Conventional wisdom holds that landscape is the paramount subject for Chinese painting. However, extant scrolls representing art of the fourth and fifth centuries reveal that the human figure was fundamentally important. In these works moral acts and exemplary deeds are set out, but we also see exquisite moments of yearning and emotion. The complexities of the human condition thus appear early in Chinese painting.
In the tenth century, Chinese art theorists elegantly distinguished between depicting the form of something and capturing its essence. Ultimately the latter came to seem the more important aspect of art, and essence could be conveyed abstractly. More recently artists have taken painting beyond representation, even to the point of denying the implied space beyond the picture plane. These questions continue to play out in works in China and in the United States.
Twentieth century Chinese artists returned from travel and study in Europe to establish new art academies. Varieties of Western documentary art and life drawing were explored there and a new national style of painting figures in Chinese ink and color developed. Now in the twenty-first century, artists can draw freely upon these legacies and expand into fresh directions. At Renmin University of China, Professor Huang Huasan and Professor Gao Yi have led their students in a new exploration of the human figure as form and expressive content. We are honored that they exhibit their recent work at Arizona State University’s Step Gallery. As a response intended to welcome the visiting artists from Beijing, Professor Mark Pomilio, Faculty Associate Melissa Button, and three ASU graduate students, also show their work.
Professor of Art History, School of Art
Arizona State University