every variable, yet at the same time praising nature.
Based in Seoul, Daehyun Kim was trained in the traditional painting techniques of Korean Art and studied East Asian Art History, graduating with a BFA in Oriental Painting from the Hongik University. Daehyun’s Moonassi series has become his lifetime project. Kim’s skill in interweaving a contemporary narrative of poetry and philosophy with his strong foundation in traditional brush painting, creating a series of refreshing and insightful works.
Finding the balance between the traditional East Asian art with contemporary life has always been an key interest in his art explorations and he often drew insights and inspirations from his own life experiences, and his inner thoughts and feelings. The visual expressions of these inner reflections and the desire to share them with his audience sparked off the beginnings of his series of “Moonassi drawings” that he started since 2008. In Korean language, the words forming “Moonassi” primarily came from two characters “Moon” meaning emptiness or void, and “Na” meaning ego or the conscious “I”. Together, the word “Moonassi” represents an empty ego that has the limitless ability to contain anything and anyone’s mind.
Born in China 1977, Liu Xuan Qi graduated from University of Shanghai for Science and Technology press printing and Institute of art and design, in 1999. He moved to Singapore in 2006.
With his background as a graphic designer, he explores elements from traditional Chinese ink paintings, icons and imagery from eastern cultures and fuses them with contemporary design, merging the east and west. He adopted a different artistic expression by exploring the art with his personal style touch of traditional media and design element of eastern meet western culture.
Yeo Shih Yun is a full-time artist and is known to reinterpret the very act of ink painting with striking results. Her experimentations of fusing the traditional form with contemporary mediums like new media or performance art has garnered much acclaim.
Following her instincts about the fascinating medium, Yeo Shih Yun decided to explore ink painting further at the San Francisco Art Institute. Using a monochromatic palette and a range of different paintbrushes, she experimented with several techniques. The artist’s earliest works, perhaps unintentionally, showcase a captivating balance between the traditional method of Chinese Ink Painting and abstraction - the interplay of conventional and modern elements that broadly defines her body of works until today.
The cosmopolitan diaspora artist Lee Chun-yi (born Taiwan, 1965) moved to Hong Kong as a youth, pursued graduate studies in the United States, and returned to Taiwan to embark on an artistic career. With a revolutionary method departing from the conventional use of a paintbrush, Lee Chun-Yi employs calligraphy through the use of Chinese seals and ink rubbings. He carves Chinese characters into pieces of softwood to form chops, then stamps them repetitively on the paper to form a semi-photographic image. Literally building up a visual composition through words, his paintings function as symbolic poems, with the strength of the stamp indicating the intended tone of expression.
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