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Mending nets

Wu Guanzhong2009

Hong Kong Museum of Art

Hong Kong Museum of Art

The ink painting Mending Nets made the cover of the catalogue for the 1995 exhibition “Vision and Revision: Wu Guanzhong”, which was the first ever thematic exhibition of the artist presented by the Hong Kong Museum of Art. Wu had a vivid memory of how the subject was captured: “It was in the fishing village Shitang in Wenling county, Zhejiang, in the autumn of 1982. I was up on a cliff taking a bird’s eye view of the fishing village. There, lying shimmering on the cement drying ground by the shore was a giant dragon. It was fishing nets spread out. Here and there in the nets are net-menders who resembled colour dots clinging onto the dragon. Sprawling, the nets were static and yet pregnant with activities. Woven into the net were fine lines, some coming loose while others tightly packed together. Strewn with the colour dots that were the figures, the lines appeared to be musical strings that were being strummed. I had painted many fishing villages, fishing boats and fishermen’s homes before but none could excite me as much as these nets lying on the ground. I tried to capture the feeling back home with the help of my sketch. I used dark green to approximate the real fishing nets. They were fishing nets alright but it just didn’t feel right when I compared them against my sketch done purely in black. As it is, the form and the sense of motion stood out when the green of the nets had been done away with in the sketch and it brought out the artist’s impressions more faithfully. So, I redid the nets in black ink. Crawling against the bright background, the black appeared to be more solid and more powerful than the green, and its sense of motion also stronger. Besides, those coloured figural dots which could have been drowned in the green nets sparkled more conspicuously against nets that were black! Probably set off by the fishing village in the background, the metaphor of net-mending is more readily understood with the help of the abstract rendering. The string of this kite has not broken. On the contrary, when I painted the nets in green, I was too much restricted by the figural representation to bring out its beauty. That was a kite that could not fly.”

Wu returned to the same subject in 2009, this time in oil. The texture of oil and the marks of the palette knife have further emphasized the vibrancy and music of the dragon-like nets.

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Details

  • Title: Mending nets
  • Date Created: 2009
  • Theme: Landscape
  • Professor of the Central Academy of Arts and Crafts, Painter: Wu Guanzhong
  • Physical Dimensions: w100 x h80 cm
  • History of Donation: Donated by the artist to the Museum in 2009
  • Artist's Statement: In the words of the artist himself: "Here is a general who has not yet retired to his feudal estate and the broadsword he carries is still wet with blood. Fishing nets in the seas are in fact generals in combat. Now they just lie around on the beach, left to the mercy of beachgoers. Yet their gallant form is inspiringly beautiful. The same theme has previously inspired two other ink paintings."
  • Artist's Biography: Wu Guanzhong is one of the most important and innovative artists in 20th century Chinese art for the explorations and contributions he has made by blending the essences of the East and the West through the untiring dialogues he conducted between oil painting and ink painting. Wu was born in Yixing, Jiangsu, in 1919, and went to study in France on a national scholarship in 1946. Upon his return in 1950, he taught at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. In 1991, he was honoured by the French Ministry of Culture with the Officier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres, to be followed in 1992 by the exhibition “Wu Guanzhong: A Twentieth-century Chinese Painter”, or the first ever solo exhibition for a living Chinese artist presented by the British Museum. In 1993, he received a gold medal from the City of Paris to coincide with the exhibition “Encres Récentes de Wu Guanzhong” (“Recent Ink Paintings of Wu Guanzhong”) organized by the Musée Cernuschi, Paris. Back home in China, he was elected a deputy to the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China in 1994, and had a solo exhibition held in his honour by the Ministry of Culture in 1999. In 2002, Wu became the first Chinese national to be named Correspondant by the Academie des Beaux-Arts de I’Institut de France. In 2006, the Beijing Palace Museum ran a feature exhibition in his honour to mark its first collection of a living artist’s works, including the masterpiece, Yangtze River, done by Wu in 1974. That year also saw The Chinese University of Hong Kong conferring an Honorary Doctor of Arts degree to the artist. In 2000, Wu began making generous donations of his masterpieces to public museums both in China and overseas. Even before that, the Hong Kong Museum of Art was privileged to have received two ink paintings from the artist in 1995, to be followed by twelve oil paintings, ink paintings and manuscripts in 2002. In 2009, Wu donated another thirty-three paintings mostly done between 2005 and 2009 to the Museum. Then in 2010, Wu donated five more paintings, including his last works, to the Museum.
  • Type: Oil on canvas

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