In ancient China, decorating the house with carefully selected flowers and using flowers as offerings were forms of entertainment for the literati; the gentry class, composed of the scholarly and governmental elite of the society. According to traditional Chinese accounts, the first day of the first lunar month represents the official start of the new year. On that day, the literati would fill their tables with flowers and fruits so that they can start the new year with a clean slate, and welcome its arrival. This time, in Chui Pui-Chee’s solo exhibition, he takes on the theme of New Year Qinggong, and turns the gallery space into his personal study. In continuing the literati culture with a personal touch, Chui reinterprets the traditional Qinggong paintings and presents a series entirely composed of new works.
Referencing Yuan Hung-dao’s, “Ping Shi”, in the period of Yuan Dynasty to early Qing Dynasty, the literati would meticulously choose the focal flower in a flower arrangement, as they regard it as an expression and representation of one’s state of mind, aspiration and interest. Therefore, they opted for flowers with symbolic meaning, as it correlates to how they present themselves to others. Meanwhile, the direct translation of “Qinggong” is “elegant offerings”, which refers to bibelots that the literati used to decorate their house with and consider as auspicious. In general, having flowers, paintings and calligraphy on display also represents bringing peace to one’s home.
Differing from the usual subjects found in traditional Qinggong paintings, Chui audaciously chose flowers with vibrant colors, such as sunflowers and peonies. Sunflowers, with its Western origin and connotation, are rarely found in Chinese paintings and calligraphy. As for peonies, they are often a subject avoided by the literati, as it is a symbol for wealth and prosperity, but could appear kitsch or tacky. Yet, in pursuit of breaking boundaries stylistically, Chui masters his craft in his “study”, redefines the implication of peonies through honing in the different shades of ink, and re-presents them with elegance and class.
Other than that, in “Ping Shi”, it mentions that the vases used for Qinggong are rooted in rustic simplicity. Chui not only places importance on the selection of flowers used in his paintings, but also on what they are contained in. After noticing the uniqueness of the vases he found in the Palace Museum, with its smooth glaze and elegant color tones, he references them in this new series. The vases that he chose are embedded with “an hua”, a specific type of decorative technique used in Chinese porcelain, in which the pattern is subtle, thin, and near invisible, offsetting the beauty of the flowers. From flowers and vases packed with literary allusions, to its environment, Chui demonstrates refinement and sophistication, and all elements are seamlessly integrated into this space.
During the lunar new year, many of us may be involved in busy festive activities and celebrations. In comparison, Master Chui’s Study allows us to stay away from the hustle and bustle of the city and find peace and tranquility.