Traditional Chinese paintings, with a modern twist

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One of a series of paintings on the topic of Zen by Ahai on show at Anyi Gallery in Shanghai through May 29. [Photo provided to China Daily]

At first glance, the works of art by Kong Jinghai, who is more popularly known as Ahai, come across as traditional Chinese paintings. But delve deeper and it soon becomes clear why this Nanjing native calls himself a contemporary artist.

Although his creations, 28 of which are now being showcased at the Anyi Gallery in downtown Shanghai from April 14 to May 29, often depict people in ancient Chinese settings, he has built a name of himself with his playful introductions of modern elements such as a fedora or high-heeled shoes.

In a reproduction of a classical painting featuring garden scenery, he introduces playing cards onto a stool with a mother-of-pearl inlay. In another painting, ducks of disproportionate sizes immediately grab the viewer's attention.

Chen Manfu, the curator of Ahai's exhibition at the Lobkowicz Palace at Prague Castle in the Czech Republic in 2018, describes the artist as one who is unafraid to break the rules to bring ink art into the contemporary context and create a poetic representation of his spiritual world.

Another aspect of the artist's paintings that has earned him renown is their weathered look. According to Ahai, the paper and pigments of traditional Chinese ink paintings possess a certain look that is a result of aging through the centuries. Fascinated with this, he devised a way to recreate a similar look when he was a student at the Nanjing University of the Arts.

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