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A Moment for Ink

Since 1994, Professor of Art Mark Johnson, director of SF State’s fine Arts Gallery, and his students have conducted ground breaking research on modern artists of Asian descent, the mostly forgotten or unheralded masters who made a new kind of American art merging methods and aesthetics from the East and West, old and new.


A picture of an Ink Painting. Chang Dai-Chen, White Lotus, 1973. Collection of SF State, Gift of Wil and Marilyn Fountain.Chang Dai-Chen, White Lotus, 1973.
Collection of SF State, Gift of Wil and Marilyn Fountain

Johnson’s work came to fruition in the 2008 exhibition “Asian/ American/Modern Art: Shifting Currents, 1900-1970” at the de Young Museum. his colleagues in the project included Stanford Professor Gordon Chang, whose father, the great painter Chang Shu-chi is among the artists whose work will appear in “The Moment for Ink,” a forthcoming exhibition that focuses specifically on ink painting in America by Asian artists.

Opening simultaneously in February 2013 at SF State’ s Fine Arts Gallery, San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum, the city’s Chinese Cultural Center and the Silicon Valley Asian Art Center in Santa Clara, the show features a rich range of 20th and 21st century images, by Chinese, Japanese and Korean-born artists using traditional ink and brush in distinct ways. The exhibit will also travel to Zhejiang Art Museum in Hangzhou, China.

“One of the things I love about this art is you feel there’s an ancient aesthetic that’s very refined being employed in a completely fresh and unusual way,” Johnson says.

The exhibit will include work by famed figures like Yasuo Kuniyoshi (1893-1953), who set out to fuse Asian and Western idioms in his sensuous pictures, and Chang Dai-chien, who painted many of his sought-after splashed-ink landscapes while living in Carmel in the 1960s. then there are potent works on paper and silk by such influential California artists as Toshio Aoki, Saburo Hasegawa (who taught in the Bay Area in the 1950s and inspired artists and poets like Gary Snyder), and University of California, Berkeley Art Professor Chiura Obata, the first person of Asian descent to teach at a major American university. Like thousands of other Japanese-Americans, Obata was confined to the U.S. internment camp in Topaz, Arizona during World War II, where he was badly beaten. Because of racially discriminatory attitudes and laws, many of these artists never achieved wide recognition.

“It’s our responsibility to educate people about and promote these artists, many of whom were working right here in our backyard, who created a new Asian-American aesthetic,” says Johnson, who created a 2011 exhibition of contemporary Mexican art that traveled to the Nordic Watercolour Museum in Sweden, and 2005’s “Afro-cuban: Works on Paper,” a show that toured to other museums around the United States.

“It’s a small world, so it’s important for us to look at different perspectives. It makes sense for us to be doing shows like this, in a way that’s relevant to our community and our students.”


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