Art & Culture
A Closer Look into Influential Chinese Artist Lalan's Masterpieces

Her art is sweeping and free, naturally wondrous where everything is just the perfect balance

She is poetry in motion as she adjusts the tempo of her instinctive brushstrokes, which are simultaneously purposeful yet gentle and fluid, to paint an ethereal world – eternal landscapes dictated by heart and emotion. She pioneered new ground in the male-dominated art scene, and was the muse of her first husband, artist Zao Wou-ki, and her second husband, musician and sculptor, Marcel Van Thienen. She is one of the most influential Chinese female artists of the 20th century. She is Xie Jing-lan (1921-1995), also nicknamed Lalan.

From her enlightenment of the post-war abstract painting movement Art Informel in Europe, to the continuation of exploring the aesthetics of landscape in Southern Song Dynasty, Taoist philosophy and qigong, Lalan has combined her extensive knowledge of music and dance to further the creation of paintings throughout her life. Her art demonstrates the beauty of feminism, where elegant movements of her hands and limbs often form the lines of her work, and textures of some of the splatters of ink reflect the sounds and rhythms of electronic music. Her different oeuvres and varying mediums merge to form truly synthesized art.

Untitled《無題》|1992|Oil on canvas|89 x 116 cm

Through her eyes, the aesthetics of the East and West become one, free from the vivid externalization of internal emotions. From improvising the straightforwardness of Chinese calligraphy, responding to the desire to return to nature, or abstractionism that breaks up established appearances, Lalan’s work is a liberation. Her self-inflicted yearning has always been pure and direct.

Untitled《無題》|1968-1970|Mixed media on paper|216 x 152 cm

In her creative universe, one often finds ambiguous and intricate lines. It invites the viewer to contemplate; is that a hazy, graceful figure in the painting? Or one that implies the appearance of nature? Or is it a sea of colours with no end in sight? This ethereal realm of reality allows us to observe Lalan’s unique worldview, which embodies the creative spirit of harmony between man and nature.

Commemorating the artist’s centennial birthday, the Asia Society of Hong Kong is showcasing over thirty masterpieces and archival materials of her cross-disciplinary attempts: Extended Figure: The Art and Inspiration of Lalan traces her transformative moments, and experimentation and introspection through the bodily focused art-making practice. The exhibition is also a collaboration with local choreographer, Allen Lam, to interpret Lalan’s stunning vision through the rhythm of music, dance, body language and augmented reality art scene installations.

Untitled《無題》|1987|Mixed media on paper|87 x 148.5 cm

Lalan has said that people often have too many thoughts and desires and it’s difficult to calm their minds. Take to heart these lessons and let us immerse ourselves in her outlook on life; which possesses clear intuition and fluid flexibility to rid ourselves of distracting thoughts. Then can we regain the hidden tranquillity in our hearts, which is the best way to nourish ourselves, even during the most chaotic of times.

The Dancer | La danseuse《女舞者》|1970|Oil on canvas|89 x 130 cm

Extended Figure: The Art and Inspiration of Lalan
Asia Society Hong Kong Center, 9 Justice Drive, Admiralty
From now until October 24, 2021

Images courtesy of Kwai Fung Foundation

Words: Emily Leung & Nikey Cheng
Published on July 09, 2021