T'ang Haywen

As an important figure in Modern ink, T’ang Haywen (1927-1991) born in Xiamen, China, belonged to the group of Chinese painters who settled in Paris after World War II and represented the third and final chapter of this generation of canonical artist expatriates. From ink to oil, T’ang Haywen’s gestural paintings imbue the pictorial space with flagrant yet subtle energy – simultaneously dynamic, textured, unrestrained and expressionistic.

T’ang Haywen received no formal training in art, having moved to Paris in 1948 to pursue a career in medicine. Once in France however, T'ang soon began to pursue his long-held ambition to be a painter by fully immersing himself into the cultural environment of the time. This has set him apart from his contemporaries in Paris, Chu Teh-Chun and Zao Wou-Ki, who studied under Lin Fengmian whilst the sources of T’ang Haywen’s art are to be found in the teachings of traditional Chinese calligraphy and Taoist principles.

T’ang Haywen was predisposed to gouache, ink or oil on paper, and as an aesthetic exercise coalesced traditional Chinese elements of the abstract wash with the more lyrical style of the West. In T’ang’s practice, this format became systematic removing any preoccupations with the spatial dimensions he was creating under. The dimensions define the artworks whilst conferring a recognizable visual identity to his oeuvre. Born out of the juxtaposition of two sheets of paper combined as one, the diptych is vast enough to enclose the world, one which history has deemed to be uniquely that of T’ang’s. His revolutionary oeuvre transcended the cultural boundaries of the East and West. Employing innovative techniques, T’ang composes within the parameters of Taoist artistic ideals, espousing tenets of naturalness, spontaneity and simplicity. In the artworks exhibited mimesis of nature is forsaken, with T’ang constructing a very personal, metaphorical realm where pure energy was captured with arresting beauty.

During the 1980s T’ang Haywen had significant exhibitions in France, with a diptych collected by Dominique de Ménil, then the most important collector of contemporary art in the world but refused to meet the great American collector Paul Mellon as his trip to Paris coincided with T'ang's insignificant trip to the west side of France. T'ang was not encumbered by notions with material success and did not gain widespread recognition during his time. He did however play an important role in the continued evolution of Chinese ink art developing a new language of lightness and depth. The artist was the first of his generation to restore to the medium of ink the power to translate the subtlety and complexity of the soul of China. Recognition of T’ang’s artistic achievement culminated after his death in 1991, thanks to many retrospective institution-level shows: Oceanography Museum of Monaco (1996); Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan (1997); Maîtres de l’Encre Chang Dai-Chien – T’ang Haywen – Zao Wou-Ki, Musée de Pontoise, France (1999-2000); Paths of Ink, Musée Guimet, Paris, France; Shiseido Gallery, Japan (2002); Breeze from Paris, Eslite Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan (2014).