Augustine is a recent graduate from Hong Kong Baptiste University in Hong Kong. Here he studied fine arts while taking his summers to travel Europe, and China. Now he has arrived in Toronto, Canada looking to dip his toes in the bustling art scene of this city, which he describes as very different from Hong Kong. Augustine has been working on several bodies of work while here, with a piece being exhibited at Articulations now and a series, which we will have on exhibit at our fourth annual In the Round show this November. Augustine has created political pieces including a 10 by 10 meter installation piece which alludes to a Chinese tradition of offering fabric segments to a mother of a newborn who will stitch them into a protective blanket for her baby. The piece called Umbrella Patchwork was also a statement about having the chance to select their prime minister and to have safety while petitioning for this.
We went for a walk in the park To discuss Chinese ink painting, his interests and admire some pieces that Augustine has created while in Toronto out in the sunlight.
Augustine with his art piece Wood In Kensington.
Alexis Venerus: Chinese painting has a deep and rich history. What do you feel makes your work your own?
Augustine Tse: In our culture when we learn Chinese ink painting we always have to imitate the master first; so many of us won’t have our own style. But when you keep on practicing, you try to rebel. Especially when you are influenced by the Western culture you can see why people have so many variations. So the influence of Western culture makes my art my own. Living in Hong Kong there is a very good combination of both cultures. I am influenced by some abstract paintings in Western culture, and then take elements from that. For example in Wood in Kensignton I took the Leaves and kept repeating it, so it creates a repeating pattern. In traditional Chinese ink painting we will seldom or never see abstract, but abstract work in this medium has to be defined. Although this looks like a bush it is an abstract representation of some trees, from our daily life. Especially in Hong Kong you will seldom see this view. Traditional Chinese ink painting is often of landscape, so travelling will influence my work as well because you see different things. Also when you are in a different culture you cannot find the exact material, so making use of new materials will add on to the basis I know; to create something more specific to the place I am in. So I couldn’t find Chinese rice paper, instead I found some wood. It is quite interesting because trees are made of wood, and I drew on wood, making a new use of the material.
Wood in Kensington, 2016
AV: What is the process of making a Chinese ink painting?
AT: Ink is very important. The ink that we use is totally different from Western ink. The ink comes as a solid form of ink that is made from smoke. Specific types of trees are burnt which make different types of ink. Ink will be darker or other ink will be more reflective. It depends on the tree. This ink is from a pine tree; it is really dull and dark, not reflective. So when we burn the tree the black smoke goes up and we have some something called lampblack ink, rescued from the ashes. After that there is a process to condense it and form a solid ink. We just need to add a little bit of water to it on a stone, so that when you grind it with water the stone will grind the ink. The finer you grind and the finer the stone is the finer the ink is. So when we need to do a draft we won’t use pencil, we will use a very very light ink called invisible ink. So you mix a lot of water with the ink and then you can apply it. If a colour is very pale and you add something dark on it you will lot see it because it is very pale, this is why we call it invisible ink. After you do the draft you add in the things you want to draw. For example when you draw a rock or a mountain, usually the texture of the rock is rougher, so when we are painting the rocks we use a dryer brush. So draw the excess water from the brush, so when you put think ink on the paper it will look dryer too. When you draw leaves, they are full of water. So you will make sure that the brush is full of water; it will look watery and alive compared to the dry rocks when we do landscape painting. We have different techniques and brush strokes. You can do just a brush stroke or you can rub onto the paper. We have the flying white technique, which is a brush with some broken strokes inside. The faster the brush moves the less time the paper can absorb the water and ink, but you can also blend like in a water colour. Though the think with the ink is that it will never mix together once it dries, this is because it is a solid ink, it leaves a very fine reside that sticks to the paper and won’t spread. So we can create many different and special layers, you can see these layers because of the characteristic of paint. Most important in Chinese painting is that we leave many spaces, where there might be water, clouds, or fog; letting people imagine what might be here.
AV: Do you use colour in the paintings?
AT: Yes. Those are not coloured inks; because when you burn a tree it will never turn red. So actually when we want to apply colour we use some mineral stones. They are all natural minerals; we mix them with water and apply the same as watercolour in western culture. But the red is different compared to Western red, all the colours are different. I think that you have the same thing, where you say red and have a sense of the colour. But our red is a different shade because we are working with a natural residue. Why we do Chinese painting is to get more in touch with nature, we try to embrace that. So everything we paint with will be from nature. The ink is from tree, the colour is from mineral rocks, we need to use water to blend, the grinding stone is stone, and the paper, which is made of plants and the brush is from an animal.
AV: working as an artist you are working in mediums besides Chinese ink painting. What is interesting you to work in different mediums like photography or printmaking?
AT: In Hong Kong, the place where I am learning is very contemporary, so ink is just one of the mediums they taught, we would focus on many other things as well. So focusing on Eastern culture, we would consider Chinese ink as our major medium, then I look for other things because when Eastern and Western culture mix together they are producing new things. So the more I learn about other cultures then the more I can go back and create new things with what I traditionally know. No matter if a person is from East or West they see my work they will be able to relate, if I only use Chinese ink and paint on rice paper then people from the West may think ‘this is very Chinese’ because it is not related to their origins. So mixing both media can allow more people to be familiar with the work.
AV: How are you choosing your subject matter?
AT: as an artist what you experience daily will show in your work. I found a very good quote from OCADu while I was visiting. The quote is ”we strive to create art that is connected to our own past but will lead to unknown paths in the future”. So my creations are all of my past. The process of finding what you want to do is not from choosing a subject matter and dividing out to decide what you want to do; rather it comes from your experience and drawing coming things from that. This will also always change because you are always experiencing different things and different places.
AV: what are some artistic projects that you are having or that you want to take on while you were in Canada?
AT: I am working at Graven Feather studio as well as Paper House studio. I had never learned how to make paper so now that I have the chance to know how to make paper I want to create something from what I have learnt. Also Graven Feather being a letterpress studio I am paying more attention to text and letters. So this makes me want to create something that is text based and making use of the paper making techniques. So this is what my physical environment is encouraging me to work on. So I am preparing to make a piece which will combine both of these things.