The Lingnan School of painting has played a leading role in the Chinese art world since the 1920s as it focuses on the portrayal of nature, preaches the use of a strong palette and exploits concepts from both east and west. This modernisation experience has brought about the Reformation of Chinese painting. Chao Shaoan, now at the age of eighty-nine, carries the torch for the School, and is recognised as the greatest living Lingnan artist.
Born and bred in Guangdong, our grand master displayed artistic talent as a young age and became a protégé of Gao Qifeng, one of the three founders of the Lingnan School. Chao was inspired by Ju Lian, a distinguished painter in the nineteenth century who was renowned for elegance of detail and uniqueness in brush strokes. His international debut in the World Fair Exhibition in Brussels in 1930 won him a gold medal as his works gained fame in Europe. Back in China, he founded the Lingnan Art Studio and held many exhibitions after extensive travels to scenic locations. When the Pacific War broke out, Chao made his way to Chungking via Guilin where he painted prolifically. In China’s wartime capital, maestro Xu Beihong rated Chao the best in the painting of flowers, birds and insects. Recognition of his artistic achievement also came from the National Central University which offered him a Professorship. The Civil War then caused our artist to be on the move again, this time, to Hong Kong, where his works have matured and flourished.
As the spiritual leader of the Lingnan School, Chao Shaoan preaches the need for change in Chinese art and encourages open-mindedness amongst artists. His own paintings transcend the ancient and modern, the west and east. Tranquility and spirituality flow as he blends and fuses motifs and techniques. Sketching, treatment of light, colour, three-dimensionality, perspective and space are western techniques that he uses unashamedly. Yet this is balanced by the traditional Chinese skills of creating negative space to emphasise positive images through the use of "broken ink" and "dry brush". Paintings like "China Cove, California" and "the Gorges in Sunset" best demonstrate the blending of east and west.
Chao Shaoan earns his fame as the forerunner of the Reformation movement mainly because of his unrestrained use of colour, which owes its origin to the "New Japanese Style" of the Meiji period. Vivid colour harmonies as well as contrasting colours often flow from his brushes in the most imaginative manner.
Our Reformer’s amazing repertoire spans landscape, humans and animals, fish and plants and above all flowers, birds and insects. His flowing calligraphy is aesthetically pleasing and rhythmically armed with poetic talents. His technique in painting flowers and plants without the delineation of contour projects spontaneity and visual vivacity. His ability to intuitively capture motion in painting monkeys, tigers and frogs renders him to be in a class of his own. The spirituality of Chao Shaoan is best depicted by Pierre Rouve of the "Arts News and Review": “And if his style is a heritage rather than a discovery, then certainly his personal inflection is powerful enough to pierce through what may well be a codified set of subjects: the nervous vibration of the black branches and the jewel like sensuous glitter of birds and flowers reveal a sensitivity which cannot be compressed by traditional worlds…”
Hong Kong is Professor Chao’s home where he teaches and paints. His students are now masters in their own right and his paintings can be found in many overseas collections and institutes like the Boston Museum of Fine Art and the Washington County Museum. Over twenty exhibitions were held in the United States in the 1960s while he himself was invited to lecture at Harvard University and the University of California. His leading role in the realm of art was recognised in 1984 when he was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) and again in 1988 when he was received by Her Majesty the Queen at Government House.
Chao Shaoan lives up to the Lingnan doctrine of "taking nature as teacher and relying on one’s own intelligence". He treasures harmony with the cosmos and seeks change to Chinese art. He is without rival in his field. Mr Chancellor, it is my privilege to present to you Chao Shaoan, in absentia, for the award of the degree of Doctor of Letters honoris causa.
Citation written and delivered by Professor Lee Ngok, the Public Orator.