Cultural Medallion winner puts dreams on paper

Cultural Medallion winner Hong Zhu An had always known what he was striving for in his art work, but he now feels that he's finally perfected his quest. "I knew what I wanted to express, but I couldn't do it yet.

Twenty years ago, my style was still raw and my colours were still strong."

"But I think I've finally reached the point where I've found this quiet state; this is the highest point of my career - like I've found a sanctuary," says the Chinese ink artist, 59. The pinnacle - which is to express this sense of quietude - was hard to achieve but he's finally reached the point where his skills have matched his perspective, he feels. "Of this limitless void - a place of stillness where breath begins."

After some 20 solo exhibitions in his art career, Hong should know something about them. And without a doubt, this solo tops them all, he declares. "You can see the shadow of my past work but at the same time, these are different. These are completely "pure" works which have nothing commercial about them. I have to say I'm the most proud of this series which I think is the best so far - and they capture the essence of all my years of work to date," says the artist enthusiastically.

The exhibition space - The Private Museum - played a part in it, as did his long-standing relationship with Daniel Teo, art collector and gallerist, Hong shares. "Because of the gallery, and my friendship with Daniel - I was really inspired to do my best, to create works that befit this space," he shares. Fifteen works were selected for this exhibition, and they were all done on this particular vintage rice paper, or "xuan" paper.

"This paper is very thin - thinner than the normal rice paper. But I bought a whole lorry-load some 30 years ago because I knew that I wanted to work on them," he explains. Because of the paper's vintage, the colours he paints on them are softer and more subtle. "You can't get this with new paper. And you can't buy this 'xuan' paper anymore. I knew that using this paper would allow me to achieve the effect I wanted, which is why I bought a lot to see me through my artistic career."

His art is calligraphy-based, "which comes from a line - it all begins with the line," he explains. While his reference point is traditional calligraphy, Hong's works have always been abstract.

Trained at the Shanghai Art & Craft Institute, Hong was a student of famous art scholar Wang Zidou.

After graduating, he lectured at his alma mater, from 1976 to 1989, during which time he also trained with Professor Huang Wei Yi. From 1989, he moved to Sydney to practise art full-time, and en route to China, entered the UOB Art Competition and won it. That was the reason he came to Singapore in 1993, and adopted it as his country.

Each exhibition is a starting point for him, he says, as he's always striving and learning. But he was also recently inspired by a friend, who was a fellow student of Master Wang, in China where he was bowled over by his friend's "huang zhi" (cursive or "crazy" script) style of calligraphy. As for the works he created for "The Limitless Void" - they represent his lifelong quest to paint that state of quietude. "I've certainly been on a journey - I've absorbed what I've done before, and gone deeper, more concentrated and more focused, and I think you'll see it in my works."

The Limitless Void will be on show from Aug 2 - Sept 29, at The Private Museum, #02-06, 51 Waterloo Street. There will be an artist's talk Aug 3 at the gallery. Gallery hours are from 10am to 7pm, Mon to Fri; and 11am-5pm on Sat and Sun. Public Holidays and other timings by appointment only. For more information, please call 6738-2872

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