As a pioneering female artist in Chinese contemporary art, Liang Ying was one of the earliest group of artists who studied in Germany in the 1980s. She is also one of the first established Chinese artists who forgo oil painting to focus on ink painting. Whether it is her early series “Diary Liang Ying,” which depicted modern women in urban settings, or her recent series “Immortals and Legends,” Liang Ying has always innovatively combined the compositional elements and contents of German Neo-Expressionism with the brushwork and subject matters of traditional Chinese Painting, transforming them into myriad phenomenal artworks. In these works, she merges concepts, narrative, and painterly expression in one entity. Like many Chinese artists in the 20th century, Liang Ying devotes herself to exploring the possibility of ink painting, hoping to prove to the world that ink painting is still a vital component of today’s contemporary art world.
Early on in Liang Ying’s career, the influence of her parents was akin to a path she vehemently tried to avoid. It was until much later, when she was able to obtain a better understanding of different cultures and techniques, that she could truly grasp her own “family teaching,” which is the perennial ever-evolving, all-encompassing Chinese artistic tradition shared by every Chinese artist across time. Calligraphy, literati painting, popular literature, woodblock prints from the Ming and Qing Dynasties, Dunhuang murals, or even Pingshu/ 评书 (traditional Chinese storytelling), and TV shows inspire her works. She has constructed a spellbinding universe by depicting a plethora of subjects, including immortals and monsters from mythologies, heroic figures, dolls, or fauna and flora.
This solo exhibition at the Long Museum showcases her latest endeavor in painting. Drawing from her vast, fantastic repertoire, this time she has shifted her focus on the flower as an artistic subject, presenting some thirty works which include Prosperous Blossoms, New Year’s Offering, Yellow Flowers and Blue Leaves, Shattered Shadow and Floating Gleam, Green and Black, Looking at Flowers in the Lotus Garden, Shooting Ducks by the Fish Pond, and Fish Amusing Themselves, among others. In these works, Liang Ying employs her mature expressionist brushwork to reinterpret the classic floral patterns in traditional Chinese paintings, Nianhua/年画 (New Year Pictures), and woodblock prints. Fusing concept and technique, she has painted us an impressive visual diorama that converges history, legend, metaphor, and imagination, fabricating a “world of fantasy.”
Among the exhibited works, the seven-paneled Prosperous Blossoms is particularly imposing. “Hua Kai Fu Gui/花开富贵” (blooming flower brings prosperity) is a classic subject in traditional Chinese painting, symbolizing a fulfilling, wealthy, and virtuous life. It often appears in modern Chinese paintings and Nianhua, which can also be found in the collection of Yan Huang Art Museum. Drawing inspiration from the classic subject, and diverging from the panoramic layout and even-numbered panel system of traditional painting, Liang Ying zoomed in on the detail parts of her subjects and rendered it with Goutian/勾填 (Outlining and Filling) technique on seven sheets of large-scale rice papers. Transitioning from intense and unrestrained to light and elegant, the tonal tension of this work reminds one of the seven notes. The transition hints at the artist’s yearning for a renewing normality and retrieving our joy of life.
“Wealth and fortune always smile upon the virtuous family,” as the Chinese saying goes. Although the global pandemic has plunged the world into chaos, the recovery process from it somehow also bears witness to the beauty of humanity and life and the value of intimacy. On the other hand, with the rapid development of the internet and artificial intelligence, the roles of mankind and family and how art can be utilized as a constructive force to our society beg a question of great significance under the context of an era in which all sorts of information are intertwined.
I think it is in this sense that Liang Ying’s recent works in this exhibition transcend image and subject matter. In the Chinese artistic tradition, the flower is one of the major themes alongside mountain-water and figure painting. Under the relentless artistic exploration by generations of artists, it has transformed into a rich aesthetic system and tradition, an important element of the intimate relationship in the “family” of the Chinese artistic tradition.
Liang Ying’s task is a continuation of such aesthetic tradition and intimate relationship. Her brilliant expression wraps us into a world created by her. The compositions of these works are both classical and novel, intense yet refreshing, heroic but delicate, supplying us viewers with both sensation and pleasure. By looking at these images, we should have a better sense of where we are from, where we are going, and who we are.