Since the early 1960s, Liu Kuo-sung (Liu Guosong) has pioneered modern ink painting through his innovative use of ink, water and paper. Liu has been dubbed the 'Father of Contemporary Ink Painting' for his contributions to the modernisation of Chinese traditional ink painting.Read More
Recurring subjects in Liu's monumental paintings include abstracted landscapes and celestial bodies, typically painted with ink and colour on paper.
Born in 1932 in Anhui Province, China, Liu graduated with a BA from National Taiwan Normal University in 1956. Although trained in traditional ink painting and calligraphy, the artist was dissatisfied with the university's rigid adherence to traditions and sought to revolutionise them by founding the Fifth Moon Group with his classmates Kuo Tong-Jong, Kuo Yu-Lun and Li Fang-Chih, among others.
An influential pioneer of modern art in Taiwan, the Fifth Moon Group emphasised freedom of subject matter and hybridised the conventions of Chinese ink painting and calligraphy with elements of modern Western painting.
Liu worked, for a period, with oil paints, but returned to ink in 1961 to develop his own vision of modern ink painting. This began with his experimental use of ink as seen in his 'Calligraphic Abstraction Series', in which the artist employs rough, majestic calligraphic strokes with an excess of white to create an effect reminiscent of turbulent waters or mountainous terrains.
As Stephanie Bailey writes, covering the artist's retrospective in 2023: 'Dance of the Black Ink, created in 1963, represents a rediscovery of ink's capacity for expression. A thick, black brushstroke ripples from the left side of the paper like a filament, until a staccato pause is marked by a short gap where the brush was lifted.'
Liu also went on to devise new techniques. His 'Water Rubbing Series', made since the early 1970s, involves the artist splashing ink and pigments onto the surface of water and transferring the patterns of colours onto a piece of paper. Mesmerising waves range from green to black in Peaks in Contemplation (1975), while the textured layers of grey in White Snow is White (1982) evoke hard rocks or snow.
Liu is perhaps best known for his peeling process, in which he pulls fibres from the surface of paper. When coated with black ink or colour, this process creates a network of white, vein-like tributaries unseen in traditional ink paintings. Exemplary works made with the peeling method include Snow Falls and Summit: Tibet Series No. 48 (both 2003) that belong to his series of Tibetan mountains from the 1980s onwards.
Since the late 1960s, hugely impressed by the Apollo 8 Mission of 1968, Liu has created paintings depicting celestial bodies. In the 'Space Series', the artist typically depicts an orb or a series of orbs in opaque colour that contrasts with the more textured landscapes or horizons below. Liu also employs collages in his space paintings, such as his incorporation of the famous photograph of Buzz Aldrin on the moon which he included in his horizontal painting Moon Walk (1969).
Liu was recognised as an artist early on in his career, receiving a Rockefeller grant in 1966 and being listed in Taiwan's 'Ten Outstanding Young Men' in 1968. In 1970, his solo exhibition Paintings of Liu Kuo-Sung toured Germany, and an exhibition at the National Museum of China in 1983 was followed by a major travelling exhibition across mainland China.
Liu also taught internationally, serving as the chairman of the Fine Arts Department of Chinese University of Hong Kong; chair professor at the National Taiwan Normal University and Nanjing Normal University School of Fine Arts; and director of the academy of Contemporary Ink Art at Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts. In 2016, he was awarded Foreign Honorary Member by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and Honorary Member for China Federation of Literary and Art Circles.
Liu Kuo-sung has presented his work widely in solo and group exhibitions.
Solo exhibitions include: To the Moon: Liu Kuo-Sung, Kaohsiung Museum oF Fine Arts (2019–2020); Retrospective of Liu Kuo-Sung's Works of Art, Shandong Museum, China (2017); Echo of the Universe – Ink Art of Liu Kuo-Sung, China Art Museum, Shanghai (2016).
In 2015, Liu's retrospective Revolution/Renaissance – The Art of Liu Kuo-Sung, travelled to the Museum of Contemporary Art MoCA Loewen, Singapore; National Art Gallery Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; National Museum of History, Taipei; and National Museum of Jakarta, Indonesia.
Group exhibitions include: Cai Jin, Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong (2021); Garden of Six Seasons, ParaSite, Hong Kong (2020); The Weight of Lightness: Ink Art at M+, M+ Pavilion, Hong Kong (2018); From China to Taiwan: Pioneers of Abstraction, Museum of Ixelles, Brussels (2017); The Fifth Moon, Galerie du Monde, Hong Kong (2016).
Liu Kuo-sung's website can be found here.