In and Out of Tradition
With passion that shines through the glow of the evening sky — Abstract Landscape Paintings by Paul Ka Yin Kwok
By KAN KIT-KEUNG
(Chinese to English translation by Paul Kwok)
An outstanding painter is always a sensitive and in-depth observer of life and the environment in which he lives. The leading example is the great painter, Fan Kuan 范寬 of the Northern Song Dynasty. He lived a reclusive life in the mountains of Zhongnan 終南山 and Taihoa 太華山 and absorbed the spirits of those great mountains of Central China 關中, creating tremendously impressive landscape paintings with concealing depth. Another example is Ni Zan 倪瓚 of the Yang Dynasty. He lived in the open plain of Wuxi 無錫 in southern China and was deeply affected by the still and calm environment of the Great Lakes 太湖 region. He let his paintings extend far into vastness by depicting a large area of the lake and putting riverbanks and rolling hills in the distance. He created paintings with innate intelligence and are spiritually pertaining. There are many artists who are nourished by the environment they live in. Ka Yin Kwok can be listed as one among them. Living in Minnesota state for over forty years, from morning to sundown, he gets to know the rolling lands and shimmering lakes well, so well that he manages to create abstract landscape paintings patched with colorful clouds, well intermingling with lands and waters.
Kwok says what impresses him most is the scenery of sunrises and sunsets. He will quietly observe the changing patterns and colors of clouds, before and after sundown — colors changing from gold to bright red and sinking into deep blues and purples. The reflections of the lakes cohesively and comprehensively enrich such glowing looks, which Kwok is able to enhance with his abstract artistry. The executions in these abstract forms allow him to use more romantic color combinations and the liberty of portraying this northern land in pure and unadulterated forms. Kwok also mentioned that because of certain building restrictions, houses are built below the tree lines. This approach to maintaining the natural environment has won the appreciation of the painter, so these paintings are Kwok’s declaration of environmental protection and his expression of love for nature.
Kwok’s paintings currently exhibited at the CCACC Art Gallery are mostly executed with bold and extensive brushwork, interacting and mixing with rich and reciprocal colors. In Abstract Landscape No. 15, the painting is composed of arrayed colorful brushwork, moving slightly up and away from the center, and in simple and abstract forms, the sky, land and the lake are together connected. The space in the upper part was left to create a sky filled with golden, red and purple colors — textures that highlight the depths of the mixture of clouds and also suggest movements. The middle part was posted with layers of ink strokes, that in their variations of darkness, images of vegetation along with rolling lands emerge. Behind them, it is the end of the sky that was drowned in deep and misty red as though the sun is no longer to return. The black ink has worked so well on a piece of Chinese paper to bring out such amazing colors. The lower part of the painting is softening down with some yellow hues, patched with pale red and clots of grassy greens that present the calm and smooth lake surface. A long and slim purplish-blue line running across the painting, surprisingly, breaks down the quietness provided by the orange hue. The line’s quiet move, also once again, draws back the viewer’s attention to the painting. All these are created with the freedom that abstractness can provide, and of course, by the artist’s skill too.
In Kwok’s works, the extent to which abstract conceptions are being applied actually varies from painting to painting, as to how extensive colors are being used. Abstract Landscape No. 7 is a good example of a high degree of both applications. However, there are rooms for viewers to reconnect with realism as they wish. Along the middle part of the painting, there are spaces broken up by lights and openings in colors that allow us to see rising clouds along the intercrossing slopes. Similar techniques are executed repeatedly over the painting and it successfully conveys the serenity look and character of the northern land. In fact, we could say that Kwok’s work has successfully brought out his own personality of being able to detach from common life and being able to create the images he enjoys most. Viewing his paintings, I am able to share the artist’s pure sense of beauty, and would like to express my feeling with the following four-line poem:
The rivers and mountains of the Northern country are so pure.
The pines are lush and lustrous on acres after acres.
You created paintings that are poems of thousand lakes,
With a passion that shines through the glow of the evening sky.
(Poem’s English translation by the author, Kan Kit-Keung)