Friday, May 22, 2015

Chinese Brush Painter, Pan Gongkai's Exhibition Four Nobles, at San Diego Museum of Fine Art

Pan Gongkai    artist in his studio      2015
Four Nobles
Pan Gongkai
San Diego Museum of Fine Art - on view through February 1, 2016
Article by Cathy Breslaw

Chinese artist Pan Gongkai follows in the footsteps of his father and celebrated Chinese painter, Pan Tianshou.  Though Tianshou suffered persecution during the Cultural Revolution(1966-1976), he went on to create a large body of work in the tradition of brush and ink painting, influencing his son. 

Pan Gongkai’s Noble Virtues  depicts “the four gentlemen”(si junzi): plum blossoms, orchids, bamboo, and chrysanthemums.  Gongkai’s fifteen meter scroll of ink on rice paper  was hand carried in sections and then framed as one long narrow work, elegantly displayed on the wall of Gallery 15, a public area adjacent to Panama 66 and the May S. Marcy Sculpture Court.  The scroll which reads right to left, represents the four seasons – the resilience of plum blossoms in winter, the delicate elegance of springtime orchids, the strength and flexibility of bamboo in summer, and the chrysanthemums defiantly blooming in autumn under the approaching winter chill. 

The five paintings of ink on rice paper on the opposite wall named as a series –  Lotus Pond, depicts beautiful lotuses, which can lie dormant for many years prior to blossoming, emerging from murky waters, representing the resistance and purity of the soul. The immediate take on these works may be one of “just another display of Chinese brush painting”, however, at closer inspection the work exposes the artist’s deliberate, well-honed and confident line-making, a direct expressiveness of personal emotion, and a spontaneous feel - all reminiscent of  western abstract expressionist painters. We can picture Gongkai in his studio creating hundreds if not thousands of these kinds of paintings carefully narrowing down the selection to those that most closely meet his standards, thoughts and emotions about his subject matter and his relationship to it. 

There is a particular beauty, strength and simplicity to the work of this artist whose commitment to the years of a  disciplined art practice of using only brush, ink, and rice paper can make.  Gongkai comments that sadly, his kind of work may be lost on the current younger generations of Chinese because they are not being taught brush painting and will not have an appreciation of it.  It is for this reason that Gongkai strongly believes in a co-existence and continuing of traditions and methods across countries of the globe rather than a climate of integrated multi-culturalism.  Either way, the poetry and essence of Gongkai’s work speaks loudly, yet quietly of the unique traditions of his culture.

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