Chinese Printmaking Today

Tour of the exhibition

Art of the book

Wang Chao, Images of Heavenly Phenomena Woodblock illustration in books has a history of over 1,200 years in China. Recently, artists have revived and explored the potential of prints for book illustration. The exhibition includes Lu Xun’s story Ah Q telling the tragicomic exploits of an uneducated villager, whose moods swing from puffed-up pride to craven self-pity. The image here is a modern version of colour woodblock printing, by the artist Wang Chao, who makes Ming-dynasty style colour prints in a light-hearted, delicate style.
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Folk traditions

Ban Ling, Ox Once seen as mass-produced images for uneducated people, folk prints became a favourite source of inspiration for 20th-century artists. Their bright colours and attractive themes – battles, deities and auspicious symbols – were ideologically transformed during the Maoist era. Since 1980, artists have reclaimed the folk print for modern renderings of traditional subjects.
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Political legacy

Wu Jide, Everlasting Friendship Social and political themes dominated Chinese art in the mid-20th century. Printmaking was no exception, and subjects were routinely chosen for their political connections. Lu Xun (1881-1936), a giant of Chinese literature whose story Ah Q opens this exhibition, was also a champion of woodblock prints. For this reason, he is a favourite subject for artists.
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Urban life

Wang Qi, Rhythm on the Street The 1980s was a period of intense building and modernisation in China. Print artists, used to decades of political control, responded to the new cityscapes around them by producing work with a sense of wonder. The high-rise buildings and ring roads of the modern Chinese metropolis dominate the people who live in them.
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The fertile land

Yu Chengyou, The North This aims to convey a little of the diverse and often enormous landscapes of China, particularly through north-eastern and south-western artists’ work. The forbidding frozen wastes of the north-east are shown in the print illustrated here. Yu Chengyou has turned early growth in a barren landscape into an abstract rendering of greens, browns and whites.
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The human form

Xiang Silou, Mother An arresting selection of portraits, each with a presence and individuality far removed from the posturing and stereotypes of the Cultural Revolution. The artist’s skill in depicting a subject full of character can only be appreciated by seeing this huge print at full size. Xiang Silou makes no attempt to show the old lady as a type. Instead, he has produced a marvellously human portrait.
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The painter ’s eye

Zheng Shuang, White Poppy This section features aesthetically-inspired compositions with a close relationship to brush painting. Here, the artist Zheng Shuang has used many layers of ink to create varying depths of colour, in this portrayal of poppies, devoid of any political message. Like other artists in this section, she champions an aesthetic approach to produce beautiful images.
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New directions

Dai Zhengsheng, Southwest Series, 2 A generally permissive attitude towards artists has come to the fore since the 1990s, in sharp contrast to the heavy-handed political control of the preceding decades. New directions offers a startling group of innovative and sometimes surreal prints, done by a new generation of artists whose work is steadily gaining recognition in China and beyond space. Artists have been able to explore abstract and conceptual themes, and are often stimulated by the mysterious and stirring objects excavated all over China. Here, Dai Zhengsheng mingles figures, elephant tusks and fantastic creatures in a vast two-part composition.
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