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Johnson Chang on Leung Kui Ting

Anna Dickie
6 November 2017

Born in Guangzhou in 1945, Leung Kui Ting moved to Hong Kong as a child and has gone on to have a marked influence on the city's art scene. Although originally a carpenter, Leung studied painting under Lui Shou Kwan and graduated from The Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he studied design under Wucius Wong. Today, he continues as a lecturer at Hong Kong Polytechnic and is the Director of the Hong Kong Chingying Institute of Visual Arts, as well as the Honorary Advisor to the Leisure and Cultural Service Department, Hong Kong. But it is perhaps in his artistic practice, where he has had the most influence.

Leung Kui Ting. Courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery.

In the 1960s, Leung began to experiment with painting through an integration of both Western and Chinese theory, looking to develop his own language. He also subsequently began to explore different materials and styles, integrating this with ideas surrounding Chinese philosophy, whereby 'geometric construction is the bone (骨) material is the flesh (肉), and texture is the spirit (神)'. In the 1970s and 1980s, Leung travelled extensively before eventually returning to Hong Kong to focus on Chinese ink painting and the creation of his own particular approach to landscape art which built upon his earlier years of extensive experimentation and study.

In this interview with Johnson Chang discusses Leung's practice noting how 'the contemporary becomes organically infused with the traditional'.

Leung Kui Ting, Landscape and Transformation: Untrammelled Vision No. 1 (2013). Ink & colour on bamboo paper, 178 x 120 cm. Courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery.

Leung is known to experiment with many different styles that combine classical ink painting with modern art concerns. Are you able to discuss this?

Leung Kui Ting's works embrace a new, integrated narrative, where the contemporary becomes organically infused with the traditional. The broken ink-line that emerged as an important texture stroke in his art at this time is a symbol inspired by Chinese calligraphy but transformed into a new language. In his new compositions, he begins to create a new methodology to reflect a contemporary view. The combination can be seen in his 'Words from Stones' series. It emphasises the structural elements of the stone to create interior worlds that are both complex and strange, in some ways expressing the chaos and confusion of history, while his three-dimensional installations show a transition from two-dimensional pictorial space to three-dimensional space and towards constructing a pathway from illusion to reality.

Leung trained as a graphic designer and this appears to have influenced his work?

Leung's training in graphic design raised his awareness of the flatness of the painting surface. This awareness is made evident by the joint process of graphic dissection and freestyle brushwork. This issue of 'flatness' has been important for Western modern artists when challenging the illusionistic tradition of representational oil painting. It was particularly topical in the 1960s in America among practitioners of abstract art. For Chinese ink painters, the awareness of flatness was never an issue because representational illusion was never a dominant force. What this technique does bring to attention—when used by Hong Kong New Ink artists—is modern urban man's alienation from nature in the brave new world of virtual-real representation.

Leung Kui Ting, Stones No. 1 (2013). Ink on silk, 98 x 140 cm. Courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery.

The rocks, trees and mountains that have been the subject of the literati painters often feature in Leung's work. Can you discuss this focus in more detail?

Leung Kui-Ting's paintings constitute his answer to challenges faced by traditional landscape art in an era when nature is violated by massive human intervention and pollution. Leung uses contemporary technological visuality as a tool to re-engineer certain landscape painting genes, without diminishing landscape's fundamental qualities of spirit-resonance (qiyun) and integral grace (quwei). Leung's recent works speak to the fact that the geographical perspective of landscape art has already been modified through the imposed perspective of the ubiquitous monitor screens of global positioning. He brings the geometrical lines of scientific survey and of monitor screens into his paintings, and incorporates the grid-line as the basis of his texture strokes (cunfa). Cunfa is the technical foundation of traditional landscape—the gene of its mountains and rockery. A renovation of cunfa is nothing short of a radical remake of Chinese landscape art.

Leung's work features in The Weight of Lightness: Ink Art (13 October 2017at M+—the museum's first presentation of ink art. Can you discuss his work in the context of this exhibition?

The major museum exhibition, The Weight of Lightness: Ink Art at M+ in Hong Kong, features an early work by Leung Kui Ting that demonstrates his experiments with the material and language of Chinese ink landscape painting, as well as his repositioning of perspective. Since then, Leung has developed a new method of spatial juxtaposition and of interfering with the traditional methods of texture strokes (cunfa) in mountain landscapes (shanshui).–[O]

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