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Friday, January 25, 2019, 18:06
Making a fine impression
By Liana Cafolla
Friday, January 25, 2019, 18:06 By Liana Cafolla

A new international art fair launched last week in Taipei by HK gallerist Calvin Hui might help rewrite traditionally held perceptions about ink art. Liana Cafolla reports. 

Landscapes created by Victor Wong’s artificial intelligence machine A.I. Gemini using an algorithm and data sets. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

While there are art fairs galore, it’d be hard to find one dedicated to a centuries-old, revered artistic tradition that, at the same time, breathes new life into it. Ink Now, a new international art fair launched in Taipei last week, aims to do that, and more.

Ink Now opened in the city’s Expo, a building surrounded by pleasant green areas where families and young people stroll and small food outlets and craft stalls give reasons to linger. The green feel continued inside the exhibition with a layout designed by architect Hom Liou of Taipei architecture firm Wooyo, who was inspired by Lingering Garden of Suzhou. Using the venue’s white walls, he added fabric and steel canopies to create a winding, maze-like layout with the gallery’s booths interspersed, a contrast to the parallel lines of western art fairs. 

Branded as more than an art fair and more than ink, Ink Now plans to promote not just ink works but the culture of ink art. “How to expand limitations of art fair formats and perceptions in ink — these were my key concerns when I started Ink Now,” said founder and chairman Calvin Hui, a well-known Hong Kong art advisor, collector and curator with a reputation for promoting Chinese and ink art. 

Visitors at Ink Now wandered through a maze-like interior inspired by Chinese gardens. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Dickson Yewn’s contemporary Chinese jewelry combines ancient wood and gemstones. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Outside of Asia, ink art is often seen as little more than scrolls of Chinese calligraphy or black and white landscapes, said Hui who sees Ink Now as just a starting point for a platform that will show and develop ink’s potential. He plans to hold year-round ink-related exhibitions, events and workshops around the world to develop and increase an understanding of the art form and its potential, and build collaboration between galleries, artists, collectors and academics. A slew of academic talks delivered by well-known names of Asian art at Ink Now offered a sampling of Hui’s vision to propagate ink art culture.

Around 30 galleries specializing in ink had been invited to participate. “We not only consider the artworks’ market value, but also the academic depth and aesthetic value of the galleries,” said Hui, who also owns 3812 Gallery in Hong Kong and London. 

On their part, the exhibiting galleries fulfilled their mission of showing much that ink art is capable of both within and beyond the bounds of traditional materials and methods.

A curated exhibition entitled Masters’ Ways showed works by renowned 20th century ink artists, including Zhu Dequn, Lin Fengmian, Yuan Jai and Li Yi-hong alongside works by leading contemporary ink artists such as Xu Bing, Li Jin, Peng Wei and Xiao Xu, showing ink’s potential for innovation over time. 

Artists born in Taiwan post-1949 featured in the Taiwan Oolong School of Art show, with works by Peng Yu, Zheng Zai-dong and Hsu Yu-Jen, among others. Exposed to both Japanese and western art styles through the impact of colonization, these artists were familiar with the art and aesthetics of both cultures.

Calvin Hui, Ink Now founder, says the fair is a first step in showing ink’s potential. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The Taiwan Oolong School of Art group show featured artists influenced by both eastern and western art styles. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Loftyart Gallery of Taiwan, known for its ink art shows, exhibited works by Xue Song, a well-known ink artist who produces eye-catchingly colorful collage works. Xue burns paper, using the ash to create a textured base which he paints over.

Stretching the “beyond ink” theme was the cross-media jewelry of Dickson Yewn, featuring jewel-encrusted butterflies, inspired by Chinese literary works. Many of his jewelry items are mounted on pieces of ancient wood.

Taiwan artist Shen Chang-ming uses quantum mechanics and mixed media to make huge, colorful works on canvas that contain hidden painted Buddhist texts. The artworks take up to six months to create, he explains. He starts by painting the messages, followed by sprinkling filtered sand on the surrounding canvas and finally applying acrylic paint over the sand. The messages are visible only when the artworks are viewed from certain angles. “I use eastern and western styles,” says Shen, who encourages visitors to touch the works and feel their different textures.

Hui hopes to encourage young artists to take up ink to ensure the genre’s survival. His being able to successfully expand the ink ecosphere, including the integration of social media and technological platforms, will probably go a long way toward achieving that end. 

“Artists also have to consider commercial aspects, so a platform (such as Ink Now) can build prospects for more collections, more galleries, and so more opportunities for artists. This is the industry development that I see,” Hui said.

Victor Wong, artist and special effects director, has created the first AI ink works. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The Masters’ Ways exhibition demonstrated the evolution of the medium in the hands of different generations of ink masters. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Tech Ink

By Liana Cafolla

Perhaps best known as a film director specializing in digital work and special effects, Hong Kong artist Victor Wong presented a series of Chinese landscapes created by an artificial intelligence machine named A.I. Gemini, which he had spent three years building. These are believed to be the first artificial intelligence-generated ink works. Ink Now Chairman Calvin Hui hailed them as the start of the tech ink era. 

“Wong’s intention is very pure. He’s a very tech-based artist,” said Hui. “I’m still not sure how a machine can create ink art like humans,” Hui admits, as ink work is closely linked with internal expression, mood and emotions of the heart. But he’s keeping an open mind as to whether machine-made art can be considered art. “I am not the one who will make that judgement — I will let the market make that,” said Hui. “I hope it will bring a new imagination to human artists on how to engage technology while painting or improving the spirit of creativity.”

The resulting black ink works stirred curiosity and some debate, with one viewer commenting that the ink lines were too straight to compete with works by human hands. Wong said his decision to start experimenting with AI was driven by the question, “what are the possibilities of combining technology and art?” I keep my mind open, and I’m open to all comments and criticism,” he said. “My challenge is to make AI more human.”


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