In celebration of Singapore’s 48th National Day, The Private Museum presents Hong Zhu An: The Limitless Void, a solo exhibition by internationally-renowned Singapore-based artist, Hong Zhu An. This selection of paintings presents Hong at his prime: an accumulation of his training in China and his experience of living in Australia, and eventually settling in Singapore, where he has lived in for almost 20 years. Hong’s primordial source of inspiration stems from the concept of Wuji (无极), the limitless void, from the I-Ching (易经), Book of Changes. The suggestion of both stillness and movement, Yin and Yang, is a balance of contrasts, which Hong gives prominence to in his work. The highlight of this most recent body of work is the predominantly Black & White paintings, as well as the use of calligraphy, a return to Hong’s original source of inspiration. The calm and peaceful paintings bring the viewer a step closer towards a meditative state of mind.
Hong Zhu An is a Singapore-based artist originally from Shanghai, China. Hong has a background in both traditional Chinese and Western art forms. Having begun his artistic endeavours in Shanghai, China, Hong went on to further pursue his profession as a full time artist in Sydney, Australia (1989-1993) and then Singapore (1993-present). His accolades include the ‘UOB Painting of the Year Award’ (1994) and ‘The Best 100, The National Ink Painting Competition, China’ (1988). Hong’s works are also part of collections of major institutions such as the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Princeton University Art Museum, and Singapore Art Museum.
|1998-2001||Ph.D. in Research Fine Art, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore|
|1997||Master of Arts, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia. At LaSalle-SIA College of the Arts, Singapore|
|1989-1993||Full-time Artist in Sydney, Australia|
|1982-1983||Studied under Professor Huang Wei Yi in the Sichuan Art Academy, China|
|1976-1989||Assistant Lecturer at the Shanghai Art & Craft Institute, China|
|1973-1976||Trained at the Shanghai Art & Craft Institute, ChinaStudied under famous art scholar Wang Zidou|
|2012||Hong Zhu An: Ascetic Serenity, Singapore Tyler Print Institute, Singapore|
|2011||Hong Zhu An, Ode To Art, Singapore|
|2009||Hong Zhu An: Intrepid Heart, Naked Soul, Valentine Willie Fine Art, Singapore|
|2008||Reflections on a Long Journey, Plum Blossoms Gallery, Hong Kong|
|2006||A Deep Breath of Life, Art 2 Gallery, SingaporeNew Exuberance, Plum Blossoms Gallery, Hong KongTen Years of Painting (1996 – 2006), Paintings for Sale by Silent Auction, YADDO Art, Windsor Ballroom, The Goodwood Park Hotel, Singapore|
|2005||New Directions, Plum Blossoms Gallery, Hong KongBali Escapade –Recent Paintings by Hong Zhu An, iPreciation Pte Ltd, Singapore|
|2004||Going Forward, Plum Blossoms Gallery, New York, USA|
|2003||A Long Journey, Plum Blossoms Gallery, Hong KongFluid Transitions, The Esplanade, Singapore|
|2002||Ancient Hues, Plum Blossoms Gallery, New York, USAAncient Hues, Featherstone Center for the Arts, Massachusetts, USA|
|2001||The Color of Memory, Plum Blossoms Gallery, New York, USAField of Virtue, Plum Blossoms Gallery, SingaporeField of Virtue, Plum Blossoms Gallery, Hong Kong|
|1997||RMIT Master of Arts Graduate Exhibition, LaSalle Gallery, LaSalle-SIA College of The Arts, Singapore|
|1996||The Essence of Art, Art Forum, Singapore|
|1995||UOB The Painting of the Year Winners Exhibition, UOB Plaza, SingaporeEast – West: Abstraction Meets Calligraphy, The Substation, Singapore|
|1987||Hong Zhu An – Exhibition, National Art Museum Shanghai, China|
|2006||The 5th International Ink Painting Biennial of Shenzhen, Shenzhen, China|
|2005||The Second Beijing International Art Biennale, Beijing, China|
|2004||Do a Book: Asian Artists Summer Project, Plum Blossoms Gallery, New York, USADouble Surface – Hong Zhu An & Takayo Seto, Plum Blossom Gallery, New York, USA The International Asian Art Fair, New York, USA, organized by Plum Blossoms Gallery, New York, USA|
|2003||The International Asian Art Fair, New York, USA, organized by Plum Blossoms Gallery, New York, USA|
|2002||The Singapore Art, Plum Blossoms Gallery, New York, USAThe International Asian Art Fair, New York, USA, organized by Plum Blossoms Gallery, Hong Kong|
|2000||The International Asian Art Fair, New York, USA, organized by Plum Blossoms Gallery, Hong KongMelbourne Art Fair 2000, Australia, organized by Art Forum, Singapore|
|1999||The International Asian Art Fair, New York, USA, organized by Art Forum, SingaporeBeyond Tradition – Art of the New Migrant Chinese, Earl Lu Gallery, LaSalle-SIA College of the Arts, Singapore|
|1994||UOB Painting of the Year Grand Award, Singapore|
|1988||The Best 100, The National Ink Painting Competition, China|
Hong Zhu An and the Concrete Expression of a Peaceful Mind
by Britta Erickson
Some artists’ paintings work as a window into another world. Peering in, we experience another point of view, a different kind of space, an echo of the artist’s mind. Hong Zhu An’s paintings echo a mental state, but they have such a strong and decisive physical presence that instead of representing another world, or inviting a view into a separate space, they appear as objects—objects worthy of deep and extended consideration, many of them with the potential to lead the viewer into a contemplative or even meditative state of mind.
In its general outline, Hong Zhu An’s life story is similar to that of many diasporic Chinese artists: leaving behind a promising artistic career in China, he moved to the West where he spent many years as a struggling artist beset by language difficulties and relying at first on sketching portraits on the street to make a living. Eventually he achieved a degree of success, travelled, and developed a personal style showing the influence of broadened experience in both the art world and the world in general. Finally he arrived at a secure position of respect as an artist of note. In the particulars, however, Hong Zhu An’s life is quite different from most, following a unique geographical path and thus leading to a unique style that otherwise would not exist. While in the late 1980s many young Chinese artists emigrated to the United States or Europe, Hong is one of a relatively small number who went to Australia: he lived and studied there from 1989 to 1993. Feeling out of place, he eventually headed back to Shanghai, stopping by Singapore on the way. There his life changed in an instant: he entered a competition he learned about from a newspaper, and won, whereupon the Singapore government invited him to remain. For a while he taught at LaSalle-SIA College of Arts, but now he works as an independent artist.
Hong Zhu An’s paintings’ insistent physicality is the result of the creative process: the artist adds layer upon layer of paint to the paper, waiting to allow the layers to shrink and crack as they dry, producing a crackle effect that is highly distinctive and unique to Hong’s works. This reveals the layers underneath, resulting in complex and subtle colors and variations such as we find in nature, or in aged materials: the layered blues and greens, for example, bring to mind the patinas of ancient bronzes, and rusty reds and ochres are reminiscent of Chinese pottery. There are several important influences on Hong’s sensitivity to color. First, his youthful artistic education roots him in the Shanghai school, a painting movement born with the mid-nineteenth century explosive growth of that cosmopolitan city. Noted for their rich color juxtapositions, top Shanghai school painters were highly sophisticated colorists. Second, he was influenced both directly and indirectly by the earth-toned heavy color paintings (traditionally painted with earth) of Australian aboriginal people. In 2004 Hong visited Bali and was deeply impressed by the rich colors and dense forms of the landscape, landscape not so different from that of Singapore, but which had hitherto been of minimal interest to him. And finally, Hong Zhu An reads and looks, so that he has a familiarity with the span of Chinese art history and much of western art history, too. His diverse experience manifests itself in his art in other ways, too: the crackle of his paintings’ surfaces relates to the cracks in batik wax. And while it would be easy to link the thick presence of his paint to such twentieth century masters as Liu Guosong or Zhang Daqian, it more resembles that of Australian aboriginal painters.
In works like The Cold that Lingers and Layered Meaning, the deep blue-black is like deepest night, drawing in the gaze but yielding little. Below the darkness that pulls the gaze in is a layer of white that halts the viewer at the surface, like a dense fog clinging to the ground. The pull and push of dark and light extends also to nature and culture, as presented in the painting by the fathomless depths of the unknowable dark, and the written layer close to us—the latter something we control but that also can act as a boundary. The yin/yang duality is most obvious in Limitless Void, but the careful balance between the two is crucial to many of Hong’s recent paintings. Bosom Friend is almost evenly divided into black and white; the perfectly judged difference brings gentle harmony to the composition. Similarly, traditional Chinese landscape paintings often divide the composition with a judiciously placed horizon line. And many genres of Chinese painting have made use of minimalist forms that effectively divide the composition into carefully proportioned segments, as in almost all of Hong Zhu An’s paintings, including Telepathy I and II, Melancholy, and Spring Has Come. In the latter painting’s fish, we see the obvious influence of Bada Shanren, a late 18th century painter known for his ink paintings of fish and birds whose strange expressions reflected the artist’s estrangement from society. But Bada is not only a source for Hong’s fish: he also produced paintings powerful in their perfectly balanced simplicity.
Hong Zhu An was from a scholar family that ran the local school. He began learning calligraphy at age four and then as a youth studied under a master from the Xileng Yinshe (an important calligraphy society in Hangzhou) who impressed upon him the notion that to become a good artist, first one must excel at calligraphy. The calligraphy in Hong’s paintings is very understated: there is no bravura brushwork; instead, every line is elegantly placed, conceptually composed from an integrated series of dots that infuse the characters with quiet strength. The quiet strength radiates out, setting the tone for the paintings. It is not necessary to understand the calligraphy—which often relates the artist’s ideas on art, or is copied from ancient texts carved in stone (beitie)—to appreciate the paintings. The paintings exist as an expression of a peaceful mind, and a path leading others towards calm and quiet.
Note: Details of Hong Zhu An’s early life and career are drawn in part from Tan Hwee Koon, “Points of Existence,” Asian Art News (Sept-Oct 2006), pp. 98-103. Other information is based on an interview at the artist’s studio on 27 January 2013.
Dr Britta Erickson is an independent scholar and curator based in the United States. She is a Chinese ink specialist and had co-curated the 2007 Chengdu Biennial which focused on ink art.
Thursday 1 August 2013, 6.30pm
Saturday 3 August 2013, 3pm
Hong Zhu An – Beginning from a line – Lian He ZhaoBao – 2013
Hong Zhu An – Dreams on paper – The Business Times – 2013
Hong Zhu An – Dreams on paper II – The Business Times – 2013
Hong Zhu An – The Limitless Void – 8 Days – 2013