Seattle Art Fair with Lv De’an 吕德安

Lv De'an at Seattle Art Fair

At Seattle Art Fair in front of work “No. 16193” by Wei Jia (韦佳).

A few days ago with Lv De’an at Seattle Art Fair. I find it great to visit such events with artists as they tend to have a different approach to looking at things. Firstly — and this is a bit of a generalization — they move either very quickly, or very slowly. In one case, a 1956 Sam Francis canvas “Composition,” we had to pass by a number of times:


In other cases, he just walks right by, as in the following rather (I thought) intriguing work by Lin Yan (林延) entitled “Brighter Clouds #1 (2008):




All in all, it seems Lv felt the Fair was overly commercialized, which is to say targeted at people who don’t want to be too challenged by what they purchase (even if, or is that particularly if, they put a few hundred thousand towards the purchase). This apparently was strategic on the part of gallerists represented at the event, as this year has been reported to be Seattle Art Fair’s most successful iteration–its third year running. And this is not to say that some of the more decorative works did not also serve to capture our full attention, as in Jaume Plensa’s well-known “Chloe in Barcelona” (2014), a pleasing but powerful work:


On my side, and following mostly the Chinese artists represented in the show, I was most impressed by works by Wang Tiande (王天德), Houshan Revolve, 2016. Though this kind of xuan paper, palimpsest is certainly nothing new, his texture is so rich I found myself flat out captivated:



Now really looking forward to next year, by which time I expect the event will only be stronger, if perhaps no less commercially oriented. Hope I can drag Lv along again.




Trip to Sichuan Fine Art Institute 四川美术学院



Just back from a trip to Sichuan, and places I’d long wanted to visit but never before had quite the chance.

Among them, the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute (SFAI). With Zhong Biao (钟飙) as host, I found the campus to be among the most impressive I’ve ever seen.


To begin with, I note the emergence of trend towards revival of the ancient which has been underway for a while now, and which in any event in China is of course nothing new. Here though, its rebuttal to the build-at-any-price spate of projects great and small across China seems unusually resonate. This may be because the location of the SFAI campus, was newly situated (2005) and personally selected by Luo Zhongli 罗中立, famed figure in the history of contemporary Chinese art if for nothing more than his “Father” 父亲 painting of 1980. Under his leadership the campus was relocated to its current location in Huxi (near Chongqing, itself another wonder of this trip), and he also supervised overall design that plays on the old new theme constantly throughout, whether it be calculated distribution of ancient and blended with imitation ancient artifacts from China past–walls, gates, even footings for temple complexes that are never actually built. The overall effect is a thorough dismantling of any glorification of the old while at the same time celebrating delicate beauty of just that.


The campus’s wonders reside not so much in the art works distributed about the grounds (not to mention in the buildings themselves), a feature of any art campus of course, but in the incredible integration of the built with the natural environment, something difficult to imagine in other hallowed settings such as the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing or even the Chinese Academy of Fine Art in Hangzhou.


The architecture, particularly the Main Library building (Tanghua Architects and Associates, 2009), is also impressive and yet more impressively or satisfyingly situated in its environment

The main feature of the campus appropriately is the central museum, which boasts the world’s largest mural (no idea if that’s a fact, but its fun to repeat anyway), a work created of reclaimed tile fragments by faculty and students that covers not only a good portion of outward facade, but also some interior walls as well, as this courtyard shot which is a typical blend of contemporary art installation and ancient ruin rolled into one.





And all this before one even gets to the art, which is another subject altogether.

Ekphrastic Assimilations, Rick Barot on Lv De’an 吕德安



In the coming weeks I will be previewing some of the work which will be exhibited in conjunction with the  Ekphrastic Assimilations — or ecphrastic, as some would prefer — project, an exhibition at the VALA art center in Redmond, WA and symposium discussion of word-image aesthetics in China and beyond jointly held by the Seattle Asian Art Museum and Pacific Lutheran University. Here, the first instance of such an exchange to be featured on this blog, namely the poem “The Grey Painting” (2016) by my colleague Rick Barot written in response to the painting “Fugue” (2014), which is below. Its important to observe that Rick did not have the title when he wrote the poem, as the titles from all of the images have been withheld so as not to complicate the poets’ responses to the images as visual, rather than verbal, expression.

At the risk of directing, or just polluting the reading process, either of the image or of Rick’s fine poem, I will just add that what fascinates me at the moment at least about reading words and images together is the question of proximity, here expressed in Rick’s line:


You are near or you are far,

depending on the accuracy of the words I have chosen.


The “you” here can be the image for which the poem is composed, or of course any other you. The problem of being apart from that “other” is in a sense the same, a longing or even a curiosity, and often an experience startlingly deep precisely for its very remoteness, like “…the plant /  that you brush by in the dark of your / own house.” Words reaching across to an image are to my mind much like neurological events occurring in different parts of the brain. They are aware of one another in a sense, but still and forever distinct.







by Rick Barot

I may be looking at the gray painting

that is now in front of me, but it is you I am addressing.

You are near or you are far,

depending on the accuracy of the words I have chosen.

When my teacher told me to use this

instead of the, she was talking about the range between

the intimate and the conventional. The gray painting

is radiant, but it is a melancholy radiance.

To describe it only seems to lean away

from what I intend. Maybe, then, touch is a better way

of explaining the pleasure of that

encounter: the surprise and familiarity of the plant

that you brush past in the dark of your

own house. Or maybe the always-new logic of a dream

is closer to the truth: the falling that takes place

in a place where there is no ground. The gray painting

is there for me, a parcel with its warren

of successful rooms. One door opening to foggy roses.

Another one opening to a dawn that is the color of tea.

Surely there will always be new language

to tell you who I am, imagination rousing

out of idleness into urgency, reaching now towards you.

I keep remembering my teacher and she is an image

of joy, the small and wordless music

of her silver bangles. This over the.

One of the rules for writing the poems of a lonely person.

Li Hongtao 李洪涛

Hong_Tao_Li_Untitled_2008_30x25 htli_76248_1



below is a short essay written as part of my work on abstraction in Chinese art and poetry

also in Chinese:

Abstract Healing of Li Hongtao

Li Hongtao was born in Dalian, China in 1947. He was not trained as an artist, having instead studied engineering, a career interrupted by personal tragedy–the loss of his father at a young age–and the collective catastrophe of the Cultural Revolution. After a brief engagement with culinary studies, Li took up visual art, a realm in which he is entirely self-taught. Nonetheless, in recent years he has established himself in major art networks, with solo exhibitions in Carlos Hall at the Louvre and the United Nations both in 2013, and numerous galleries and art institutions around the world.

Li’s paintings occasionally depict landscapes and other figures of usually natural rather than man-made origin, but by and large his work is done in a non-representational or abstract style. Though China certainly has a robust painting tradition stretching back centuries, and even a modern painting tradition based upon exogenous European examples from the 19th through 20th-centuries, the origins for abstract painting such as that produced by Li Hongtao are not in painting at all but in writing. This is because on a basic level the foundations of the Chinese writing system were at heart abstract, or better put, manifestations of “that which is of itself thus,” a paraphrase of the Chinese word “ziran” 自然 meaning nature. Chinese abstract art is by its very nature in line influential art critic Clement Greenberg’s view:

The avant-garde poet or artist tries in effect to imitate God by creating something valid solely on its own terms, in the way nature itself is valid, in the way a landscape–not its picture–is aesthetically valid; something given, increate, independent of meanings, similars or originals. Content is to be dissolved so completely into form that the work of art or literature cannot be reduced in whole or in part to anything not itself. (Art and Culture, Boston: Beacon, 1961: 6).

The Chinese writing system is derived, near as one can determine, from natural forms (li 理, or wenli 文理), patterns in bamboo leaves, landscapes, bird tracks or any other naturally occurring phenomena — all that is “aesthetically valid,” in Greenberg’s words, in and of itself. The hieroglyphic or pictographic stage followed from there, and the full Chinese character-based writing system soon after. Nonetheless, the abstract origin of all Chinese writing is ever-present for the calligrapher or artist to exploit, returning the word to the mere image, an object of contemplation in and of itself. Such was the case, for instance, in the work of Zhang Xu 张旭, Tang dynasty calligrapher who famously drank himself to a state of total inebriation and then produced wild, illegible but unanimously celebrated calligraphy. As a backdrop to abstract expression in China, there exists a rich array of examples from literature and art, a tradition which is, ironically, no less modern than anything produced in the West in the past two or three centuries.

Beyond mere mentions of style, Li’s work is connected with traditional Chinese painting in uncommonly substantive ways. To begin with, he draws clearly from Chinese landscape traditions. Namely, his visual forms can be appreciated not simply for the two dimensional attributes of lines upon on the canvas, but instead for their three-dimensional penetration of the space through shading and intensity of color, again much the way calligraphy is at least as much about depth or degree of saturation of black and white as any given stroke or line. We don’t look at Li’s painting, we look into it. In so doing, though, we are engaged with the work in a fashion that is unlike regular artistic observation or appreciation. Li’s painting is a demonstration in traditional Chinese aesthetic terms not of a given “expression” of an artist, but indeed, of the artist himself, his person, even his moral or spiritual being, a form of the ancient Chinese adage that “writing is the delineation of the mind” 书心画也 (attributed to Yang Xiong 杨雄–53–18ce).

But Li’s work is alternatively known as “energy painting,” something which takes us deeper in to his work still, and where he transcends the East-West and perhaps even figurative-abstract divides altogether. With his particular ability to draw from the power of color, Li himself sees his work not only as something which pleases, or even challenges his viewers. His goals as an artist are even more ambitious that then. He takes the interaction with his paintings as a form of reclaiming essential balance, a kind of cosmic order which, rather than remote and spiritual, from the Chinese view of health and wellness is simply a function of the flow of energy through the universe. This flow pervades the five elements of the natural world just as it does the vital organs of the human body, a material realm enlivened by qi 气, a primordial power or energy which travels the meridians in the human body (along with all other living beings), flowing either freely or with obstruction depending on the degree of health in a given organism. The viewer’s interaction with Li’s painting activates and stimulates this flow, images that can be not only seen but actually felt in the viewer’s body.

Li Hongtao’s painting is the kind of aesthetic accord which demonstrates that fully individual, even iconic work can flow seemingly effortlessly from two sources at once– a rich and ancient aesthetic tradition in China, a more recent, assertive avant-garde practice in the West. However, while looking at Li’s work none of these origin stories really matter much. The painting speaks for itself, louder than words could ever manage.




launching Ekphrastic Assimilations 同画项目

Post-industrial Society has Arrived

I’m taking this moment, after a few months reprieve from work on this blog, to announce the launch of the Ekphrastic Assimilations project. This will involve an exhibition, held at the VALA arts center in Redmond, WA and in conjunction with Ryan James Fine Arts in Kirkland, WA from September 15 through early November, as well as an academic conference to be held jointly by Pacific Lutheran University and the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

Please visit the website to learn more about the project, or check back here, where I will now be posting EA-related updates and information.