He is best known for his literature which was described as having “opened new paths for the Chinese novel and drama" by the jury who awarded him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000. But Gao Xingjian can also boast of being the only Nobel prize writer who has attained international recognition in another discipline: ink painting. I first met the multi-talented artist a few years ago in his Paris apartment. He explained his aesthetic search for a path between abstract and figurative using the richness of ink as his medium.
This is what he told me "Some forms and expressions can evoke a vision not only for the artist, but also for the viewer. They can evoke an experience that one has already seen. I’m aiming for something that is neither representative nor figurative, but something evocative. Not in an emotional sense, but in the visual one,” adding “I try to detach myself from my emotion because the look is not emotional. So your look should be cold when you are painting, almost like a third eye as you distance yourself from your emotions.” He's having a new solo show at iPreciations and as you can see these mono-chromatic works clearly evoke feeling of solitude, as one get lost in nature. The back-and-white ink is a colourful world for the artist. “The ancient Chinese painters would classify the various tints of black into five groups (dark black, light black, black, dry black, and wet black), but this is too restricting. I can find 50 different tints of black depending on the brand of ink I’m using,” he explained. “When ink is mixed with water it becomes so fluid, one can create a richness of varied tones,” he said.
Gao began training in oil painting and sculpture under renowned artist Yun Zongying in the early 1950s. Yu recommended his student attend to the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, but his mother’s opposition to her son living a ‘bohemian life’ as painter sent the talented Gao on a literary career, though he continued to dabble in oil painting as a ‘hobby’. But a trip to Paris in the early 1980s with Chinese writer Ban Jin changed his life. Gao admits he turned to ink painting after setting his eye on Impressionist masterpieces. “Looking at the colours of the impressionist masters gave me a fascinating shock, but I also realized I could never attain their level. I could never be as good,” he recalled. So the artist decided to turn his attention to an art form that he felt had been largely ignored by the Western masters, while still trying to find his own path away from the traditional Chinese ink masters.