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15 Feb 2018 / by Lesley Ma

Ask an M+ Curator About Ink Art #3

Gallery space with a long, rectangular ink painting on the wall in the foreground with Chinese characters in black ink scrawled across it. Two other ink paintings can be seen on the surrounding walls.

Tong Yang-tze (Taiwanese, born China, 1942), Spirited, like a far-journeying steed; floating, like a duck on water, 2002, ink on paper. M+, Hong Kong. © Tong Yang-tze on display at ‘The Weight of Lightness’ 2017

Lesley Ma, Curator, Ink Art at M+, answers the last set of questions from visitors about The Weight of Lightness: Ink Art at M+

Throughout the exhibition The Weight of Lightness: Ink Art at M+, M+ opened up for questions. Curious visitors could ask Lesley Ma, anything about ink art and the works in the exhibition. Answers were then posted right here on M+ Stories. Welcome to the third, and final, post!

Read Lesley’s final answers below to find out what the Minguo calendar is, how many coins artist Ni Youyu used in Galaxy, and the real difference between ink and watercolour.

Long rectangular paper scroll with black ink marks and lines painted across it along a horizontal orientation, suggesting a musical notation or an abstract landscape.

Li Yuan-chia / 李元佳 (British, born China. 1929–1994), Untitled (detail), 1960, ink on paper. M+, Hong Kong. © Li Yuan-Chia Foundation

‘In Li Yuan-Chia's Untitled, why is the date of the signature 49/12/25 while the year on the description is 1960?’

Lesley: Li dated the piece using the Minguo calendar year, which counts 1912, the year of the founding of the Republic of China, as the first year, and is still used in Taiwan. Year forty-nine in the Minguo calendar is 1960.

‘What are the similarities and differences between using ink and watercolour?’

Lesley: The main difference in composition between watercolour and Chinese ink resides in the type of vehicle used to carry the pigment. In the case of watercolour, it is generally acacia gum, exuded from wounds in Acacia trees. For ‘ink’, which in the context of this exhibition mostly refers to Chinese and Japanese ink, it is soot and animal glue (fish glue is traditionally used in Chinese ink).

Ink can be water-based or oil-based, and can have colours depending on the pigments blended into the mix. Watercolour is a general term for water-based painting materials, but not limited to the traditional ink in East Asian cultures. Both ink and watercolour can be manipulated by thickness or density by diluting them to achieve the desired artistic effect. Their substrate is usually paper, which absorbs quickly. Both ink and watercolour can be applied through different levels of saturation, which is a characteristic unique for this medium.

(Lesley thanks Senior Conservator Christel Pesme for her insights in answering the above question)!

Multiple small round ink paintings on flattened coins are clustered together on a black surface. Each painting depicts a different singular, delicately painted image, ranging from people, landscapes, and animals.

Ni Youyu (Chinese, born 1984), Galaxy (detail), 2010–2011, acrylic on metal coins, single-channel video with sound. M+ Sigg Collection, Hong Kong. By donation. © Ni Youyu

‘Regarding Ni Youyu’s Galaxy: How long did he take to finish the artwork? How many coins did he use and from how many countries?’

Lesley: Ni Youyu spent approximately four years making this work. The version in the M+ Collection was first realised in 2010–2011, consisting of 300 coins. The coins are from various countries but the artist does not specify their origins. By pounding on, flattening, and polishing the coins, the markers of different nations are obscured. The coins are transformed into mere canvases for Ni and become part of the constellation in Galaxy. In this iteration at the M+ Pavilion, the artist installed around 275 coins, as he always adapts the work based on its setting.

Part of an ink painting on canvas with Chinese characters in black ink scrawled across it. The characters are painted with a mixture of sizes, thick and thin lines, in a messy style. Red seals can be seen to the far right of the scroll.

Installation view, Tong Yang-tze (Taiwanese, born China, 1942), Spirited, like a far-journeying steed; floating, like a duck on water, 2002, ink on paper. M+, Hong Kong. © Tong Yang-tze

'I’m interested in the seals on Tong Yang-Tze’s work—there are two seals right beside the first character of her work in the exhibition, Spirited, like a far-journeying steed; floating, like a duck on water. The seals contain poems by Tao Yuanming and Xin Qiji. Why are seals usually not considered part of ink art? Are they just traditional accessories in this art field? The scripts on seals come from calligraphy, and ink is an essential part of calligraphy.'

Lesley: I’d like to address the content of the seals in Tong Yang-Tze’s work, since you brought them up. The first seal on the top right of the first sheet of paper, next to the character ang, is zonglang dahua, which comes from poet Tao Yuanming’s (365–427) work that explains how one should not be affected by the ebbs and flows of the universe, but face the constant changes with a positive attitude. The second seal just below reads, wanshi youwei yinyoujin, cishen wuwo ziwuqiong, excerpted from a poem by Xin Qiji (1140–1207). It says, if one tries to assert oneself in all matters, the results may backfire; if one behaves with virtue and maintains a good reputation, then one can rise above the fray. These seals are meant to complement the content of the calligraphy, where Tong Yang-Tze quotes from Qu Yuan and aspires to be true to herself and maintain her integrity with pride, encouraging her viewers to do the same.

Water Ends, Clouds Rise - On Ink, Aesthetic, and Life
Water Ends, Clouds Rise - On Ink, Aesthetic, and Life

Leung Kui Ting, a major figure in Hong Kong ink art, and Liang Quan, a pioneer in abstract ink painting based in Shenzhen, discuss their outlook on ink, aesthetic, artmaking, and nature with curator Lesley Ma.

Video Transcript

Note: This is a raw transcription of an audio recording. Part of our mission is to release transcriptions as soon as possible, to improve access to M+ talks. Therefore—while we strive for accuracy—in some places, these transcriptions may be imperfect.

Languages: Mandarin unless denoted otherwise

LESLEY MA: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Lesley Ma, curator of Ink Art at M+. We're honoured to welcome you all on this Sunday afternoon to join us in a discussion on ink, aesthetics, and life, with Mr Liang and Mr Leung. For today's lecture, we will first invite Mr Liang Quan on stage for a discussion with me and to talk about his creative journey, then have Mr Leung Kui Ting come up to the stage to talk about his own artistic journey; later, I shall conduct a dialogue with the two artists, then open up the discussion for a Q&A session. We've arranged a coach to the M+ Pavilion for a viewing of the exhibition The Weight of Lightness: Ink Art at M+ after the talk. I suppose everyone here today knows that this talk is part of the programming of the exhibition, in which the speakers are both featured. So without further delay, let us invite Mr Liang Quan on stage.[audience clapping]

LESLEY MA: Hello, Mr Liang.

LIANG QUAN: Thank you, everyone; thank you, Ms Ma.

LESLEY MA: Mr Liang is now based in Shenzhen. You've actually lived there since 1995, right?


LESLEY MA: Could you tell us when you first came into contact with art?

LIANG QUAN: I first came into contact with art at an early age, when I was at the Children's Palace in Shanghai. Looking back, it was very nice because it was free back then, unlike at present when you must pay for every hour. Kids have to actually pay to learn how to paint at the Children's Palace now, while it was free for us then.

LESLEY MA: After the Children's Palace, did you enter the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou?

LIANG QUAN: Yes, I studied and got my degree at the China Academy of Art. Afterwards, I stayed in Hangzhou for my studies over the next few years.

LESLEY MA: What made you choose to pursue art?

LIANG QUAN: I just liked it then. There was no other reason. I just liked it. At that time, in the mainland, painting was about participating in exhibitions or having your painting printed as large as a sheet of dried tofu in the newspapers—that was the highest honour.

LESLEY MA: Has your work ever been printed in the newspapers?

LIANG QUAN: Yes. When I was just over ten years old, I think it was on Children's Day on 1 June, a small drawing of mine was printed in Shanghai's Liberation Daily, and one of their artists said, 'Young Liang Quan draws very well.' [laughter]

LESLEY MA: And so this was why you chose to pursue art?

LIANG QUAN: Yes. I was only just over ten years old. Quite a few years later, I saw something in a book about a 'climatic experience', and I felt that I really experienced a climatic experience that day. The day I saw my artwork in the papers, I was floating on air the entire afternoon. [laughter] I was astonished and excited.

LESLEY MA: Wonderful. [laughter] Thank goodness it was printed, so we're able to see your current work.

LIANG QUAN: [laughter]

LESLEY MA: Shortly after the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, you actually went to the US, am I right? You went to the US in 1980?


LESLEY MA: Then please tell us about this piece of work from 1982 (Salute to Tradition). You studied at the Institute of Art, San Francisco, right?

LIANG QUAN: No. [English] (Former) Academy of Art.

LESLEY MA: Academy of Art. May I ask which courses you took there.

LIANG QUAN: I majored in printmaking back then. To put it simply, China's reform and opening-up was just beginning, and when I was there, I thought that I didn't have to learn American abstract painting because abstract art was just messy doodling and was very simple, so I wanted to learn printmaking. There're a lot of technical skills involved in printmaking. I could perhaps learn skills, which I could use to contribute back to my country.

LESLEY MA: Why did you want to go to the US back then?

LIANG QUAN: It was all the rage then, I didn't really consider it deeply. Since it was in fashion, I wanted to try it out.

LESLEY MA: Then could you explain to us why, with your work Salute to Tradition (1982), you chose to create a work with such a subject matter in the US?

LIANG QUAN: This also was a later creation, most of which were rather smaller in scale. Back then, I did a lot of experiments, in various ways. In class, all of us interacted with each other, and I heard a lot of different opinions and felt that Western painters back then created a great distance between artists and American art. One day, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art during the holidays, and a Suzhou garden had just opened there—I think it was designed by Wang Shi Xiang and his associates. The moment I entered, I felt that seeing the gardens in New York was completely different from seeing them on the mainland. The feeling I had renewed my interest in tradition, and so I started this collection of works. This collage is one of them.

LESLEY MA: So where did this image come from?

LIANG QUAN: This image is Marshland Leaves, taken from Ren Bonian's woodcut.

LESLEY MA: And then you had it printed and transferred

LIANG QUAN: Yes. I used paper to do the transfer, a copperplate technique called Chine collé, and using this technique, I transferred it onto another piece of paper with hard-pressed copperplate.

LESLEY MA: And so collage is a rather important technique for you?

LIANG QUAN: Yes, I didn't do it deliberately then. I just thought that the process was interesting. When I returned to the mainland afterwards, I wanted to repeat this technique, but there was only one copperplate press in the whole of Hangzhou. As I couldn't get a chance to use it, I wondered if it was possible to replace this technique. Then I recalled that Chinese rice paper is soft and very mouldable. I started to use it as a replacement, and it became the medium for my later developments.

LESLEY MA: Let's first look at your photographs in San Francisco.

LIANG QUAN: [laughter]

LESLEY MA: I've been to your studio (in Shenzhen) and saw that you have your grandmother's washboard hanging on your wall. May I ask what this means to you as a source of creativity or what kind of inspiration this gave you?

LIANG QUAN: This was from the end of the last century, and I had always wanted to change my artistic style but couldn't find a way out. When I went back to my hometown to move, I saw a few of my grandmother's washboards. As I was pondering over it day and night, this method came into my mind all of a sudden. Look, it's wide at the top and bottom, like the protective flaps of a Chinese painting frame, with lots of stripes in the middle, in a minimalist style. I wondered if this form could be referenced, so began to experiment with it.

LESLEY MA: I believe that those who know of Mr Liang's works will be able to see the washboard's shadow in them. The photograph to your right is from when you were studying in San Francisco. Aside from studying printmaking at school, you said that you went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to visit the gardens. What kind of artworks did you see back on the West Coast, and how did it influence your later creations?

LIANG QUAN: Back then I had several friends studying in the University of California, Berkeley's Fine Arts department, which was established by the German artist Hans Hofmann. He was a very good teacher, and there are sections at the UC Berkeley Art Museum dedicated to his work. He was a very good teacher, and made different experiments in abstract art and various other art forms. He later inspired the Bay Area Figurative Movement, which consisted of a group of West Coast painters. And then the trend shifted from figurative art to abstract art, led by Richard Diebenkorn. One of these painters, a woman painter Joan Brown, passed away when she was taking students to India. I was influenced by their artworks then. I felt that art from the Western US was more at ease than art from the East Coast, and less politicised, perhaps because of the sunlight and beaches in the West. Which British artist was it who painted the swimming pool series?

LESLEY MA: David Hockney.

LIANG QUAN: He was in Los Angeles at that time, and he was working on the swimming pool series then.

LESLEY MA: So the Californian sunshine lent inspiration to your work as well?

LIANG QUAN: Yes, perhaps I wanted to paint something a bit lighter.

LESLEY MA: The Album of Paintings (1986) that we're looking at right now was created when you returned to Hangzhou. The colours seem thicker, and the collage is more densely composed. May I ask you to explain to us how this set of paintings came about?

LIANG QUAN: This set of paintings came about when I returned to the mainland, and had a chance to visit Inner Mongolia and take some pictures. There were some primeval wall paintings — cave drawings. I also did some research and applied some elements of cave painting for my collage, and that was the kind of experiments I did. I wanted to pursue something more historical, and so used more sombre colours.

LESLEY MA: When you were teaching in Hangzhou, what was the trend like in Hangzhou? Because there were a lot of new experiments in mainland China in the 1980s, whether it was in oil painting or ink art, or the beginnings of conceptual art, were you connected to contemporary trends? Or were you influenced artistically by the rise of the avant-garde?

LIANG QUAN: As we were all young teachers back then, we did a lot of artistic explorations together. Some friends started new artistic movements together, and we created several exhibitions.

LESLEY MA: Which other artists living in Hangzhou at that time did you interact a lot with?

LIANG QUAN: Back then I interacted frequently with some teachers from the art academy.

LESLEY MA: Such as?

LIANG QUAN: Teachers such as Gu Wenda, Zheng Chongbin, those were the ones. As for students there was the now-renowned Zhang Peili. They were students back then.

LESLEY MA: Then let's take a look at the next one. These two paintings (Son, 1989-1990; Mama, 1989) are rather special, because the figurative is back, around the 1980s or 1990s, I think that you produced the two paintings Son and Mama possibly because of personal reasons. What kind of a leap was it to this creation, in comparison to your older works that have a vintage feel?

LIANG QUAN: [laughter] Looking at the period, 1989, 1990, it was a dark, angry time, so I painted several dark, angry works.

LESLEY MA: These two paintings are dark, angry pieces of your work?

LIANG QUAN: I was furious at that time and wanted to express my fury. Perhaps the anger of an intellectual was different from the anger of youths, but this was as much fury as I could muster into my painting.

LESLEY MA: Texts have appeared as well. Your previous works didn't seem to have as much text as this one.

LIANG QUAN: Yes, I did add a few words.

LESLEY MA: Was this the same collage method you used before? Or...?

LIANG QUAN: It was the same. I dyed the rice paper, then assembled it on canvas and paper.

LESLEY MA: This creation wasn't put on display at that time?

LIANG QUAN: It's never been put on display. I only started showing it to people twenty-something years ago and never had the chance to exhibit it.

LESLEY MA: Did things calm down afterwards? In 1992 (Travel Journal).

LIANG QUAN: [laughter] As a teacher, I had to take students down to the rural areas for their graduation projects in 1992. I went to northwest China for a spin and painted a collection about my travels, kind of like vignettes from a travel journal, and it was a bit like being in the middle of a journey. So I made this collection. I went through the areas of Xian, Lanzhou, and took the graduating class for a long trip.

LESLEY MA: What kind of records did you keep along the way? Was it just everything you saw during your travels?

LIANG QUAN: Along the way I took photographs, wrote postcards and diary entries, and also drew a lot of sketches.

LESLEY MA: Sketches?


LESLEY MA: If we take a look at the markings on this particular painting, were these your thoughts turned into collages? Or was there any particular location you were referring to? What I mean is, was there a connection between these patterns and the local traditional cultures that you saw in a particular place? Or was this a purely abstract expression?

LIANG QUAN: The fragmented paper of this background is the fleeting memories of words that I wanted to express. The symbols on it are all symbols I saw during my travels, some of them are just partial symbols, some are signs I saw on the road, and I abstracted them for this painting.

LESLEY MA: So to you, the abstract comes from material objects? Or are there some other sources?

LIANG QUAN: I think the abstract to me is developed from words and totems. I started in figurative painting, and so I prefer styles like Baroque, which has influenced my work.

LESLEY MA: This series (Meteor Shower No.7, 1998) is completely different from the earlier ones. This is no longer a collage. Was this painting done only with ink and paper? Was there any other material?

LIANG QUAN: No, just ink and paper.

LESLEY MA: Why, in that particular moment of time, did you harbour such a sudden fascination with the subject of meteor showers or the method of ink wash?

LIANG QUAN: Because the paintings I drew back then—you know there were no art galleries in the entire mainland at that time, and no exhibitions. Even though there were exhibitions, those exhibitions were regulated, and up until now, they're still regulated by officials and placed in categories, like oil painting exhibitions, print exhibitions, and Chinese painting exhibitions; there was no interdisciplinary exhibition. So a lot of my works were not allowed in exhibitions, because the oil painting field did not recognise me as an oil painter, neither did the Chinese painting circle consider me as one of them, and thus I couldn't take part in the exhibitions. In the early 1990s, Mr Pi Daojian and his associates in Guangzhou initiated an ink art movement. They included some modern ink paintings in an exhibition and invited me to be part of it. I thought that as ink art was open to me, I could also be open to it, so I created these experimental ink paintings to side with the discipline. [laughter]

LESLEY MA: So it was all a bit out of necessity?

LIANG QUAN: [laughter] Yes.

LESLEY MA: This later piece (Tea and a Little Coffee, 2001) is still an ink painting, but it's more linked to daily life. Why choose tea and coffee? Does it have to do with your own lifestyle?

LIANG QUAN: I prefer tea, and would accidentally leave stains on table tops and tablecloths while drinking it. I thought they looked beautiful, so I decided to collect them to create some works. One day a friend told me that the Gypsies in the West love drinking coffee, and they can tell your fortune from the coffee grounds left in your mug—they have such knowledge. I felt that coffee could signify that 'nothing is unknowable', so I tried adding spots of coffee to the paper, just as an experiment.

LESLEY MA: So you combined tea and coffee before painting the spots?

LIANG QUAN: Some spots were tea, some were coffee. Everyone must think that coffee has a deeper colour, but actually it isn't as dark as tea. The darkest marks were made by tea, and the colour of coffee is rather light. This is coffee, this is coffee.

LESLEY MA: How long did it take you to create this painting?

LIANG QUAN: This painting took me around a few months. Whenever I worked on it, I would have to let it dry before working on it again.

LESLEY MA: And it's actually a mark, a record of a moment in your life, right?

LIANG QUAN: Also a very blissful process.

LESLEY MA: [laughter] Yes. This piece is huge, almost 180 centimetres. Why did you decide to create such an enormous work? Because tea tables are usually quite small.

LIANG QUAN: Back then, the floor at home was a large space to work with. After it was completed, it was never exhibited and is put on display for the first time at M+.


LESLEY MA: Speaking of M+, one of the pieces in this exhibition is Hidden Fish in a Clear Stream (2013-2015). Let's take a look. Why is this work called Hidden Fish in a Clear Stream? Can you explain to us if the source or inspiration is from Li Tang's work? I'm being asked this question a lot, and that is: how did Mr Liang transform the original Hidden Fish in a Clear Stream to these lighter works that we now see?

LIANG QUAN: You know most of our audience here today are young people. I'm old now. When one is older, one gravitates towards the still, poetic life of ancient times. Two years back, I was part of an exhibition in Beijing with a Spanish artist who's two years older than me. He said something that shocked me. He said that all European artists become Chinese artists with age.


I asked, 'What do you mean?', and he explained that European artists start to gravitate towards simplicity in painting as they grow old. I thought so too, because I'm old and have grown to like simple things. 'Hidden fish in a clear stream' has been the ideal life for some Chinese literati for hundreds, thousands of years, so I recreated this topic with my collages, and coincidentally, the layers of horizontal lines look like ripples. I took this concept and turned it into a series of paintings.

LESLEY MA: The ripples you mentioned came from the waves in the original painting, and even though the waves are still, there's a sense of rhythm in your collage, right?

LIANG QUAN: Yes, I hope it evokes a sense of rhythm, and that the aesthetic of the entire painting is suited to the atmosphere of seclusion of 'hidden fish'.

LESLEY MA: This piece is on display in the exhibition. I wish to know how you chose the colours. It's dyed green in some places, while the ink is lighter in some areas, and some other areas, like in here, look rather special. Is there any special meaning to it?

LIANG QUAN: Now that I'm older, I like plainer things, including the food I eat. I wanted to reflect such fondness in my painting. I also really like the works of the ancient Chinese painter Ni Zan—they're simple, plain, and very elegant. These are the things I pursue. I therefore adopted lighter colours for this series of paintings. . Living in these modern times, I stumbled upon the idea that the dotted patterns made by laser cutting convey a modern, digital kind of sensitivity. These dotted patterns can be arranged into new, interesting grey hues, and they actually often feature in Chinese painting. I believe that these dots contribute a sense of richness, so I started making use of them, and they are made by laser printing.

LESLEY MA: Can you explain to the audience how you created these collages? I think a lot of people do not have a concrete idea of how you pasted these pieces together, because these are based on concepts of collage and framing.

LIANG QUAN: For this series of collages, I first made the liner with good quality materials, then built the base on the linen: first by scrubbing the surface and then applying my handmade paste. I made the paste myself because I learnt the skills from a teacher at an art-framing shop for a period of time. After buying the paste, I eliminated the organic starch by hand, and turned what was left of the pulp into powder, and into paste, then added potassium alum and some insect-repelling spices given by my art framing mentor. I then cut the paper pieces and then dyed them using an ink brush. When the dye dried, I mounted these pieces of paper one by one using the paste. The process of mounting is also a kind of thinking process; when it is dry, I would keep the parts I'm satisfied with, redo those I'm not, and mount them again. That's why there are two or three layers to some parts of the work.

LESLEY MA: At what point in the process did you decide that you'd done enough?

LIANG QUAN: You'd asked the same question yesterday. Strictly speaking, I think a piece of painting can be continued infinitely. But sometimes, when I think it's about enough, ready to be exhibited, and if I get some positive feedback from my friends, I will finally stop.

LESLEY MA: At that time, why did you conceptualise Hidden Fish in a Clear Stream as five paintings? Was each one created in response to the original painting? One, two, three, four, five pieces, why this particular method?

LIANG QUAN: No, because my home was small back then, [laughter] I could only place five pieces in my corridor, [laughter] and wouldn't have been able to walk through it with six pieces.


LESLEY MA: We are now looking at Hidden Fish in a Clear Stream as they're all displayed. These are the most recent works, Eight Views of Xiao and Xiang Rivers, from 2015 to 2016. They're smaller, like part of a bigger work. But there are bamboo plants placed in this exhibition to create a sense of space. Can you explain why you presented Eight Views of Xiao and Xiang Rivers as what seems to be an installation?

LIANG QUAN: 'Eight Views of Xiao and Xiang Rivers' is a subject that I like. From the earliest paintings of Dong Yuan, I felt that this was an eternal space that literati gravitate towards. I passed by a reservoir while in the outskirts of Korea one year and saw a range of beautiful mountains in a distance and a beautiful field of reeds by the water. I immediately thought that the scenery of 'Xiao and Xiang Rivers' was exactly like that—the scenery of the North. So upon my return, I immediately started to work on this series. These are some of the smaller ones. I thought that because these works are small, I should organise them in a more interesting way, so I displayed them as an installation. As these bamboo plants were installed at the Hive Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing— several of their staff are here as well— they were very supportive, and planted hundreds of bamboo plants just for this exhibition, so the gallery looked much more elegant.

LESLEY MA: This is a part of Eight Views of Xiao and Xiang Rivers. Was it made with the same collage method you described before?


LESLEY MA: Or was it made with laser...?

LIANG QUAN: Some are painted. These dots are painted, and the ones above are laser-cut.

LESLEY MA: Why the appearance of curves? It looks like they were mostly supposed to be straight lines.

LIANG QUAN: Yes, I added a few curves to soften the composition.

LESLEY MA: This work Jade Spring (2017) seems to be your most recent work, done as a screen, and combines every technique you've used in the past, including materials, tea, and collage. Why did you do that? Was it a particular desire to experiment with space?

LIANG QUAN: For the previous exhibition, I made a screen using a printed pattern of my tea stains. I thought it was interesting, so I started to develop it. This is really craftwork. With eight panels, it took more than half a year to build the screen. I wanted to create a space, with the effect of a wall.

LESLEY MA: This screen is 125 centimetres high, which is not too tall. So you didn't want to completely separate the space into two different places?

LIANG QUAN: Yes. If it was any taller, it would become a wall, and you wouldn't be able to see the other side. There is usually a small space carved out from the larger space of a teahouse, that's the feeling I wish to convey.

LESLEY MA: Yes. So these are some close-up views. One could observe this signature mark-making of yours, why would you deliberately keep it for viewers to see?

LIANG QUAN: When I was drafting, I wanted to arrange the tea stains sequentially, with a sense of order, but in the process of ordering them, I wanted to leave some blank spaces—some sparse, some densely packed—and not to set them out too tidily. So I kept some of the blank spaces and their original look with pencil marks. I thought that by keeping some sketches on it, the image would be more vibrant, beautiful, and intimate.

LESLEY MA: Great. Our talk with Mr Liang has come to a close, and it's time for Mr Leung. [audience clapping]

LIANG QUAN: Thank you.

LESLEY MA: Thank you, Mr Liang Quan.

LESLEY MA: Hello, Mr Leung.

LEUNG KUI TING: Hello, thank you.

LESLEY MA: My apologies to the audience, I'm going to put on this device for Cantonese interpretation because I'm worried that I wouldn't able to understand well enough.

Hello, Mr Leung.

LEUNG KUI TING: Thank you.

LESLEY MA: Just now, we asked Mr Liang Quan what his entire education was like. Your artistic journey is rather unique compared to other artists. Do you mind sharing with us how you entered the art field? When did you first start?

LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] I began to paint from as early as 1964. When I painted, nobody was really painting. They were all ‘messing’ around with art and with painting. The teacher that meant the most to me was Lui Shou-kwan. The true artistic path, which Mr Lui led me on, wasn't towards the craft of painting, but the attitudes towards life and art. Such a mindset is extremely important. To this day, this very spirit has always been the focal point of my art-making. Mr Lui never taught me how to wield a brush, none of that. We just used some ink and paper to copy paintings for training. I read foreign magazines during my training, because I was different from other artists: when I was growing up, I was my own school, my own student, my own principal—everything I learnt was self-taught. I watched Mr Lui paint at what is now known as Chatham Fine Art; a foreign gallery behind the Catholic church on Chatham Road. Mr Lui would teach painting there every Friday. I'd take my paintings to him every Friday for guidance, ask him which one was good and how to arrange the elements of a composition. And then we started to build a very familiar mentor-student relationship and talked a lot. That period lasted around two years, and afterwards, Mr Wucius Wong founded a design course when he returned from abroad. Back then, I started to leave ink painting behind and studied design. That was a major milestone, as space, colour, dimension, and other concepts in design are all elements that influence my current painting practice. Besides enlightening me on the attitudes towards life, an important fact is that Mr Lui was a very traditional ink artist, and at the same time, a pioneer of modern ink painting. With regard to this, he often talked about a particular problem in relation to the essence of traditional Chinese painting: why would people reflect on the past and on the cycles of life, in order to explore Chinese ink art and traditional arts? After completing the training in design, I had the chance to truly experience contemporary American art for the first time in 1975 when I went to the US, because the works I'd seen were all only in the magazines I read at Chatham Gallery.

LESLEY MA: Let's pause for a moment, since you mentioned Mr Lui Shou-kwan. How about we continue with this painting? I know that when you were working on this piece of ink on paper Beyond Form (1969), you were studying ink painting with Mr Lui Shou-kwan, am I right?


LESLEY MA: The painting on the right (Composite Assemblage IV, 1967) might be a dialogue that combines Western Hard-edge art and ink art. Was it, as you said, that you saw some elements of Western art, and at the same time were influenced by your training in ink art?

LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] I mentioned Chatham Gallery just now. When I was learning from Mr Lui, there were a lot of foreign magazines at Chatham Gallery. Back then, I began to notice some works by Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Helen Frankenthaler, and Mark Rothko. They began to influence my art. In the 1960s, a lot of contemporary artists would have come into contact with Zao Wou-Ki's creations done with oracle bone script. Western art isn't calligraphy, of course, but was also influenced by Eastern art. For example, even though Franz Kline's paintings are abstract, his brushwork and spatial construction have influenced my ideas. At that time, I tried to experiment with infusing calligraphy into my paintings. I believe that it was a process of self-exploration. Afterwards, as I saw modern art and started to study design, I developed Hard-edge paintings. Back then there was either Hard-edge, or Soft-edge, which means that the contours are dissolved. I might have learnt this style of Hard-edge from Frank Stella, or was influenced by the Hard-edge paintings of Kenneth Noland.

LESLEY MA: This period of time followed closely after, this work (Orange Plane, 1974) here is completely different from the ones that came before where there were a lot of blank spaces and visible brushstrokes, this one is rich in colour and spirituality. Could you explain this to us?

LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] In 1974, when I hadn't yet gone to the US and come into contact with modern art, another artistic school was on the rise: minimalism, with monochrome paintings being one of the subgroups. Monochrome painting was actually a movement that originated from the Soviet Union. When I first began working in art, I was a carpenter and did carpentry for six years. I only started training with Mr Lui afterwards, and when I first started, I was still a carpenter, until I stopped after two years. That is why I'm very sensitive to materials, and there is a very strong sculptural quality in my works. I'm very much against mounting. Back then, I reckoned that I could make use of the space between layers of paper and monochrome colours to construct a sense of space. The monochrome surface was done with dyes and acrylics. After I dyed these paintings, I wrinkled the paper, then flattened it again. A lot of paintings at that time were done by pasting multiple pieces of paper into one piece, like a patchwork quilt, or with some other texture. This work is one of those that's done in a single piece of paper. The others are larger, for example three metres by three metres; they are all connected.

LESLEY MA: And now we skip fifteen years ahead (Untitled, 1988) [laughter], to when you returned to the very traditional medium and purity of ink art. May I ask what brought you back into ink art? The way I see it, this has very much to do with the texture of painting itself. How did your art leap or progress to this particular place?

LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] I have to first make something clear here. Before 1988, I actually had a lot of other works, but they aren't as relevant because this is a talk on ink art. But I can tell the audience that I actually taught myself oil painting, printmaking, and sculpture. If anyone in the audience knows about my sculptures, my public artworks are rather large in scale. The process of these creations took a lot of experimentation with other materials, and the pieces you see from now, these were all influenced by my earlier explorations, for example the monochrome painting from just now, these were all from readymade materials. The paper edges were stitched with a sewing machine—so everyone please note that I know how to use a sewing machine as well. I can use either an electric or a treadle sewing machine to sew pieces of paper. I told Mr Lui that I was reluctant to mount my works. I like my works just the way they are after they're completed. I still hold this attitude now, and you still can see my works are hung unmounted. This was constructed from a combination of sculpture and painting.

When I truly returned to ink art—my mentor Mr Lui passed away in 1975; 1985 was the tenth anniversary of his death—ten years after, an ink art exhibition was done, and at that time, my ink paintings were all in black, exploring abstraction, concepts, and spatiality. For myself, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do next. Thus I started over to study the traditions, went to the mainland and drew still lifes, paid visits to other teachers that enlightened me such as Zhang Ding, Ya Ming, and other seniors, whom I kept in very close contact with. I remember something Mr Lui once said, that when you find yourself stuck in the making of ink art, the best solution is to return to copying practice. I'm very aware of this, and even now, I still alternate between copying practice and art making, and slowly I begin to see some evolution unfold. At this particular period, I was combining ink art and the calligraphy I used to learn. Those black pieces were written first, like calligraphy, but without written form. And then other lines were drawn with a brush. I think that in the Chinese tradition, ink writing is very important. There are other elements at play besides writing. Self-education, morals, and one's state of mind—these are all very important concepts in my personal journey. This work belongs to the start of my serious exploration in ink art. To speak of ink art, I've discovered during my studies that there are a lot of topics relevant to ink art and tradition. Apart from literati paintings, there is a close relationship between ink art and materials. There are questions of ink itself, of its colour and aura, and also of paper, as paper can affect the aura of a work. The papers I'm collecting right now are more than enough for a lifetime of painting. This is why I'm very familiar with paper, such as bamboo paper, bast paper, and sandalwood paper. I don't just use Chinese paper, I'll also use Korean, Japanese, and even Nepalese paper. Each kind of paper has the ability to create different spatial and emotional elements in the mood and aura of an artist's work. Because the texture of the paper can affect ink wash, I place special emphasis on questions concerning paper and the material of ink. Of course there are other creative concepts which we see more often, the diverse kinds of so-called 'art vitamins': such as the perception of music, theatre, the news, and most importantly, of your mobile phone, so a lot of my works deal with the problem of mobile phones. As for how, we'll talk about it more in-depth later.

This work (Journey to Sichuan-Tibet, 1992) was how I felt about nature from the start. I went to Tibet with a friend once, and on the journey, I felt an intense connection with nature. This is because the mountains of Tibet are completely different from those of Eastern China. Tibetan mountains are as black as igneous rocks, and journeying through them, one encounters changes in the clouds and the rocks, or perhaps connect with nature at the high altitudes of Mount Erlang. I would remember the feeling, then transform and express it upon returning, though, at that point in time, I still could not paint very well. In fact, I continue painting because I have always felt that I cannot paint. This painting is not very good either. Why? It is just with big, brash strokes. Of course, I added in some geometrical elements, but those are simply forms; they do not represent anything. However, any work made is part of the process and important to the artist. Paintings are paintings. I keep them to review my previous works. I often reflect on where the problems lie in my work, then work to deepen, improve, and transform them as an artist.

LESLEY MA: From Tibet to Rustic (2001), your work becomes larger in size and starts to intervene in actual space. Could you elaborate on this?

LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] This piece was drawn in 2001. It was at this point that I decided to make pre-2000 my 'causes' period and post-2000 my 'effects' period. In the 'effects' years to come, I would refine all that I had learnt in my 'causes' years. This is as important to art as learning how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide is to mathematics. How should I add, subtract, multiply, and divide with my works? It is a question I have often thought about throughout my journey as an artist. For example, in this drawing, as we have already discussed, I know the sculptural space very well. I want drawings to not be confined to the surface, but rather, be able to expand and express on the ground around it. I believe that artists should always dare to exceed themselves, but not to demonstrate how superb their artistry is—I never know how to say these things, since I believe every piece of art is a personal creation. Therefore, sometimes my paintings will be like this one—just an unmounted piece of paper that I decided as completed. The texture of its strokes still does not resemble hills and rocks, but through these lines, I could explore the concept of texture; and because I am sensitive to and knowledgeable about different textures, I can find many variations in it. While this painting is not very detailed, one can still find touches of calligraphy in it, and there are some line sketches of flowers near the bottom, even if they are not very noticeable.

In this regard, I have a concrete plan for my art: if I painted something ten years prior, I would use it again ten years later. For example, will flowers appear again somewhere along my artistic journey? Some people have indeed asked me whether I drew flowers in paintings. This I will not answer. I also will not claim to be a calligrapher. In fact, do I write calligraphy? Lesley would know—my calligraphy is here, but I do not display it easily to claim that I am good at many things, it is not what I do. This is because some things are artistic elements or 'art vitamins', which I treasure and require time to mature. If you can do something well, then by all means, do it; if not, do not force it upon your art. Do not paint something simply because such and such is trendy—this is something I never do. I have seen many things throughout these decades in the art world—Western styles, concepts, installation, body art, music, film... I understand it all, but in the end, what I do is to be myself. I do not blindly follow them at all. So gradually...

This piece (Vision: Change 2, 2005) was exhibited a while ago before M+ offered to acquire it. You all have heard me talk about sculpture, how to make installations, and why I need to use them. In fact, the choice of material is very important. That piece of fabric in the middle has been around since the Song dynasty, and is named Xiangyunsha (Gambiered Guangdong Silk); only one factory in Shunde, Guangdong Province, still produces it. Of course, it also exists in Taiwan, Singapore, and Southeast Asia. Xiangyunsha is the same as Heijiaochou (black gummed silk) used in clothing. I processed the back of the fabric, changing its structure and colour. That fabric at the back—though not really visible right now—is not just a coffee-coloured piece of cloth. It is actually heavily designed, especially on the right side—these seams were specially sewn on. Just as this fabric that we see now is not just a piece of white cloth; rather, it has its own specific structures. This piece of wood symbolises a relationship with history and the past, capturing a tree's growth until its death, then abandoned, and finally reclaimed as an ornament. I bought this piece of wood in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Back then, I saw that these pieces of wood were full of sentiments, so I bought a few dozen of them, sent them back home, and used them in some of my work, and they are still here now.

To me, these ornaments are like making window displays. I came to Hong Kong in 1966 during the Cultural Revolution, and there was almost nothing I could do. As I had previously studied design, I got a job at Tamaya Department Store making window displays for $320 a month. You have to hang many things in shop windows, like hanging clothes up and making them look three-dimensional as though they were flying. I am very familiar with this: thread a needle with fishing wire and bring it through the sleeve to lift it up, and you can create a sense of spaciousness. These days, if anyone wants to do something similar, I think they would have to dig deeper and do it better. People ask me, 'Your works seem like installation. Is that true?' It does not matter; when all of Western art is your 'vitamin', you do not have to care about anything—you can do whatever you want. Therefore, sometimes art should be multidirectional experimentation. I would encourage you, my artist friends, to be a little more daring and not cling to any one style. To continue painting in a style just because it sells in a gallery is a grave pitfall. I never listen to what the art galleries in Hong Kong tell me; you either buy it or you don't. I keep a low profile. I own neither a car nor a mansion. Nothing. However, I recently acquired an art studio, which I think I will keep for the rest of my life.


I also do not have any children. So why not focus on and be more sincere about my art instead? Why fight for other things? I would rather no one interview or write articles about me. These things are not status symbols, but simply illusions. Lui Shou-kwan taught me that it does not matter what you say—let art speak for itself. That is true sincerity.

This installation was created in 2005; my ideas coincided with Mr Liang Quan. These brown patches are actually Twenty-four-Flavour tea.


Twenty-four-Flavour herbal tea. This is why I thought of this 2005 piece Twenty-Four Herbal Ingredients when I saw the work by a young lady at the M+ exhibition. It had something to do with Six-Flavour Rehmannia pill (Editor's note: it refers to Zhang Yanzi's work Tianwang Buxin Dan, 2014-2015.). Do you know what Twenty-four Flavour tea means? In the 1960s, if woodworkers and construction workers fell ill, do you think they would go to see a doctor? Going to the clinic meant queuing up and would cost you a dollar—a real pain. But that Twenty-four-Flavour tea stall down at Spring Garden Lane only charged you ten cents for a bowl of tea. Have a couple of bowls of tea, then go home and sleep, and you would be ready for work again the next day. This is why Twenty-four-Flavour tea is very important to me. Nowadays, you can still find them on sale —there is a tea shop at the corner of Stanley Street in Central, even foreigners would pay $5 for a glass. However, a word of warning: Twenty-four-Flavour tea must be taken with moderation, as it can do more harm than good. Basically, I have given so many examples because Twenty-four-Flavour tea is very special to me, and I had a lot of it in my youth.

LESLEY MA: Is it one of your 'vitamins' as well?


LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] It is not just a 'vitamin'. Twenty-four-Flavour tea can even save one's life—if you catch a cold, or have a fever, you must drink this Cantonese herbal tea. Of course, when I was young, there was also Xiakucao (herbal tea made from the self-heal plant), also known as Liangcao or Liangfencao in Taiwan. These are all creative 'vitamins' of Chinese culture. If you do need, by all means use them. There are other pieces of work as well, such as this paper—I had an old friend, Mr Szeto Keung, since 1975. As some of you might know, he immigrated to the US in the 1970s and lived as an artist in New York. Because he was in New York, where accommodation is very expensive, I stayed in his studio whenever I was in New York. We would often talk about art. Since he had emigrated from Hong Kong and studied at the National Taiwan Normal University, he had to return to Hong Kong once every summer. We would go out and have fun every time he came back, travelling to places like Tung Ping Chau. Mr Szeto Keung belonged to the Lingnan school of painting; he and Mr Lui were very close. He was not Mr Lui's student, though—we were all simply very close and would hang out together. Sometimes we would connect when there were ink painting exhibitions.

LESLEY MA: There are some special features in this piece (New York Diary, 2005). Could you please elaborate on them?

LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] There are many geometrical lines on it; they are related to design. When I was in the US, I saw a lot of modern and minimalist art, so my diary at the end of the trip had a lot of photos pasted in it. I can say with certainty who inspired me to make photo collage: Robert Rauschenberg, whose work often consists of photo collages. He is an artist I really admire. Once I had the opportunity to take a photo with him when he came to Hong Kong—the United States Information Agency threw him a party, where we had a chat. I enjoyed his art and thought that it was very genuine, because he had taken his life savings and spent a lot of it teaching art in Africa. One year, he also visited a Xuan paper factory in Anhui Province in China and created a series of works with Xuan paper. We can see how they relate to each other—in this piece, we see many materials and shapes. Some are painted, some transferred. As for the Xiangyunsha pieces, I transferred old paintings on the silk. Sometimes I only transfer the paintings, other times I paint on the prints after the transfer. You will have to find out for yourself what is painted and what is transferred. They actually look quite similar, making it difficult for you to determine which is which. It is through this that I got a deeper understanding of traditional Chinese painting.

LESLEY MA: At this stage (Internet, 2009; Internet 2011, 2011), you also started to add other materials—some of them three-dimensional—which are completely different from regular painting materials. Could you talk a bit about this?

LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] Sometimes I participate in group exhibitions, not held at galleries, some peculiar exhibitions that some friends would organise. Like this time, I had a piece Silk Road, The Source (2017) displayed in Ink Asia 2017. I always take advantage of these opportunities to experiment boldly: there is cardboard, a camel sculpture plated with gold foil, and neon green light referring to 'go ahead'; at the back is a piece of cloth identical to one I used before, which I painted on. However, this was only one of the exhibition's many themes. This one (Internet, 2009) with the red lines is canvas, not paper. As I mentioned before, I have made many oil paintings on canvas. For a while, there was also something called 'shaped canvas': Hard-edge painting on canvas, then stretched to a three-dimensional, sculpture-like form. I am very familiar with canvas. Those black marks were painted with charcoal, not ink. The motif originates from Taihu stone; I followed the concept of Mi Fu's 'stone worship' to explore the Taihu stone, which is an important kind of scholar's stone appreciated by Chinese literati.

Over the past ten years, because of my search for Taihu stone, I often travel to Mount Huangshan in Suzhou, staying for a month whenever I go, to take pictures and touch the rocks. I would also buy two or three tons of Taihu stone there or from Guangdong back home, so my studio has actual Taihu stones, not just pictures. What I want to show here is that when you genuinely want to understand something, you cannot simply look at pictures. I really admire the talented artists, however, who are able to paint Mount Huangshan from one excursion alone. I cannot do that because my painting skills are mediocre. I have to go to Mount Huangshan every Christmas and have spent my last five Christmases there. Because, in my opinion, we should follow the ancients and get closer to the natural soul, vitality, and aura of the mountains—these 'vitamins'. I remember the great master Shi Tao once lived close to Mount Huangshan for several years—I, of course, have not done so—or like Huang Binhong. Their art truly reflects the spirit of Mount Huangshan, whereas I cannot do that. I can only go on a yearly pilgrimage there, then come back and conceptualise. Later, I tried using the shape of Taihu stone as an inspiration, to which I added my own geometrical patterns. Also, I think that nowadays, computers affect how artists view and transform stimuli. If I were to draw the stones with a computer, wouldn't I need many dotted lines and frames to create the outlines, which I would then need to combine together to form the surfaces and space? Since I had taught design at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University for ten-odd years, I am well-versed in and can easily utilise ideas of design, imagery, and space. The space within Taihu stone constantly changes: Taihu stone is not just like a sculpture, rather it shifts through the edge of the paper, and replaces the white space in it—this is how you should manipulate space. Drawing Taihu stone is not just about drawing rocks; rather there are many issues you have to deal with. Just because you can draw realistically and accurately does not mean you are able to paint Taihu stone—you must put your heart and soul into it. As soon as one sees someone else's Taihu stone paintings selling well, they would tell everyone to start painting the same thing. I do not appreciate this mindset. This does not affect me. I work my own way.

This Taihu stone was drawn on white silk formally using elements of lines and geometry. Some have asked me if I draw my lines with a marker pen—of course not. My brushes are well-maintained. I can therefore draw geometrical patterns easily and straight lines without aid. I can even draw a straight line of twenty inches long without a ruler. These are all related to design skills. I have done some interior design before, so perspective is also not a challenge for me. This is all due to my 'causes' period—factors from the past coming into play. To me, this rock is an extremely important milestone—that is, how do I represent such a tiny object with such a vast space? How does space impart the creative vision of an artist? Through a small piece of rock, or a large one, or perhaps a piece of rock in a garden, how does one explore how a rock, or a person, exists in time and space? Does anyone even care about these things anymore? Some people visit the Lingering Garden in Suzhou, take a few photos as a memento, and leave. There is this silly man, however, who visits the Lingering Garden for a couple of days every year, because these days I do not have to pay to enter the Lingering Garden. Thus, I can enter and leave as I please; I could go out to get a snack, then go back in to have another look. Enter when I feel like it, scribble a few things—this is what brings me joy nowadays, because I have the freedom to follow my heart, absorbing new 'vitamins' as I go. The ancients had their ways, and I will look at them through their eyes, but also observe as a modern man. This way of seeing things—through your eyes and your heart, and thinking with your brain—is the most important.

This piece (Landscape, 2011) was for an exhibition of Hong Kong art, Hong Kong Eye 2012, held at the Saatchi Gallery in the UK. I was invited to participate by the curator of the exhibition. Before that, I had done a painting on a set of twelve panels, around 250 by 70 centimetres per panel. It is finished, but it has been moved to another place, a lobby somewhere. However, the curator said that as the exhibition space was rather tall, having twelve panels placed horizontally would be a problem. Therefore, I went ahead and challenged myself, because within Chinese ink painting, vertical painting is the most difficult format. It is much easier to paint horizontally because it can be made as an expansion of a Chinese album, whereas vertical painting cannot do that—it has to be well-structured, such as adopting an S-shape composition, or else the images will be like a bunk bed—things stacked on top of each other. These days, a lot of paintings are perhaps like bunk beds, and yet they claim to be vertical. So where does my concept come from? From flying. When a plane ascends and descends, and you look down at the landscape, there is a sense of movement. Thus, I used a 'roaming vision'—drawing from bottom to top like a plane weaving through the landscape. Of course, many elements of the painting—the blanks, space, rivers, water, and mountains—are very different from the traditional 'three-layered' style in Chinese painting, as it contains more than one focus. This is 100 centimetres... No, this is 140 centimetres wide. 11 metres. 140 centimetres... Never mind. I just want to tell you. This large painting is painted on a silk scroll that is 140 centimetres wide, fitted with a base but not a frame. It is now part of the Hong Kong Museum of Art's collection. Since then, most of my work has been vertical, though size is not important to me. What matters is the content and space of the work, what it intends to express, and what the focus is. Though it is not visible to you right now, this piece contains many geometric structures, rocks, and streams. My paintings slowly turned towards mathematical beauty, as well as traditional and technological beauty, and even some scientific elements. My more recent works have even started including a few medical symbols, as I am very sensitive to the lines in their designs and liked them a lot when I saw them. They serve as reminders of our life and health. Nowadays, my old friend Liang Quan and I are very health-conscious; we have to go to bed at 10:30pm and do less. [laughter] Right? Being healthy is very important.

LESLEY MA: We have a bit of time left and a few more paintings of landscapes (Landscape Navigation No. 14, 2013) to talk about. I think we can start from here.

LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] Let's have a look—this piece on the right is painted by Wu Bin (The Road to Shanyin, Ming dynasty). I once went to Shanghai—I actually came across Wu Bin's work a long time ago. It is painted in the Ming dynasty yet is so modern, especially the rocks and the geometry. The brushstrokes and shapes in the Yuan and Ming dynasties are very simple. In my opinion, traditional Chinese art can be viewed from many perspectives: Jing Hao, Guan Tong, Dong Yuan, and Ju Ran (the four masters); Fan Kuan; Li Cheng; Li Tang etc. Feel free to look into these artists. Traditional Chinese culture is public cultural heritage that belongs to everyone, and you are free to absorb it whenever you like—though, how to absorb it is for you to figure out. We can see rivers near the top of this photo—I mentioned these a while ago—which are from the photos I spent three, four years capturing during my flights back from New York, passing through Siberia, the Soviet Union, and down through to Korea and Japan. I am very passionate about photography; since the days of my design studies till now, I still carry a camera wherever I go. I probably have dozens of cameras. Yet I am not considering holding a photography exhibition—I am still waiting for the right time. This, on the other hand, is part of Mount Huangshan. If you have any questions, we can talk about it in the next session.

This piece Taihang Mountains (After Zhang Ding) (2005) pays homage to Mr Zhang Ding. These four panels are an adaptation of a structurally similar piece by the master. Zhang Ding was a great inspiration to me. Even though he never taught me formally, I would have dinner and chat with him every time I went to Beijing. Once he asked me if I had been practising calligraphy recently—I knew that he actually meant, 'Your lines are still inadequate; go home and practise, kiddo'. He could teach you many things simply by chatting with you, without even picking up a brush—but still, I would present to him some of my original work every time. Last year, I worked on an exhibition in Macau and was reminded of Zhang Ding's attitude and the inspiration he gave me. These are all very valuable. Mr Ya Ming as well; I would visit him whenever I was in Nanjing, and he would always have many things to tell me. Once he said to me, 'Leung Kui Ting, you really were born in the wrong place. If you had been born in China, you would have been unstoppable.' I thought to myself, he is just pulling my leg. He then said, 'If you do not believe me, stay here for two months. I have a large workshop in the mainland, and I will even pay for your expenses.' But how could I leave Hong Kong for two whole months? I feel like many masters in mainland China think really highly of me and are very willing to teach me. I am most grateful for all the advice they have given me about traditional art. From 1985 onwards, all of my knowledge of sketching and traditional art has been acquired through spending time in mainland China. Especially with Mr Lang Shaojun—he is a very good art critic friend of mine. Every time I bring some of my students to see him, he would say, 'No problem. Whatever you do, do not create a Leung Junior out of them. Be careful.' This is also a very important message.

These four panels are painted on bamboo paper, something I have come to use very often recently. Bamboo paper is a type of paper invented by the Chinese and has a slight yellow hue. This piece has many geometric structures, such as these angles. There will be some photos later that explain where they came from. They came from Mount Taihang, from the protrusions and geometric structures of the rocks and cliffs. That is where the inspiration came from. In fact, this is also the origin of the fupicun brushstrokes found in Li Tang's work, but I deconstruct these variations from a different angle. In this talk, I can explain where all these elements come from. Like these geometric lines—many of the geometric lines in my work originate from Frank Stella. I'm telling you. How do I absorb these ideas, and how should I transform them once I have absorbed them? Do I use them as they are? Or do I transform them after digesting them? I think that there are many things artists should transform. They should think about how to turn them into something else that they can use in their work. Mount Taihang is rather nice, really worth the trip. I suppose I have been there some seven or eight times, from my university days to my solo trips later on.

LESLEY MA: Let's wrap up this section and invite Mr Liang Quan onstage to join in the conversation. Both of you can ask each other questions; we will open the floor for questions afterwards. Thank you, Mr Leung.

LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] Not at all.

[audience clapping]

I really do not have any secret tips for painting; I tell everyone all that I know. I teach in the same way, never withholding anything. Liang Quan and I are old friends, so he should sit in the middle. [laughter]

LESLEY MA: Thank you both for sharing with us your amazing journeys; we have experienced so many years in a flash... Let's go back to the first slide.

Since we have the honour of having both of you here, I would like to ask you both the same question: what is your first memory of ink painting? Let's start with Mr Liang.

LIANG QUAN: My first memory of ink painting was perhaps when I was in fifth grade, when I first found out about this store on Nanjing Road, Shanghai that sold Xuan paper. I bought a piece of Xuan paper for twenty cents, brought it home, and drew on it. I saw that the ink spread through the paper and found it very peculiar. Ever since then, I have viewed Chinese art through this 'peculiar' point of view. That is how I started to understand ink painting.

LESLEY MA: How old were you then?

LIANG QUAN: Fifth grade. First, I saw the paper and reckoned it could be drawn on, then I went ahead to understand more. Before then, I did not understand anything about painting and art.

LESLEY MA: What about you, Mr Leung?

LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] Actually, when I was learning to paint, I was already working in construction. When I was studying art under Mr Lui, paper was very expensive; a sheet of high-quality paper would cost $2 or 3. Nowadays, I use bamboo paper from Fujian Province, $15 for 100 sheets. The ink I used was stored in a beer bottle. Dab some on the paper, crumple it up, and print it on another piece of paper—this is how I started learning. But $15 meant a lot to me because, back then, I was paid only $80 a month. $15 were used for ink and transport to Chatham Galleries, I had to manage those $80 wisely to make it to the end of the month. I think that this start to my journey has had a great impact on my attitude towards painting and art-making. I have never thrown away any piece of work while I am painting simply because I do not like it; I would always finish it no matter what. Whether it turns out good or not is a different story. Art is always a failure—it is the failures that allow you to keep going, whereas successes only put an endpoint to your journey, stopping you from painting. Thus, I think that you have to keep painting and keep improving your attitude towards art-making. Also, nowadays, if any of my work does not turn out well, I will put it aside for two or three months before picking it back up. That 110 centimetre-long piece took me around six months of painting, pausing, and making changes.

I have a secret to divulge to you all: when I am in the middle of painting large works, I take a photo of it, then print it postcard-size to observe its composition, rather than view the work in its original size. This is because, regardless of its original dimensions, the compositional quality of any painting can be determined once the piece is shrunk to the size of a postcard. Naturally, I hope that painting monumental works does not simply mean making paintings of large sizes—I could just enlarge an advertisement poster, but that is not what a monumental painting is. So I often take a photo of it, then take a look at its space, amongst other factors, taking into account any issues. This is the process I use. My paintings these days are all 20-30 by 100 centimetres. I recently found out that these sizes are sold in mainland China. As long as my back can still bear it, I shall continue to make large ink paintings. This type of art-making is most likely influenced by European–American styles, because most abstract European–American art is rather large in size.

LESLEY MA: Mr Liang Quan has also made many large artworks. I have always wanted to ask you: do you make your collages on a table or on the floor? Does it require a lot of lower back strength?

LIANG QUAN: I make them against a wall.

LESLEY MA: Are there any questions you would like to ask each other, but never had the opportunity to do so?


LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] Not really. I have been following Liang Quan's works for a long time. Just now when I was looking at his paintings again, I realise that Liang Quan's work is just like him—very gentle and tranquil. Looking at his recent works, I find an aura of literati elegance in them—that is to say, ink painting is not as simple as drawing a few sticks of bamboo. I have seen his recent works—not in presentation slides, but the originals—in Shanghai or other places; in fact, I have been following many of my friends in mainland China. I will also divulge to you all that I have been taking photos of these works, not just taking a look and leaving. This improves my attitude towards learning from other artists because every artist has their own artistic forte, which I can learn from. So when you ask me what my view of Liang Quan is, I would say his work is very gentle and full of spaciousness. He transforms ancient artistic elements truthfully, incorporating the intellectual and cultural air of traditional art into his own works. I think that his techniques are very sophisticated and used very well. He is also one of those whom I would take students to interview back when I was teaching. He would explain concepts to them very clearly, because there are no secrets about an artist's techniques—like how he talked about how to make collages with glue just now, you can try that at home too. But all of your collages might become like Uncle Liang's work, so do not actually do it.

LIANG QUAN: Thank you, you flatter me too much. I'm embarrassed.


LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] No, it is true.

LIANG QUAN: Yes, yes.... His lines—I have seen his paintings many times now, but I still do not know how he makes his lines so complex. He does not rely on ink wash, but rather simply creates an image with a combination of lines. I like this type of detailed, fine art, because an image should reach a certain level of complexity and stay interesting after one look. This is a point that I often pay attention to in his work.

LESLEY MA: When did you two meet for the first time? Was it at an exhibition, or...?

LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] No, no...

LIANG QUAN: We did an exhibition together at Cattle Depot Artist Village.

LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] Yes, a long time ago, we participated in a group exhibition together at Cattle Depot with artists from Shenzhen Fine Art Institute.

LESLEY MA: An art space in Hong Kong.

LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] Sometimes I will go to Shenzhen Fine Art Institute and visit him. He is retired now and paints at home, but sadly there is not much space there—his works are also very large. Unlike some artists in Beijing who have very large studios, we both do not have much space. Mr Lui once said, 'You can even paint on a bunk bed. You do not have to paint in a large studio.' Small spaces can produce good works too; having a large space does not mean you have to create large pieces as well. Many people make small pieces in large spaces, and vice versa. This is that issue about space that we often encounter. Space is quite an issue to me. Space is extremely important to me, because I am very sensitive to what is around me when I paint, I feel a bit more comfortable when there is some distance between myself and the walls. If there is less space, my pieces will also be slightly smaller. We often say that art imitates life; knowing how to judge art means knowing how to judge people as well. What I said just now was not mere flattery—I do know a little about how to judge art—I can truly see the elements I mentioned in Liang Quan's art. There are those whose paintings will always seems unrefined, no matter how large or small the work is, just adding little bits here and there for no reason at all. You need time to hone these skills. Why do I say that? I teach every year; my students range from twenty-eight to seventy years old. I teach both young and old, and I have benefitted a lot from these relationships. I have been teaching ink painting since the year 2000, close to twenty years now, and have gained a lot on the way. When I first started teaching, some people asked, 'You make modern art. How can you teach ink painting?' I just replied, 'Why not give it a try?' I have also taught design for more than twenty years; why would I not be able to teach ink painting? The fact is that teaching art and being an artist are two different things—teaching requires structure, while being an artist means that you can do whatever you want. Do not only pass on your own methods to others; that would only produce a Leung Junior. That's a problem I've found when looking at art. I teach with utmost respect for tradition—all of my students have to copy classical pieces and be drilled in the basic techniques of landscape painting. I think that these basic techniques have been the most important throughout history. When I teach, I rarely give demonstrations; I just tell my students to paint on their own. Once I have given them a method or direction to practise, I do not demonstrate anything to them, nor will I give them a work to imitate.

LESLEY MA: Now that Mr Leung has brought up his teaching experience, could Mr Liang share with us—since you have taught for many years as well—your approach towards teaching? Has there been any conflict between making and teaching art, or perhaps any unexpected gains?

LIANG QUAN: Unlike Mr Leung, I taught in mainland China. In the early days, schools were very conservative. There were many syllabus statements, and we teachers had to follow the syllabus strictly. Back then, I had just come back from abroad and wanted to be more innovative. For example, when I taught still life, I wanted my students to draw the objects bigger. Most still life paintings were approximate 40 centimetres, but I asked if they could paint them in 150 centimetres. At that time, the students were thrilled, since a bigger painting meant more action and a larger field of vision—the image would become much more vivid. Yet these large paintings were criticised and regarded as poor works by the school. Why did I stop teaching in the end? Because I felt that teaching was becoming more and more conservative. How should I put it—I wonder if there are any teachers in the audience—teaching is about finding faults in students. 'This rock is not drawn right', 'You did not use the brush correctly', or 'This line is crooked'... Teachers often say these things to students, and so over time, teachers will develop the mindset that observing art means identifying faults. Thus, school teachers are very bitter about some paintings in society, because all they see are faults. For example, 'Van Gogh couldn't even draw shapes properly', and 'He drew legs too short'—this is what teachers see. I once read an article about an old barber walking in the streets—while we see scenery, he observes the length of people's hair and thinks about how he could cut it better. [laughter] That is to say, every profession forms professional habits. Therefore, when I became a teacher, I developed habits that affected my judgement of art, and later on, I did not want to be a teacher anymore. However, teaching these days seems to be better. Teachers in mainland China nowadays have more freedom, unlike my days. I did not have much freedom back then.

LESLEY MA: When you taught, you showed your students many of the things you saw abroad, right?

LIANG QUAN: Yes, I organised a few seminars and introduced a few things.

LESLEY MA: Both of you enjoy travelling, like journeying through mountains and rivers, or visiting different cities. Especially Mr Liang, who lived in the US; Mr Leung also frequented the US to visit Mr Szeto Keung. I wonder—you go abroad and see works by other artists, and they take you to different cultural contexts—when you return and see your own pieces, do you gain any new experiences, or do you become even more committed to the techniques you originally used? Let's start with Mr Liang and then move on to Mr Leung.

LIANG QUAN: One year, I went to Germany and lived in Nuremberg for a while and saw some paintings by German artists.

LESLEY MA: When was this?

LIANG QUAN: Around 2000, perhaps. At that moment, I understood what made German expressionism what it is—so thick, dark, and heavy. It is because they have cloudy and rainy weather from September to May the following year; they can only wear rain boots. There are no stylish leather shoes in the shops, only rain boots, and the ground is covered with water. Thus, it immediately came to my mind—it is very normal for artistic styles like Max Beckmann's expressionism to emerge in Germany. From this, you can understand why Germans painted like that. On the other hand, viewing China from that perspective, you can see why the literati of southern China portrayed China the way they did; I think they are both interesting. What should be upheld must be upheld.

LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] Slightly further back, I talked about seeing American art in the US. Actually, I studied not only American art, but also a lot of European art. Why do I like Paris so much? It is because Paris has a lot of classical and impressionist art, as well as works by Picasso. In fact, these are all important 'vitamins' for my own art-making. But I want to talk a little more about how my art incorporated elements of Picasso's cubism. The houses in my paintings mimic his style—the houses extend in a fragmented fashion; the mountains also move in fragments. I absorb the creations of the master—Picasso is one of my favourite artists. In addition to this, I first saw Monet's work in the US, and became enamoured of his art from different periods.

LESLEY MA: When was the first time you saw Monet's work?

LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] Around 1975. I saw Monet's work in New York and observed the variation of colour in his paintings—like how to make straw look fiery red, as though it was aflame. Soon after returning, I started to use oil pastels to express movement of colours in the style of Monet's modernist paintings. As a matter of fact, looking at paintings abroad is a very important stage of my artistic learning, because seeing the original work allows my mind to contemplate many things. In fact, you can absorb any part of their art. Besides this, as I also work on interior and window display design, I really like architectural design—I would go all the way to France to look at Frank Gehry's lines and the structure of the Fondation Louis Vuitton; structures also fascinate me. Therefore, observing things in the outside world, then using them to influence your art-making is the natural evolution of an artist and is a rather healthy process. However, the most important point is that you must transform them after seeing them—do not copy what you absorb from others directly in your work; that wouldn't be ideal. It is the same with Chinese art; it is very important to understand deeply and then transform it after seeing it. This is exactly like the first time I saw Jasper John's pencil art, which I become infatuated with right away. Once I returned, I kept reminding myself to be smarter and learn how to handle a pencil as well as he did. Foreigners can use a pencil so much better than we Chinese can—we just pick up a pencil and start drawing, while they can truly draw beautiful lines and text, shifting the position of the tip to create variations in the thickness of the lines. Upon my return, I drew with pencil frequently for a couple of years. I've kept many of those practice drawings. This is why I mentioned my 'causes' period just now, because there are many things I needed to learn on my own after coming back.

LESLEY MA: Now, I am sure you all have many questions to ask after hearing so much—what a special occasion it is to have both masters together. We will hand you a microphone when you ask a question. You can direct your questions to either speaker or both. All questions are welcome. We should have approximately fifteen minutes left.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: [Cantonese] Hello. I shall ask in Cantonese. Our topic today is ink art, but I see that both of you practise in other artistic areas and mediums. Therefore, I would like to ask: what role does ink painting play in your art-making, or rather, what is it like as a medium? Also, in your ink painting endeavours, what do you think is ink's most unique or distinctive aspect compared to other mediums? I'd like to learn more about that. Thank you

LESLEY MA: This is directed at both speakers, right?

LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] I will answer first, in Cantonese. Actually, the answer is simple. Firstly, ink art is a personal preference. I am Chinese and throughout the history of traditional Chinese art, from calligraphy to painting, everything has included the use of ink. Naturally, westerners have also used ink, but Western ink is not the same as Chinese ink. The difference is that our ink is not simply black, rather it has different shades—dried, rich, dense, light, and clear—to express the variations of one's state of mind and the spirit of ink. You will see that Picasso also used ink, and so does India, but their representations reflect their own cultures. The ink that we Chinese use is tied to our history, forming an intimate bond between the material and us. Hong Kong's ink art developed from the Lingnan school of art, spreading from China to Hong Kong. These days, ink is considered in Hong Kong to be one of the mediums of expression but in reality, oil and other materials can also be used. Although there is one thing to consider: Hong Kong homes are extremely small and ink art is easy to store. Imagine if you painted on canvas, your mother would certainly throw your drawings out on the street. [laughter] Just three pieces of canvas, and you would run out of space. I will also tell you why you should not make sculptures: [laughter] sculptures are massive—take a look at the sculptures on the waterfront; those Duan inkstones weigh four or five tons. Where would you put it? It would not even fit in my studio. As a matter of fact, an artist's studio, their space, their creative environment, as well as all aspects of society exert some influence on their art-making—not a lot, but a little.

Secondly, we often talk about being environmentally-friendly, and ink art is actually the most environmentally-friendly form of art. You do not have to use Xuan paper, printing paper works just as well. A brush pen can produce excellent traditional Chinese ink art. It doesn't necessarily have to be ink art. Even though this presentation is about ink art, the curator displays not only ink paintings, but also some Korean oil paintings and works from other genres. These different genres can also express the ethos of ink art and help open up its interpretation and understanding. You do not have to use ink and brush to call it ink art; other materials can express the same cultural spirit too. I think the most commendable part of this exhibition is that it expands the concept of ink art. Exhibitions today feature traditional Chinese ink art or contemporary ink art; the mass media often discusses issues about ink art; there are also ink art installations, which have also widened the realm of art. In my opinion, these trends prompts art to develop in a normal and healthy fashion. In the West, pop art was major, as was 'super focus'

(Editor's note: according to Leung Kui Ting, 'super focus' is another name for Hyperrealism).

Conceptual art of that time developed into many other aspects; they were not merely concepts. This is what we face today.

LIANG QUAN: Thank you. Mr Leung is right: ink art is a state of mind. Such a perspective of ink art provides a whole new possibility to the world. Within the plethora of art forms that currently exists, I think having another possibility is very valuable. For example, Chinese landscape painting, as compared to the same genre in the West, is like riding an elevator, going from bottom to top—it can also be as Mr Leung described: looking down from an aeroplane, a panoramic, comprehensive view. It is not just scenery as viewed by the eyes, but also scenery as imagined by the mind, as well as scenery that you personally enjoy, all added together to portray the landscape. Meanwhile, Western landscape painting is basically what I see with my eyes and percept physically. In my opinion, these two genres are not the same. Ink art provides yet another possibility. Whether one judges it to be good or bad depends on one's preferences, but I think that we should keep going, especially now. Also, regarding bird-and-flower paintings—in the West, still life paintings are rather straightforward, like classical Dutch still lifes, but Chinese bird-and-flower paintings are like a Japanese tea ceremony: you pluck a branch outside and put it in a vase. Just one branch allows you to feel the world of nature, vitality, and the joys of life—it has a different mentality. I think these are the other possibilities that ink art provides to world culture, and we can continue and attempt to make other contributions.

LESLEY MA: Are there any more questions?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you, masters, for this presentation. I have two questions. The first one is directed at Mr Liang Quan. You mentioned a short while ago that as one gets older, one increasingly wishes for a simple life. In fact, we can see this in the works displayed just now—the paintings started out with a sense of richness and abundance that slowly shifted to an ambiguous materiality. I have also read an article, which said that you were influenced by the idea of 'voidness' in Zen Buddhism, and you included it in your experimental ink paintings. Could you please share with us any insight you have gained as well as how you experimented with combining your thoughts and art? My second question is for both masters. In this day and age, when we hear the words 'ink art', we will naturally think of the stereotypical Chinese ink painting. Of course, I have no idea if young people decades from now will have the same first impression towards ink art, but in my generation, that is the case. So on the topic of tradition versus innovation—which is, in fact, always a topic in art—I would like to ask you both, what aspects of ink art have stood the test of time and remain unchanged? What do you think should never change in ink art, and what do you think is fit for innovation in the modern world? This is something I would like to hear more about.

LIANG QUAN: Thank you. I do like Zen, but I rarely talk about it these days. This is because in mainland China, everyone incorporates Zen into their speech, making me embarrassed to mention Zen anymore. [laughter] Everyone, including so many frauds, is talking about Zen and Lao Tzu, I do not dare talk about it anymore.

[laughter, audience clapping]

As for your other point about what ink art should maintain, I think that it should maintain its green lifestyle and attitude towards nature, which is very appropriate for these modern times. I think that Chinese ink art will always be close to nature. It reverences nature and believes that man is a part of nature, unlike some Western artists who attempt to conquer nature and insist that man is the master of nature. This is where the perspectives differ. I think that this aspect should be upheld—we must humbly become a part of nature. I believe that this is the spirit of ink art. That is my personal opinion.

LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] I did not hear the question very clearly just now, so I will only talk about it briefly.


Firstly, we make landscape paintings mostly because we like it—ink art does not have to be landscapes; it can express many other things as well. As a matter of fact, I sometimes do not paint landscapes, I paint other things but still express them through the spirit of Chinese ink art, and I think this aspect deserves more experimentation. On the other hand, in terms of art-making—in my opinion, I am not currently creating anything; what I am doing now is learning, not creating. When I teach, I often tell my students that there is no such thing as 'creating' because whatever you make belongs to you. There is no new creation. Much of it is just elements we gather. If we like landscapes, it is simply a personal preference. However, because China is an agricultural society, caring for nature plays an important part in our lives. On top of this, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism all explore issues about nature, and all these elements influence art to some degree. I am not saying that I am very familiar with all this, nor will I mention Lao Tzu or Chuang Tzu, since they are actually irrelevant. It is all about your sincerity and honesty in exploring ink art. The ink art you see nowadays is most likely the product of some trend that happened to make ink art currently fashionable. The wind might blow somewhere else in a decade—this is how art develops. It is like a typhoon: a cold day today, a warm day tomorrow, and then even colder the day after. So do not think about how impressive ink art is right now—it just happens to be all the rage currently, causing everyone to talk about it. I have been making ink art in Hong Kong for decades but I just happen to be a pawn in the limelight; I might step out of it later. Thirty years ago, ink art was also around; when everyone else in One Art Group was making ink paintings, I still did not touch ink art, but rather focused on sculpture and oil pastel. Yet after some time, I started to make ink art, because I believe that ink art gives me creativity and enables me to pursue traditional artistry. On this point, there is much about me that has been influenced by my antecedents, which allow me to continue on my journey in ink art—this artistic and creative journey. Like when I mentioned impressionism—why did Mr Huang Binhong paint blue-green landscapes? There was once a German who showed him some printed impressionist works, which made him reflect on why he made those blurs and smudges in his work. Why did he do that to the blue-green landscapes? Huang Binhong's art is very famous, but very few understand it. With the disordered, sweeping strokes, perhaps it's hard to believe that it comes from a master. How are we to interpret it? Thus, judging art requires a bit of inquisitiveness and to be forward-thinking.

LESLEY MA: Is there anything you'd like to add?


LESLEY MA: Let's have one last question. Thank you.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you, masters. Previously, I studied landscape architecture in Hangzhou—there is a perspective in traditional ink art of 'accepting nature as one's master', and I think that the lakes and mountains of the Jiangzhe region often remind one of ink art. Hearing about one of Mr Liang's pieces just now, Tea and a Little Coffee, I was rather moved. Hangzhou or the Jiangzhe region is more suited for a lifestyle of drinking tea at a teahouse; for Hong Kong, perhaps coffee would be a more appropriate symbol. I would like to ask you both, where can Hong Kong obtain the spirit of ink art from? Or rather, what new expressions can exhibitions like The Weight of Lightness gain when placed in Hong Kong's multicultural context? I would like to direct this question to the curator too. Thank you.

LESLEY MA: You (Liang Quan) should answer first, that question about tea and coffee.

LIANG QUAN: I think that in terms of modern movements of Chinese art, Lui Shou-kwan's art is at the forefront of Chinese art innovation. This is because Hong Kong was the first to receive Western influences and import Western materials. Thus, the Lingnan school of ink art uses a lot of the techniques of the English watercolourists—it is completely different. I do not think that it has any contradictions with those from mainland China; it simply evolved a little faster. Also, I personally really like this exhibition curated by Ms Ma, since it reflects the spirit of ink art. This spirit of ink art suits us—it may not be entirely correct, but it is our type of exhibition, this kind of exhibition with Lee Ufan's work. That is what I think.

LESLEY MA: Thank you. How about Mr Leung?

LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] But the development of ink art in Hong Kong was vastly different from that in mainland China, because in the 1970s, or towards the end of the 1960s, Hong Kong already had their own ink art, which developed differently from the Lingnan school of art—perhaps this was due to Lui Shou-kwan's familiarity with Chinese traditions. Artists must create a new artistic path for themselves; it has been so for both the East and the West since the dawn of time. Regardless of whether you succeed or not, new paths of exploration must open up. Hong Kong evolved differently from mainland China because the mainland was still rather conservative during the 1970s and approached both ink art and Western concepts with hesitation. On the other hand, Hong Kong's ink art had begun to enter new realms in the 1970s and was beginning to interact with Taiwan's ink art development, thus ink art flourished from the 1970s to the 1980s. Now, I think that if Hong Kong's ink art is to develop further, it will have to rely on education—more similar to the method of the China Academy of Art on the cultural knowledge of ink art, more focused—because I feel that, currently, Hong Kong's ink art is very bland. It does not have to be about the fundamentals of ink art, but rather there just needs to be more guidance, more knowledge—regardless of artistic styles, ink art or otherwise. Art education in mainland China is well-rounded, especially at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing and the like, but Hong Kong's ink art still has much to develop. I do not know if I have answered your question. It would be best to ask in Cantonese; I can understand it better. [laughter] If not, I will only understand bits and pieces and will not answer as clearly. Does anyone else want to ask a question? Please feel free to do so. Do not worry about whether we speakers are correct or not; do not only use one standard. We might go off on a tangent from the question, but it does not matter. Feel free to ask. Do not think that it is useless to hear others say different things. Do not think like that. I never teach with only one standard. Liang Quan is an old friend of mine; I really admire him, I truly do. I also believe in many other mainland Chinese artists. Please ask any questions you may have. Do not hold back now, and then say, 'I wanted to ask such and such' afterwards. We do not have much time left before the session ends.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: [Cantonese] I have a question.

LESLEY MA: The last question.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I shall ask in Cantonese. [Cantonese] It is a simple question really, but it might be an important one. There has been recent discussion about Chinese ink art lacking academic theory—as both of you are also teachers, what do you think of this issue? Is there a need to develop a complete set of theory for ink art in the future? This is what I would like to ask.

LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] Okay, I can answer this.


Firstly, you must view us two as simply painters. The theory of ink art is not for us to develop; perhaps it is for museums or scholars after seeing our work. However, Hong Kong's greatest weakness is that we do not have much art criticism—we do not mention the more academic side of ink art, nor talk about the artists' creative roots which would allow the public to understand more about the artists' endeavours. It is a little better now; some newspapers might now mention it. But there is more discussion in mainland China and even more in Taiwan—there are many more critics and essayists who have close relationships with artists, so from their comments and reviews you can understand more about the artists' concepts. Hong Kong has almost none of that—extremely plain. Is it the same in mainland China?

LIANG QUAN: I personally think that there is no need for theory. [laughter] Why? Take impressionism—just a couple of people who are fond of light and enjoy sketching outdoors, and then impressionism was born. The theory came from art theorists drawing conclusions afterwards. If you want to walk, you cannot pick up a book and look at what the first step is, then the second step—you cannot learn like this. Just play with it however you like. If you play with it well, theorists will draw conclusions from your experience. If you do not, you will find a different style to play with... if you are clever enough. Ignore theories.

[audience clapping]

LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] Yes. Feel free to ask more questions.

LESLEY MA: This really has to be the last question, everyone. [laughter] This can't be stopped.


LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] It's fine

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Mandarin or Cantonese? [Cantonese] Alright, I will speak in Cantonese. The topic of the presentation is aesthetic, ink, and life. I think that, recently, the art market in Hong Kong has been extremely strong; to give an example, right now there is an exhibition (Ink Asia 2017) right across the street. I see a lot of people these days studying different types of art. I have some personal experience, but I would also like to ask both of you as teachers: when you teach design, art, or aesthetics, how do you instruct—or perhaps guide—your students to learn in areas such as design and ink art? In my opinion, common teaching practices nowadays all involve copying—there is a format. You are supposed to reproduce fixed methods, such as imitation, or a standard point of view from which everyone learns from 1 to 100. Many people still follow this way of teaching. As both of you are very open-minded and have engaged in teaching and art for several decades, could you share your thoughts with us? I am sure that there are many members of the audience who are currently or will become artists and teachers. I would like them to be able to leave this room inspired, allowing more students to enjoy art. Thank you.

LESLEY MA: Maybe it's easier to talk about ideas of teaching, rather than teaching methods...?

LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] It's okay. I'll talk about it briefly


LEUNG KUI TING: [Cantonese] I mentioned it a while back: do not create a Leung Junior. Some people do teach like this—we cannot say that they teach badly because we must respect the teaching methods of the older generation. They need to make a living too, they have to teach housewives how to draw a rose, so that they can take it home to their husbands and tell them, 'I learnt to draw a rose today'. But they are not artists; they are leisure painters. I have said it before, you need institutional teaching, studying based on a foundational syllabus. For example, studying design at Hong Kong Polytechnic University does not involve copying step by step in a sketchbook. Every course, every little details is based on aesthetic experiences in design education, and they give assignments for you to practise at home. Through practising, you will gain your own aesthetic experiences too. These experiences are very short—you only study for two years—a long way from being an artist. To give an example, I cannot paint like Qi Baishi, because he took sixty years and two seconds to paint his shrimps. You have to start slowly from the fundamentals—that is, if you truly want to study art— if you only want to be an amateur and paint roses, it is another matter altogether. So you must go to an academy and receive artistic training. The training will teach you one step at a time, year after year, and finally you will succeed and reap the rewards. Now, when I teach, I do not give demonstrations; instead I simply give you a log of wood as the object to test your sketching skills and brushwork.

Ask my students—they know that you must have a good sitting posture. If you slump, I will tell you off.


Can you cross your legs when your paint? Do you think you are here to relax? Sit properly please, straighten your back—you can tell whether a student is conscientious or not just from this. If they cannot even sit right, how can I teach them? Some students have even asked me why they cannot rest their head on one hand if they have a headache and paint with the other. Is this the way to learn? Students must reflect on their attitude towards learning, rather than simply absorb everything taught by their teachers—that is what I think. Teachers must teach seriously and students must learn seriously; the two sides must communicate, or it will not go well. To your question—to be honest, we have different teaching styles: he is the academic type, while I am the self-taught type. This is why this presentation is so good: one, a self-taught painter is now like this; the other is an academic and is now like that. Lesley is the curator. I am very glad that I can point this out, because Lesley, as the curator, has clearly thought it through: find two artists who have the same last name (Liang/Leung) [laughter] and are of a similar age, and this talk will be a delightful one. I teach and so does he, but I teach something different from him—I do not teach at universities as I do not have a degree. I did not even graduate from secondary school, how could I teach at a university? In any case, there are many things that depend on you—at the end of the day, whether you paint or not depends on you, not anything else. But I think that you must stick to three 'mores': see more, do more, think more. 'See more' means going out there and exploring; 'do more' is practising more; 'think more' means thinking about your problems. If you can follow these three 'mores', then go ahead and learn art; if not, you will just have to go at it slowly. That is all there is to it.

[audience clapping]

LESLEY MA: Anything to add, Mr Liang?

LIANG QUAN: He said it very well—I also wanted to talk about three 'mores'. Firstly, it is not about the teacher, it is about you. I also have had many students ask me this question. I tell them to think about Picasso's son, or the children of any great master—none of them are great artists. Art cannot be taught; if art could be taught, all of their children would have been masters of art. Art is all about you, just like what Mr Leung said about the three 'mores'. In the US, there is a popular concept called the '10,000-Hour Rule'. If you spend five hours a day painting from now on, you need to spend 10,000 hours, or 2,000 days, to succeed—that is, around eight to ten years. Americans believe that you can succeed in anything as long as you spend 10,000 hours on it—it just depends on whether you can reach it.


LESLEY MA: It sounds like it only gets more and more difficult.


Thank you, Mr Leung and Mr Liang, for sharing so much with us today. Thank you

[audience clapping]

Thank you to our audience as well. After the talk, there will be a bus to take you all to the exhibition The Weight of Lightness. If you require assistance, there will be staff at the door to guide you to the bus. Thank you once again.

LIANG QUAN: Thank you, everyone.

LEUNG KUI TING: Thank you, everyone.

[audience clapping]

Seals often reiterate or complement the subject matter or meaning of paintings and calligraphy. Besides Tong’s calligraphic work, this common usage also appears in the paintings by Hsiao Chin and Koon Wai Bong in this exhibition, among others. There are also examples of seals becoming part of the pictorial language. For example, Qiu Deshu incorporated abstracted vermillion seal marks as part of his painting in the early 1980s; Irene Chou also designs unique seals to strategically place within the composition of her painting.

Questions have been edited for length and clarity. This article was originally published on M+ Stories.

Lesley Ma
Lesley Ma
Lesley Ma

Lesley Ma is currently the Ming Chu Hsu and Daniel Xu Associate Curator of Asian Art in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Met. She was formerly the Curator of Ink Art at M+.

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