【DunRen Gallery】When Tempera met Shanshui – Cao Jigang 9.26-12.13,2020


Bluerider is pleased to present Chinese artist Cao Jigang Solo Exhibition “When Tempera met Shanshui” at our DunRen gallery with the leading art critic Xia Kejun as the academic director. The exhibition will present the works Cao Jigang created in recent years, which demonstrate a profound idealized state of mind.

When Tempera met Shanshui 
曹吉岡Cao Jigang首個展

Show Statement

Bluerider is pleased to present Chinese artist Cao Jigang Solo Exhibition “When Tempera met Shanshui” at our DunRen gallery with the leading art critic Xia Kejun as the academic director. The exhibition will present the works Cao Jigang created in recent years, which demonstrate a profound idealized state of mind.

Cao Jigang uses an altered tempera technique to activate the inner vitality of the properties of ink and water. He preserves the outlines and solidness of the mountains in the overall picture, but in the details, seemingly abstract smears of the brush, subtle contrasts and minute transitions in color maintain an overarching atmosphere. Here we can find countless enchanting details while also taking in the vastness of the overall landscape. It is also the method of painting itself, the repeated washing and polishing of the tempera, the use of wash methods from ink painting to transform the tempera, leaving more traces of time with each stroke of the brush left behind on the painting's surface. This is a masterful integration of natural and human temporality.

Traditional Chinese ink and wash naturally retains the modern abstract element, and Eastern Zen wisdom has also left a mark in Western abstract painting, particularly in the minimalist cold abstraction. Drawing a modicum of traditional landscape painting’s elements into his works, the artist composes something distinct from either of the two styles. Such composition balances the stability of the Western technique Tempera and the fluidity of traditional ink and wash, and creates an ambiguity in cultural recognition, which opens up more space for thinking and imagination than any certainty does. As the artist noted, there is no need for the viewers to define his work with the established concepts of Western and traditional Chinese painting : it is but another pictorial representation composed of the two methods of expression and artistic languages.


媒體預覽 9.24


主持人:夏可君教授Ph.D  與談人:藝術家曹吉岡、Bluerider ART 執行長 Elsa Wang


曹吉岡 Cao, Jigang
(China, b.1955)

出生於北京,1984年畢業於中央美術學院油畫系,2000 年畢業於中央美術學院油畫系材料表現研修組。曾任教於中央美術學院造型學院基礎部。曹吉岡的作品融合東西方美學,用混生方式表現中國山水畫中的「虛空」。

知名中國藝術評論家夏可君教授Ph.D 談論曹吉岡作品:「曹吉岡的坦培拉作品乃是連接自然與生活,西方古典與中國古典,傳統與當代,現實與夢想之間的仲介,是在趙無極與朱德群的抒情風景抽象之後,華人藝術家所給出的另一個新階段,這就是古典山水畫的歷史記憶與西方古典的手法觸感,經過新的極簡主義與虛薄化轉換,更為具有東方典雅高貴的氣質與生命洗心的精神。」曾多次於中國美術館及海外展出,榮獲第九屆全國美展銀獎(1999)並由中國美術館、 上海美術館…等永久收藏。


1984年自中央美院畢業至今,歷經幾個創作時期。最初以油畫寫生為主,這時期以一系列長城油畫,表達歷史廢墟的蒼涼。轉折時期以鉛筆素描表現水墨的氣韻質感。後一個時期再,以丙烯進行創作。接著進入坦培拉十年研究時期,以7米巨幅坦培拉作品「廣陵散」為此時期代表。近期2020于Bluerider 首個展創作走向更極簡抽象精神性的表達。

曹吉岡Cao Jigang 不同時期創作

第一階段 – 油畫 長城系列

轉折期 – 鉛筆素描油畫



2000年 坦培拉時期


1984 中央美術學院油畫系

2000 中央美術學院油畫系材料表現研修組

Selected Exhibitions

2018 十五章·曹吉岡作品展 築中美術館

2015 曹吉岡小作品展,築中美術館,中國北京

2014 空寒,自然的虛托邦,索卡藝術中心,中國北京

2014 抽象與自然,築中美術館,中國北京

2013 墨以象外—中美藝術家聯展,中國美術館,中國北京

2012 當代—中國油畫雙年展,中國美術館,中國北京

2012 跨躍極限,紐約天理藝術中心,美國紐約

2011 付出與獲得,科羅拉多大學美術館,美國洛杉磯

2009 悟象化境—傳統思維的當代重述,中國美術館,中國北京

2008 「象」之中國—曹吉岡階段回顧展,中國美術館,中國北京

2008 平遠—中央美術學院五人展,今日美術館,中國北京

2007 對應:應對—2007中美藝術家作品交流展,中國美術館,中國北京

2004 首屆中國北京國際雙年展,中國美術館,中國北京

2001 杜勒與中國山水的對話—曹吉岡紙上作品展,索卡藝術中心,中國北京

1999 第九屆全國美展(《蒼山如海》獲銀獎),中國北京

1998 中國山水畫油畫風景展,中國美術館,中國北京

1994 新鑄聯杯中國畫、油畫精品展(《深谷淺溪》獲銀獎),中國美術館,中國北京

1992 曹吉岡畫展,中國美術館,中國北京


2014 《獅子林》獲法國美協沙龍展金獎

1999 《蒼山如海》獲第九屆全國美展銀獎


1991 《深谷淺溪》獲新鑄聯杯中國畫、油畫精品展銀獎


The Four Phases of Cao Jigang’s Paintings and His Position in the Third Stage of Chinese Painting in Art History

Xia Kejun Ph.D

Cao Jigang is an artist who I discovered. I was impressed when the first time I saw his artworks at an auction house a decade ago, and I attempted to contact him right away. Afterward, in the exhibition of ‘In Time - 2012 Chinese Oil Painting Biennale’ at the National Art Museum of China, I saw the tremendous 7 meter long large scale tempera artwork, ‘Guangling Melody’. The majestic sorrow with cultural-historical insight and the sense of classic had impressed me. I then invited him to participate in my series exhibitions of ‘Infra-mince art, which I started to have a deeper understanding of Cao Jigang.

His painting path can be divided into four phases.

The representative work of his first phase is ‘The Great Wall’ series created in the 1990s. Although the works showed the characteristic of Chinese academic art that revealed realism in landscape sketching, Cao Jigang particularly chose the Great Wall as his solely sketching object. The artwork demonstrated his attempt to set memorial still lives off with a vast background not only between natural ruins and historical symbols, but also broad poetry and individual loneliness. The work forms a painting language that consists of a firm shape with boundless meanings, as well as creating his dual-return mindset of naturalizing history while historicizing nature. He is capable of exploring the in-depth sorrow that hidden or buried in history.

The second phase started from the new century in 2000s. Cao Jigang began to explore the techniques of tempera with some other professors at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. During the first decade of the new century, he immersed himself in finding ways to combine the transparent glazing skills of tempera and the method of combining the skills with Chinese ink washed painting, which enabled him to obtain the forgotten jade texture and the glazing perception.

Stepping into the third phase from 2010s, Cao Jigang still focused on landscape sketching. However, he integrated the visual memory of literati landscape paintings since the Song Dynasty, and he ingeniously merged the natural vividness with historical-cultural images. Taking the ‘Guangling Melody’ as an example, he managed to mourn the historical sorrow with modern majesty. Meanwhile, he rejuvenated the mist vividness of landscape sketching by presenting the implicit textures as infra-mince shadows. On the other hand, regarding the series artworks of ‘Taihu Stone’, the paradoxical combination of the firmness of still lives and the vastness of quaint tone. The mountains and stones are like abundant flowing Zen, which injects the beauty of lightness that the glazing of tempera paintings never had. It seems like the objects were given spiritual breathes.

The fourth phase began from 2018, especially the latest paintings that exhibited at Cao Jigang’s first solo exhibition with Bluerider ART. The painting language of Cao Jigang simplified even more obliquely and separates the picture into black and white. Moreover, with a bit of extruding and staggering, the plain poetry and profound empty-cold feelings manage to calm the hidden sadness. The minimalist compositions of the paintings are similar to the calmness and peacefulness exhibited from the edge of Song porcelain. The perfect integration of the abstract concept of minimalism and natural, historical poetry is as the poetic aura of the Southern Song Dynasty lingers around.

To appreciating Cao Jigang’s paintings, we must comprehend systematically about the originality of modern aesthetic discourse in the art history of the Greater Chinese. As a philosopher, a researcher of art history, and a contemporary curator that criticizes and practices, I attempt to consider the modern development of Chinese painting from a comprehensive perspective and try to build a historical pedigree of the three generations.

The representatives of the first generation artists such as Yun Gee and Sanyu who lived abroad in the first half of the 20th century. Their works echoes with the cubism and expressionism in the Western world. Back In China, Huang Bin-Hong and Qi Baishi, who led the breakthrough to the modernity of ink wash paintings and their works show the transformation of freehand brushwork and daily lives.

The second generation led by Zao Wou-Ki and Chu Teh-Chun who lived in France in the 1960s and 1970s, the second half of the 20th century. They merged the delicate literati strokes of sketch, wrinkle, dot, and rub into the Western abstract lyrical colors, which forms lyrical, poetic landscapes with blurred changes between the sensation of natural and abstract. On the other hand, in China, there were Wu Guanzhong and his mentor Lin Fengmain in the 1980s. Stepping into the 21st century, Chinese artists had experienced the difficult exploration of individual words during the 1990s, which acquired insight learning or inherited the abstract lyrical strokes of Zao Wou-Ki. Later, they developed the language of paintings. This is the stage what I called ‘Neo-modernism in Imaginary Color’, and the artists including Qiu Shihua and Shang Yang. For a younger representative of this stage would be Cao Jigang.

The reasons why Cao Jigang’s paintings are the ones that manifest and represent the new direction of the third generation of Chinese painting specifically focused on language features and contributions of his artworks listed as below:

Firstly, Cao Jigang re-obtained the unique ‘Jade Texture’ of Chinese civilization, which restores the poetic memories with the accumulated ‘Patina’ in natural history. It was like the transparent beauty of “Ink Concealing Color” and “Color Concealing Ink” from the jade ware in Xia Dynasty that Huang Bin-Hong found in his later ages. Additionally, it was like the setting that the jade texture as the supreme life sensation from Song porcelain, in which only Chinese have remained and accumulated the natural sensation of “Patina”. It consists of the dual poetic memories that naturalize history while historicizing nature. The techniques that Cao Jigang uses to mix the repeated glazing technique of tempera with the layering skills of ink washed painting. This is a combination of two classic techniques from the East and the West, which brings back the long-lost ‘Jade Texture’. Such a cold jade texture contains the modern life perception and resistance, which balances the accelerated heat released from the over-busy lifestyles of modern people and calms our empty minds. It is a warm, delicate texture and insightful sensation of historical time that the previous two generations did not fully deliver.

Secondly, the artworks manage to express the classical literati beauty in the form of contemporary minimalism and elegance. Despite Huang Bin-Hong demonstrated some sublime blossoms in his late ages, he used mainly freehand brushwork with awesomeness, which had some gaps into the desolate and empty-cold poetry. Nonetheless, Zao Wou-Ki’s paintings after the 1980s were more closed to abstract and color field painting, which entered the sensation of beyond humanity and performance. It can regain the essence of Chinese aesthetics only by mastering the vast desolate aesthetics of Tang Dynasty and the plain lightness of Song Dynasty. This is the primary development of the third painting generation. The paintings of Cao Jigang in recent years demonstrate minimalist composition, the elegant tone of black, white, and gray, and the oblique separation and the calmness of the horizontal distance looks like natural scenery, but only a vanished shadow remained. The large white spaces reveal subtle changes of color layers, which the thin lightness seems floating and the slight waves are like the minds that suddenly move far away. Everything resembles indiscernible yet clears our hearts. The legacy dream of Southern Song appears again, and painting has reached the realm of fantastic masterpieces.

Lastly, from the perspective of graphic language in painting, Cao Jigang successfully merges the vivid changes of nature with the graphics of historical literati ingeniously. It presents the inward detachment of modern isolated individuals by utilizing the traditional Chinese art theory of ‘Three Distances’ which reconnects minds with nature. It will shape the aesthetics of our living areas when we exhibit Cao Jigang’s minimalist artworks that illustrate ‘the style of Song paintings’ together with Song porcelain or Ming furniture in a contemporary abundant ancient atmosphere space. The mixture of ancient atmosphere with contemporary artworks, and daily plainness with detached poetry perfectly are a ‘spiritual fasting’ experience which settle the tiredness and busy minds of nowadays people.

The Tempera Painting of Cao Jigang: Reflection of Jade, Deep Concentration, and Minimalism

Xia Kejun

 Almost everyone in the world knows the beauty of Mona Lisa’s smile by Leonardo da Vinci; yet, people rarely understand the secret painting skills behind it. The magical smile seems covered with a mysterious veil, which comes from the painting skill, Sfumato. It was said that Leonardo da Vinci painted up to 30 layers of thin oil paint with the thickness of each layer was merely one to two micrometers. The imperceptible transitions show the obscure, light, and transparent effects that soften the rigid sensation of the outlines in oil paintings, and therefore enhance the charms and subtlety of the smile.

The material of Mona Lisa has been believed is in oil on panel. However, it may be more accurate to be considered as in mixed media during the age of ‘Egg Tempera’. In other words, the painting utilized tempera as the color base, despite that the oil colors were more obvious with little evidence of egg tempera. It indeed used some of such material. It is probably used the abundant color layers as the base, or the repeated glazing skill of tempera, which created the color layer effect of the oil painting. Additionally, one of the advantages of oil paint is that it can create extremely thin layers that are capable of repeatedly covering and amending after the coating dried. The Sfumato technique of the painting exerted such an advantage profoundly in the artwork and employed the skill of tempera and its perception theory as the color base.

Hence, what is the technique of tempera? It is a painting skill in the Renaissance that uses a painting medium consists of water and oil to precast the pigments for painting. The glutinous and turbid binder medium usually utilizes egg yolks or the entire egg as the emulsifier, sometimes with a moderate amount of oil and vinegar, to mix with pigments. The feature of the material is not only fast drying but also presents soft luster that shines as an eggshell. After repeated polish and drying processes, layers and layers of colors will remain and show its best appearance that may even with a texture of marble or transparency as clouds.

Except for the difficulty of the technique and the texture of the colors, such a complicated painting process may also possess a sacred sense of reverence from the artists toward arts or religions, presenting strong faith as the deep and indelible texture. The elaborate process is meant to enrich the colors, as like the tens of trapping halos from the heaven that shines eternally.

Kilns of Song Dynasty, such as Ru Ware and Ding Ware, is well known for its pure and extreme beauty. The name of “China” represents the meaning of “Porcelain”. Why do Chinese people pursue the texture of solid color for their daily utensils such as white porcelain and celadon with minimal form? How do they develop such a high-end metaphysical quality? The solid color has provided the object with an extreme purity, which delivers the “Jade Texture” with a plain yet faint aura. Such a near and far sensation has almost made it a holy relic.

Why “Jade Texture” becomes the supreme life quality in Chinese culture? There were secrets about “Color Breathes in Ink” and “Ink Breathes in Color” since Xia Dynasty, as the literati, Huang Bin-Hong, once mentioned. It transferred the morality and etiquette that were as clear as jade ware into the pure aesthetics as the jade texture. Being the pure quality of cultural life, no matter it is poetic jade dew or the psychic gem described in a novel; the jade texture has become the deepest secret of cultural life and individuals.

From jade to the jade texture of Song Dynasty porcelain, the jade texture differs from the Lapis Lazuli in ancient times, the shiny and waxy sensation in the western classics, the ink light of Chinese ink wash paintings, the monotony of contemporary monochrome paintings, and the dazzling psychedelic colors in modern society. It is a feeling we could touch yet feel mysteriously far away, a touch with aura, and a deep sense with the permeability of time’s patina that contains a gently and deeply peaceful beauty, which enables the slack contemporary souls to concentrate calmly.

If there is a reason for painting to be existed for its delivering a unique perception and touching beauty, it is necessary to “create” a jade texture. This is almost the only and the final secret of painting.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, couple of professors from the Oil Painting Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing attempted to retrieve the egg tempera technique from ancient western society. They have been exploring the skills for years, and Cao Jigang is one of the core members. In other words, twenty years ago, Cao Jigang had given up the oil painting skills that he had employed for a long time. Instead, he started to re-explore the contemporary value of tempera paintings.

Why choosing such a complicated technique as tempera painting? Tens layers of repeated glazing and covering with multiple times of handling to different pigments. It is similar to archaeological works that have complex procedures, as well as similar to the process of making prints. Still, it requires artists to be more patience, to pause, and to consider the light changes and transparency. Finally, the artwork will obtain a sense of gloss that watercolor oil paintings would never be able to present, a texture similar to marble, jade, and porcelain—the jade texture.

The jade texture condenses all kinds of technical skills, aesthetic purposes, and the work of mind cultivation. A task that needs endurance with time-intensity; the work requires tremendous concentration and exquisite sensitivity. These traits are the abundance that the modern accelerate era to be lack of, especially the sense of time in conceptual art.

What will happen when “Tempera” met “Shanshui”? The cultural visual memory of the entire traditional landscape painting and the flawless living memories of literati, aesthetics, mountains, and rivers will be reconstructed and perceived in modern ways. To Cao Jigang, he is not complacent about the challenges and the pleasure after learning tempera. He attempts to modify tempera with ink washed texture. In other words, he expects to address tempera painting with the ink washed texture as the artworks of Song Dynasty to demonstrate the jade or porcelain texture. And this caused the dual modifications, one is adding permeability as ink washed to the tempera technique that already has a transparency effect (although the plaster foundation of tempera painting corresponds to seeping), and the other is displaying the deep touch of time in jade texture (which is much richer and gentler than the jade texture in western tempera paintings). To Cao Jigang, this is not merely a research of “techniques” but the transformation of a “skill toward Taoism”.

When “Tempera” met “Shanshui”, Cao Jigang began with landscape painting which delivered abundant changes naturally without falling into abstract conceptual operation and repeated production. Unlike improvisational landscape painting, it has to engage in-depth cultural history ingeniously while preserving the plentiful changes of natural.

Secondly, Cao Jigang illustrates the cultural-historical memories of traditional landscape paintings through his works. Therefore, he created such a vivid landscape painting with the part of a valley seems to echo with the Snow Mountains by Guo Xi, an artist in Song Dynasty, which shows a flash of a classic part in a Song Dynasty artwork.

Thirdly, his paintings are definitely not like a partial enlargement but the accumulation of many layers of time perception that mixes the vitality at that moment with time differences. Layering the iconography of historical cultures and pushing the scene before your eyes to the extremely far away. It is not the extreme of the naked eye, but the extreme of historical memories, among which, mixing a pinch of vicissitudes. Take the tremendous artwork, “Guangling San”, for example, the scene contains in-depth historical tragedy.

Fourthly, by applying the layering skill repeatedly in tempera painting, the traditional black-and-white ink paintings display a heavier sensation. It feels like the accumulate-ink method of Gong Xian in the late Ming Dynasty that using layers and layers of accumulation is similar to print the historical trauma of hearts. It may seem nothing at first glance. Nevertheless, the delicate granularity and the mottled marks remain underneath the transparent layer with gentle care. Isn’t the tempera technique the care and protection to the broken patterns in lives? Isn’t it like a terminal lucidity of old memories?

Lastly, the value of paintings in this accelerating virtual era is to bring a pause to concentration and to re-confirm the mind to focus on this era full of scattered minds. The accompanying changes in life quality would become the vitality for us to speed up promptly. The more we feel enthusiastic, the more we need to be calm. The white-hot modernity requires extreme calmness; it is like balancing the poetic scenes with empty cold and quiet qualities. This is what the sensation of life need desperately, and such peace and extremes need to reflect via the jade texture! This far-reaching second wind and the desolate and empty cold feelings reproduce the coldness of jade texture, which transfers our restless souls. Consequently, the classic poetry can express in the contemporary era.

The contemporary value of Cao Jigang’s paintings is the repeated glazing in tempera layers. He changes our perceptions about life and rebuilds our souls by the memories in the poetry of cultural history and the jade texture triggered by empty-cold poetry.

In recent years, there are more profound changes in Cao Jigang’s artworks. In the Cao Jigang Solo show represented by Bluerider ART, we can see more masterpieces that are new and experience profound, heartbreaking exploration. This is the reason why Bluerider ART particularly named the exhibition as “When Tempera met Shanshui”, which indicates an encounter of two classics in the contemporary period and expects shining sparks to forge!

There are no straightforward landscape paintings. Instead, you will find something simplified, similar to a part of or the hemming of the Southern Song Dynasty, which is the segmentation of black and white.

Something seems like mountains, may it be a split of an abstract concept or even the contrast of black and white colors. Nonetheless, they are not abstract paintings but something with light creases. The gentleness of seams at the edges of mountains lingers the deep emotion of the artist.

The peaceful gaze from the distance of the horizon will bring an insightful intimation. The traditional Chinese art theory of “three distances”, in Cao Jigang’s masterpieces, will be demonstrated in a more simplified abstract way, which gives subtle tremble to the atmosphere.

There is a bit of gray appeared on the surface seems merely black and white, which are like the new three primary colors. The painting has again divided into three, which are the parts of gentleness, dimness, and poetry. These parts present the bright and elegant poetry to the entire artwork. Because the lightness at the edges of the outlines and the seams, the three parts seem to float secretly with meandering breathes.

In these minimalist works, unlike the minimalism in abstract arts, they only leave a touch of smoke shadow and the floating intangible color. It is exactly the smoke shadow lingers between vanishing and staying, gives a feeling of either impermanent or timeless. Charming yet blurred, transparent yet abundant, the artist managed to seize the moment on the painting naturally.

It is a world as virtuous as jade, like merely presenting the outline of mountains with touches of transparent and light marks, and like the rim of a Song porcelain cup. Are the calm peace and smoke lightness not the hidden poetry that attempted many times to deliver on the overlapped rock cliffs or in the smoke mist by Wang Shen in Northern Song, Ni Zan in Yuan Dynasty, and Dong Qichang and Wang Hui in Ming Dynasty? Under the dilemma between landscape painting and photography, the poetic sensation of skills seems to be lost in modern times. Nevertheless, Cao Jigang with the support of tempera’s technique, prosperity, and haze, as well as the dual transformation of ink wash and jade textures, enable the reappearance of the poetic calmness and aura.

Absentminded and floating, impermanent yet eternal, painting provides an implicit tension that offers those rushing, empty contemporary souls an opportunity to concentrate calmly. Nothing is more impermanent than those moments, and nothing is more eternal and stable than mountains. However, in Cao Jigang’s tempera paintings, those floating objects has been stabilized and eternal matters started to float, which rejoins after reversing. It is so simple and quiet which expresses the contemporary era by the deepest desolate calmness.

The new paintings of Cao Jigang are the representative of the contemporary aesthetics in imaginary color. It differs from the abstract landscape paintings of Zao Wou-Ki that show a strong emotional performance and brushstrokes, and it differs from Richard Lin’s abstract collage with minimalist bars, either. Instead, it is something that deepens into ancient Chinese poetic scenes; yet, with the mindset of minimalism and abstract logic.

When ‘Tempera’ met ‘Shanshui’, a divine intersection of two classics themes. Mixing two of the most supreme qualities is the modern conciseness and abstract, which enables us to absorb the essence from the classic and to combine it with the poetry. This might be a brand new contribution in Chinese painting: a return of the classic poetry while simplifying the abstract idea into something with higher purity. A reappear of classic techniques in the western and the prosperity while maintaining the timeless jade texture of traditional Chinese classic, which becomes the revival and combination of the two classics themes. Engaging the classical mindset and the elegant sentiment with the fashion of modern conciseness and purity to acquire in-depth sensation. Only to keep the tension of paradox can reach the internationalization standard in painting, and enable painting to go further and be more fascinating. Cao Jigang’s paintings develop in such a high-tension environment, supreme and elegant while being concise and subtle. We will all sincerely expect the path of its future.

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