Tu Hongtao is a Chinese painter whose large-scale landscapes infuse the dynamism of Chinese calligraphy with post-war abstraction, drawing inspiration from both real and imagined environs to evoke a lyrical journey through space and time.Read More
Born in Chengdu in 1976, Tu Hongtao studied at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute before graduating from the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou. At the turn of the millennium the nation's economy was soaring and an attendant urbanisation was in motion. The artist migrated to Guangzhou and Chongqing, where he was sold clothings at a local market to support his artistic practice.
Tu Hongtao's early artworks observe densely crowded and anxiety-ridden metropolises whose homogenous landscapes provide a backdrop to the attenuated bodies of women in sexually suggestive poses, such as Chengdu, Tokyo or Shenzhen (2006). 'As an outsider, someone who had just landed in this community, I was completely overwhelmed,' Tu said in a 2015 interview with Christie's. 'These intense works produce a claustrophobic atmosphere where everything is for sale, even people.'
Tu Hongtao returned to Chengdu in 2008, settling in an artists' village near his hometown. The agricultural environment of his studio triggered an artistic transformation, resulting in a departure from his earlier Neo-Pop approach toward a deeper investigation into the histories of landscape painting. Tu's foundation in classical Chinese painting provided a basis from which to do so, bridging Chinese literati traditions of calligraphy with Western aesthetics.
'Western abstract art is based on [the] representation of the physical and then its deconstruction', the artist told Christie's. 'Chinese painting has always had an innate abstract sense. Traditional Chinese landscape paintings show this through their use of single lines and blank space.'
Tu Hongtao synthesised the influence of historical Chinese painters with the post-Modernist achievements of Cy Twombly, Brice Marden, and David Hockney. Similar to Hockney, Tu composes his landscapes from several photographs, often reworking sketches to create composite spaces in which multiple viewpoints convey the passing of time. In The Forgotten (2012), for example, trees, and water are suspended within ambiguous spaces and highly animated brushwork.
Tu has closely observed the narrative techniques of Jin Dynasty painters such as Gu Kaizhi (c. 345—406), whose Nymph of the Luo River provides the direct inspiration for Tu's Goddess of Luo River (2016—2018). Gu's horizontal scroll situates figures in isolated intervals to show a linear narrative unfolding, while Tu's contemporary vision offers moments of vivid colour and a fractured perspective that imbues the canvas with a durational quality.
Amy Weng | Ocula | 2020