The ancient Chinese got their ink from smoky oil lamps, brushing away deposited soot and mixing it into a paste that hardened into ‘stones’. This black was pure, indelible and did not fade, and they fell in love with it. By adjusting the ink’s dilution, painters could create a multitude of shades, from jet black to palest dove grey.
Black had always been the colour of mystery, night and the void. The better the artists got to know black ink, the more superficial, even gaudy, colour seemed. As the Daoist philosopher Laozi declared: “Colours cause the eye to go blind.” Black – utterly simple yet infinitely subtle – allowed one to see the truth.
Chinese artists no longer live in a simple, natural, orderly world. They get their blacks not just from ink stones but from printer cartridges, spray cans, propane torches, newsprint, polyester and steel. And they use blacks to convert realities the classical masters never dreamed of: oil spills, air pollution, megacities, mass production and political machinations.
The Dark Matters features works by 34 artists; most are new acquisitions and most have never been shown in Australia including: the surreally playful photographs by the late Ren Hang; the vast, waterfall-lined landscape of Jiang Pengyi’s Grace; Lin Yan’s billowing ink-and-paper pollution cloud; Billennium Waves, a primordial slow-motion ocean by Tang Nannan; and Yang Mushi’s barbaric-looking ode to pointlessness, Grinding. Also on show are works by Nick Dong, Feng Mengbo, Wen-Ying Huang, Shao Fan, Lin Tianmiao, Cang Xin and Huang Po-Chih.
The artists in this show don’t shun light or colour, but in using them they follow Laozi’s advice: “Know the white, but hold to the black.” Containing more than ever, the dark also conceals more than ever. And it matters more than ever that we see.
The Dark Matters
White Rabbit Gallery, 30 Balfour Street, Chippendale
Exhibition continues to 30 July 2017
For more information, visit: www.whiterabbitcollection.org for details.
Image: Tang Nannan, Billennium Waves, 2015, video, 4 min 3 sec