Contemporary touches enliven Chinese paintings


In Lo Ching's painting "Postmodern Self Portrait," a pedestal sits in a landscape, but above the pedestal, where one would expect the representation of a person, there are several of the red seals that one sees on Chinese paintings. One of these is the artist's signature seal, another stands for his studio, and still a third may stand for his spirit or philosophy. Thus the artist uses a traditional device to identify himself not as a face or a body but as a collection of aspects of his life -- his name, what he does, what he thinks.

In "No Recluse Allowed -- Danger Zone," underneath a large tree and beside an empty road stands a billboard which officially says "No Passage." But graffiti have been scrawled on it which identify this as an area where atomic bombs are made. Lo Ching has also added the title of the picture and his name as part of the graffiti.

Lo Ching is a Taiwanese painter and poet who was trained in the traditional methods of Chinese painting but who combines them with contemporary elements both to revitalize the tradition and to reflect modern life.

In "The Electrified Landscape" he puts roads, electrical wires and a person in modern informal dress in his landscape. In many paintings, including "The Seal That Knows How to Fly," he moves his seals around so they take an active part in the picture instead of sitting inconspicuously to one side. In other places, including "Postmodern Self Portrait," he places a calligraphic legend along the horizon like a fence, instead of down one side. In "Mind Painting" and "In the Prime of Life" he lets the ink of his calligraphy bleed and blotch in violation of traditional rules.

"His is an intentional clumsiness," said Shieh Suewhei, director of the Asian Arts Center's Roberts Gallery at Towson State University, which is currently host to an international traveling exhibit of Lo Ching's paintings. "It is not sleek, beautiful brushwork, because when it is too beautiful you may pay too much attention to the technique." Ms. Shieh was of great help to this reviewer by interpreting seals, translating from Chinese and pointing out how Lo Ching breaks the rules.

Sometimes that's obvious. You wouldn't expect television aerials, patio furniture and the shadow of an airplane in traditional painting, but you get them all in the largest work here, the four-panel "Flying," a bird's-eye view of a densely populated area. Ms. Shieh pointed out that a bird's-eye view itself is also untraditional.

The combination of Lo Ching's unorthodoxies with his mastery of traditional painting enlivens these pictures. There is always the danger that this kind of thing can lead to a dead end if it becomes formulaic; but that doesn't seem to have happened so far.

It would have been nice to see all of this show, by the way. According to Ms. Shieh, the exhibit originally numbered more than 20 works (there are 16 at Towson). It debuted in Oxford, England, and traveled to London and St. Louis before coming to Towson. Along the way, some paintings were sold and removed. One guesses that those sold may well have been among the best and wonders what would have happened if more had sold. Would Towson have been sent 12? Ten? Six?

Paintings of Lo Ching

Where: Roberts Gallery, Fine Arts Center, Osler and Cross Campus drives, Towson State University

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, through Oct. 29

Call: (410) 830-2807

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