It is a privilege to present an exhibition that brings together two artists, one rich in years, the other in verve, yet both idealists and pragmatists who know their chosen medium intimately and have set about seeking to capture an important aspect of Chinese philosophy in and through the reaches of its materiality. Li Yongfei chose as an undergraduate in the early 2000’s to dedicate his artistic life to ink. He trained at the Central Academy in “gongbi”, fine hairline ink brush painting, which demands fastidious attention to detail and hence tremendous discipline and patience in character. His character has been demonstrated in the large scale endeavours he has gone on to, latterly the world’s largest installation in ink at over seven storeys and spanning over one hundred and forty square meters. Presented for the first time in this exhibition, Li Yongfei’s “shui mo” or ink wash works, which are closely influenced by his practice of meditation in recent years demand equally consummate control over ink and water, but they also require the artist to let go or abandon himself to the medium. In his steadily growing body of work appears rich monochromes and increasingly subtle colours alongside works that collect the imprint of the literati artist-scholar’s study - tea, the charcoal from incense, agents that act to disperse and manipulate the ink for the viewer’s pleasure. Rather like the physical practice of taichi itself, Li Yongfei engages with control and release or the direct and indirect flow of energy on the paper. It was therefore a natural progression to pair Yongfei’s recent works with another body of work dedicated to the translation of a spiritual practice and its connected state of mental calm: Ju Ming’s Taichi series.
At the age of fifteen, Ju Ming began learning what would be the foundation of his technical skills when he was apprenticed to Lee Chin-chuan, a master woodcarver from the Temple of the Empress of Heaven. Like Li Yongfei, Ju Ming ran a highly successful studio in his twenties but, like Yongfei, his real passion lay in developing his own oeuvre. And just as Li Yongfei has devoted himself to the study and practice of meditation in order to develop mental discipline, Ju Ming took up another practice of Taoism, taichi. Ju Ming developed greatly from this practice and started thinking about sculpting works on the theme of the practice. Yet more than simply capturing a physical stance, the process of both artists is indelibly linked to their practice. Much as an actor gets ‘into character’ in preparing for a role, Ju Ming is said to have practiced tai chi boxing whilst creating his Taichi series. Li Yongfei speaks of a more direct link still between his practice of meditation and his art. He believes his state of mind and moreover the power of his meditative practice at any one time deeply affects the property of water in his ‘shui mo’ ink works and therefore their formation. To illustrate this correlation Yongfei offers a fascinating insight into the effect of meditative practice on water in an experiment he cites on pages 20 and 24 of his interview with Michelle Ho.
I hope you will enjoy this exhibition which brings together works from the studio and private collections as much as I have enjoyed putting it together. - Emily de Wolfe Pettit