liu Kuo-Sung (劉國松）
Born in 1932 in China’s Anhui Province, Liu Kuo-sung traces his ancestry to the city of Qingzhou in Shandong Province. Years later, he would eventually settle in Taiwan in 1949. Previous tenures he has held include chair of the Department of Fine Arts at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, visiting professor respectively at the University of Iowa and at the University of Wisconsin in the United States, dean of the Graduate Institute of Plastic Arts at the Tainan National University of the Arts in Taiwan as well as honorary professorships at a number of major universities and prestigious fine art academies in China. Currently, he is both chair professor at National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU) as well as dean of the Academy of Contemporary Ink Art at the Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts.
At the age of 14, Liu commenced his training in traditional Chinese painting in Wuchang of Hubei Province. Six years later, he veered into the study of Western painting and in 1956, he graduated from the Department of Fine arts at NTNU. Resolved to drive the modernization of Chinese painting through a concerted integration of Western elements, the young artist founded Fifth Moon Group. Within five years however, Liu sensed a discordance in his pursuit of Western art trends and their popular ideologies. In fact, he increasingly felt a calling to return to his roots and invest his energies in propagating the rich legacies of Chinese culture. The modernization of Chinese painting became his mission: he proclaimed that “imitating the new cannot replace imitating the old; copying Western art cannot replace copying Chinese art.” In 1961, Taiwan saw the rise of its modern ink painting. By 1963, practices have coalesced into a veritable movement, even casting influence on contemporaries hailing from other East Asian countries.
At the beginning of 1983, Liu delivered three public lectures at Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts at its joint invitation with the China Artists Association. At the same time, a solo exhibition of his works was mounted at the National Art Museum of China; it then travelled to 18 major Chinese cities over the following three years. Accompanying the tour was an extensive series of talks and discussions, through which Liu advocated for the diversification of traditional literati painting.
The year 2007 was a monumental one: Beijing’s Palace Museum broke with tradition, making an exception by hosting “The Universe in the mind: Liu Kuo-sung Paintings 60 Years Retrospective Exhibition” in a space that had been exclusively reserved for displaying classical masterpieces, thus sanctioning the artist’s significance in Chinese art history as well as legitimizing the place of modern ink painting in mainstream discourse.
Subsequently, Liu received the National Award for Arts from Taiwan’s National Culture and Arts Foundation in 2008, the Award for Lifetime Achievement at the very first biannual China Arts Award organized by Chinese National Academy of Arts in 2011, made an honorary member of the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles in 2016 and conferred with the Executive Yuan Cultural Prize by the Taiwanese government in 2017. In 2016, he was the very first Chinese painter to be granted a foreign honorary membership from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. And in 2019, the Liu Kuo-sung Archives and Hong Kong’s The Ink Society officially inaugurated the “Liu Kuo-sung Ink Art Award” in recognition of promising young talents in contemporary ink art, providing them with international platforms for display.
Until today, up to 100 exhibitions and retrospectives have been organized of Liu’s vast repertoire. More than half of these were invitations from museums all over the world. More than 70 institutions—Beijing’s Palace Museum and London’s British Museum among them—have acquired his works into their permanent collections. Monographs on Liu’s practice have been published in Chinese, English and German. Numerous collegiate art textbooks widely used at American and German universities cite his theories and include illustrations of his paintings. For posterity, he will be known as “the father of modern Chinese ink painting.”