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Art
Gao Xingjian Ink Paintings 1983-1993  
By Curtis L. Carter
Illustrated. 40 pp.
Marquette University Press. US$15.00
ISBN: 9780945366164

The Chinese artist, writer, and dissident Gao Xingjian, uses traditional Chinese pen and ink, yet produces abstract, modern works that are a departure from most traditional Chinese motifs. His works are still banned in China, a fact that makes its exhibit and publication in the United States and Europe all the more important. His work forms a living connection between traditionalism and modernism and provides an example of artistic syncretism of Chinese culture and Western modernity.

The 60 pen-and-ink drawings included in this book show Gao's intuitive, non-theoretical approach to art. Although he has written extensively on art, his artwork shows the immediacy of the artist's interaction with his medium. A favorite drawing in this book is "La Nostalgie" ("Nostalgia"), a 1988 ink on canvas work that at first glance seems flat. It takes only about half a second, though, for the subtle depth and "drawing in" quality of the painting to make its unmistakable and unforgettable impression on the viewer. The shadings and gray tonality of the upper half of the painting seem to represent the mind itself, appropriately, because nostalgia is ever a journey inward, into the mind. Consistent with the rest of his work, space in "La Nostalgie" is depicted through inner feelings, rather than realistic representations of the external world.

The works represented in this collection are consistent in their immediacy, introspection, and beauty. Gao's use of gray tonalities, plus his incorporation of modern photographic techniques such as angle and depth of field, give these works a sense richness, movement, and vitality ordinarily not associated with pen and ink. His technique is called diffuse field perspective, and he uses it with extraordinary talent.

In addition to the fine works of art included in Gao Xingjian Ink Paintings 1983-1993, the reader is also treated to an interview with the artist, along with a chapter written by him on his thoughts and feelings about painting. In addition, the China into which the artist was born is illuminated for the reader, information that enhances one's appreciation of the artist's work. An extensive bibliography completes the book, offering readers a gateway into further research on this important artist. The bibliography is the penultimate element in Gao Xingjian Ink Paintings, followed only by a work entitled, "Vers l'inconnu" ("Toward the Unknown"). "Vers l'inconnu" is at once richly mystical and immediately understandable, for who among us does not walk toward the future, knowing it is unknown?

Gao Xingjian fled Mainland China after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. In addition to his work as an artist, he is also a novelist, dramatist and critic. He won the 2000 Nobel Prize in Literature. Gao currently lives and works in Paris.

Author Curtis L. Carter is the founding director of the Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University and a professor of aesthetics at Marquette and an arts consultant.

Robert G. Edelstein, for Notable Book Reviews
Notable Book Reviews received one or more copies of this book in exchange for this review.
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