Monday, 19 November 2012

East meets West - Contemporary Chinese Landscapes. Hong Ling @ Asia House.

The other day a friend invited me to Asia House for the first UK exhibition of works by Hong Ling, revered in China as the foremost contemporary landscape painter. What really excited me was that Xuefei Yang billed as "the world's finest classical guitarist" was to perform. After a decent speech by the organiser, Hong Ling took to the pulpit accompanied by his translator. He is Mr Miyagi's doppelgänger; an old sage who mastered his Pollock meets Turner craft by plucking flies from the air with paintbrushes. His elegant Chinese interpreter relayed his reasons for loving the UK (that we invented whisky and our ability to binge on it is one of the deepest cultural links between East and West) with unintentionally expert comic timing.

This segued neatly into Xuefei Yang's recital of traditional Chinese songs arranged for a traditionally western instrument. It was made clear that this was to be the theme of the night - between pieces she crowbarred in her thoughts on the East/West divide as evidenced in Hong Ling's splodgy landscapes. Throughout the performance I had the honour of standing near the back next to Hong Ling, the language barrier was a bit of a problem so we exchanged slightly awkward nods and bows in place of conversation.

As the performance concluded the crowd made its way to the basement to see the exhibition. He paints incredible landscapes - some brown, some white, some red - covering all the seasons. Its the abstract expressionist quality that makes them so original. Unlike an action painter where flow relegates precision, Hong Ling's technique gives deliberate intention to every speck of colour. A quote on the wall reads "The most singular contrast between Chinese and Western art is the difference in the source of inspiration, which is nature itself for the East and the female form for the West". Apparently Hong Ling was trained so that when painting a rock you must paint its inner feelings, making mountainsides a considerable mental effort. Do rocks dream of growing up, making pebbles and settling down somewhere pleasant? Probably not, but it's a charming thought adhered to by more than one whisky-sodden artist.

My personal highlight of the evening was when I complimented Xuefei Yang, 'the world's finest classical guitarist', she asked "Are you mixed race?"; "Well I'm half French..."; "But you look half Chinese!" 

In effect this summed up the evening, it was an East meets West diplomatic mission where the delegates were brought together and distracted by fine art, food and wine. Being told by the world's finest guitarist that I look half Chinese was a flattering, if slightly bizarre, peak in Anglo-Asian relations.

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1 comment:

  1. I love your blog! Sometimes acerbic, sometimes witty, always informative and entertaining, but never pretentious! Half Chinese!? Quite a compliment coming from a beautiful chinese lady on a guitar! Keep it up....