Considered China’s most conservative brush technique, the gongbi method of painting combines fine lines with multiple layers of both ink-shadings and colors. The exhibition, A New Fine Line  explores this centuries-old technique through the works of nine contemporary Chinese artists who utilize the gongbi technique to create works that embody contemporary subject matter and themes. The gongbi technique uses highly detailed brushstrokes that delimits details very precisely and without independent or expressive variation. It is often highly colored and usually depicts figural or narrative subjects. The artists featured are members of a studio and gallery near the 798 Art District in Beijing. 

At its height during the Tang dynasty (618-907), gongbi was used to depict the life and splendor of Chinese court and palace life, eventually expanding the subject matter to birds and flowers during the Northern Song dynasty (1279-1127). During the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) gongbi began to decline in popularity with artists favoring freestyle ink painting. By the 20th century, painters had combined Western-style realism with traditional gongbi brushwork, producing paintings showcasing gongbi techniques while illustrating the basics of Western linear perspective and chiaroscuro modeling. 

With the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, its leaders promoted Socialist Realistic oil painting since this medium could easily accommodate the party’s political agenda, and the popularity of the gongbi technique declined further. By the early 1990s, the principles of practicing and perfecting the gongbi watercolor style were considered so demanding that artists preferred to use the easier oil and acrylic media for their work. For all practical purposes it seemed gongbi had finally been relegated to China’s past, which makes the work in this exhibit all the more surprising and compelling. 

These nine contemporary Chinese artists who share the gongbi brush tradition, but who have not been limited by it, are leaders of a new fine line technique and have transformed their paintings into unique personal statements, while exploring the social and political realities of China. The result is a distinctive and novel art that embraces a breadth of innovative possibilities. 


A New Fine Line: Contemporary Ink Painting from China was curated by Julie M. Segraves, Executive Director of the Asian Art Coordinating Council. The Asian Art Coordinating Council is  supported by the Science and Cultural Facilities District. 

Artists in the Exhibition

Hang Chunhui

Shang Jingkui

Zhang Jian

Lu Peng

Gao Qian

Zhang Qing

Jin Sha

Zhu Wei

Chen Zi


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