In my study of traditional ink and wash paintings, my view of time and space staggers and jumps. When I read the artistic theories of Dong Qichang, the Ming dynasty scholar and painter, I suddenly think of [Wassily] Kandinsky. When I travel in nature, I see the details of ancient Chinese paintings, flashing before me like a film montage by [Sergei] Eisenstein.
Gagosian is pleased to present an exhibition of new works by Hao Liang, one of the foremost contemporary artists working in traditional Chinese ink painting. This is his first solo exhibition with the gallery, and his first in the United States.
Seeking to revivify and extend the conventions of ink and wash painting, Hao spent many years studying Chinese classical paintings, acquiring vast knowledge of historical works, as well as the many motifs and poetic traditions related to them. Yet, in his silk handscrolls, portraits, and landscape paintings, Hao filters these techniques and themes through a contemporary, cosmopolitan consciousness, effortlessly weaving together Su Shi and Dmitri Shostakovich, Zhao Mengfu and Sergei Eisenstein, Wang Wei and Gilles Deleuze.
In this exhibition, which includes intricate, masterfully painted landscapes and portraits, Hao considers the perpetual flux of nature and time. Streams and Mountains without End (2017) is a silk scroll measuring more than thirty-seven feet. Departing from his previous narrative scrolls, Hao seeks to unite the details and symbols of traditional Chinese landscapes with twentieth-century art theory, bringing together Ming dynasty scholar and artist Dong Qichang (1555–1636) and Russian modern artist Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) in a panoramic sweep. Reading from right to left, the viewer first encounters a man’s profile, an interlocutor between reality and representation. Implying multiple dimensions, various strange scenes unfurl and intersect. Mountains, trees, waves, and rolling clouds give way to sinuous patterns painted in gray, blue, green, and red, inspired by the muscular and vascular systems of human anatomy. Then, Kandinsky’s telescoping circles are launched into swirling orbit while a man in red views the scene from outer space, suggesting a divine, cosmic perspective. At the end of the scroll, the same figure from the beginning stands naked in a refracted abstract realm, looking back at a journey that is both micro- and macrocosmic.
Time and perspective are explored further in a diptych titled Day and Night (2017–18), which depicts the same landscape in two different sizes, the larger presenting a colorful day, and the smaller showing the intense dark of night. In both, Hao distorts proportions of space and objects to emphasize the ever-changing interplay of sea, land, and sky. This approach was inspired by the inkstone tablets of Qing dynasty literatus Wang Ziruo, who created small replicas of huge, eroding ancient monuments engraved with various texts, pictures, and historical information. Struck by the skin-like surfaces of the tablets, as well as by the paper rubbings created from them, Hao applied the same logic to his landscapes, showing how light, scale, and texture alter legibility and memory.
Considering a single subject from many angles is a common exercise in Chinese culture, explored in both poetry and painting. Hao takes the idea of the scholar’s rock, depicted from infinite viewpoints, and applies it to portraiture. While Red Nose (2017), a triptych, seeks to embody an everyman, with no particular race, age, or epoch discernible, A Thousand, Thousand Churning Waves (2018) depicts a foreigner, a Westerner, in the style of Yuan dynasty painter Zhao Mengfu, specifically alluding to Zhao’s painting of the artist and poet Su Shi of the Song dynasty, holding a bamboo stick. In one of his most famous poems, “Nian Nu Jiao” (Reminiscence of red cliffs), Su Shi recounts a memory of a striking landscape, demonstrating the endless flux of nature. In his work, Hao carries this sentiment forward, embracing the simultaneity of the past and the present in all things: the mountains and the cosmos, the body and the mind.
Hao Liang: Portraits and Wonders
Hao Liang speaks with curator Philip Tinari about Chinese artists and traditions that have inspired him. New works by the artist are currently on view at Gagosian in New York.
Hao Liang and Hans Ulrich Obrist
To coincide with his recent exhibition Hao Liang: The Sad Zither at Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill, London, the artist speaks with curator Hans Ulrich Obrist about the past, his beginnings, and his references.
Hao Liang: Emaciation Now: Paintings of My Contemporaries
Travis Diehl pens an essay on Hao Liang’s latest paintings.
Hao Liang: To Forge the Chain of Being
Fan Jingzhong analyzes the classical concepts and references in Hao Liang’s paintings.
Behind the Art
Hao Liang: Poetics of Li Shangyin
Join Hao Liang in his Beijing studio as he discusses the inspiration behind his latest series of paintings, rendered in ink and color on silk. Evoking the tradition of literati painting, the three works picture imagery conceived in response to passages of poetry by the ninth-century poet Li Shangyin.
December 8–14, 2021
In his intricately painted silk portraits and landscapes, Hao Liang filters the techniques, themes, motifs, and conventions of traditional Chinese guohua ink wash painting through a contemporary, cosmopolitan sensibility. Referencing projects and oeuvres from a variety of disciplines, periods, and contexts, he weaves together outwardly divergent influences, ranging from classical poetry to modern literature, film theory, and modern art. Much of Hao’s work is concerned with perspectives on temporality. He positions image making not simply as an exercise in technical skill and art historical knowledge, but also as a reflection of lived experience.
Photo: Fan Xi
Curated by Irving Blum
September 9–October 21, 2023
980 Madison Avenue, New York