“There are many interesting things about ink painting that I must experiment with. Once you get into it, the fascination is irresistible.”

b.1982, Pingyao, Shanxi

Li Tingting uses one of the oldest and most exacting Chinese art forms to render the ephemera of 21st-century life. Painting on rice paper with water-based ink is a difficult task, for which the ancients formulated strict technical rules. The aim was above all qiyun shengdong, “rhythmic vitality” or “movement of life”. This did not preclude change or inventiveness: as the 17th-century master Shi Tao wrote, “The brush and ink should follow the times.” In Li Tingting’s Toy Series and Bottle Series (both 2006) the viewer’s first impression is of  a cascade of repetitive shapes. With their balance of wet and dry brushstrokes and their layers of translucent colour, these might almost be traditional paintings of plum blossoms or waterfalls. But the massed forms resolve into objects neither natural nor poetic: the banal staples of consumer society. Do they represent showers of wealth, or piles of waste?

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