Water, Water and Water, Works by Kit-Keung Kan, on View at Adkins Arboretum, on View Beginning Aug. 1

July 24, 2011

There’s an antidote to the hot, dry days of summer at Adkins Arboretum. Kit-Keung Kan’s breathtaking paintings of rushing water fill the Visitor’s Center gallery with the coolness of waterfalls and whitewater swirling around rocks.

On view Aug. 1 through Sept. 30, Water, Water and Water is an unforgettable show of large Chinese ink and watercolor paintings on rice paper. Painted in Kan’s unique style that fuses traditional Chinese landscape painting with contemporary Western modernism, each work triggers the sensation of torrents of water splashing, foaming and rising in mist over rocks. There will be a reception to meet the artist on Sat., Aug. 6 from 3 to 5 p.m.

A sheet of foaming water cascades over a cliff in “Falling Water XLII,” veiling the rock face behind it. You can practically feel the coolness of the spray and hear the thunderous roar of the waterfall in Kan’s meticulously brushed layers of ink and watercolor.

A retired physicist who lives in Bethesda, Kan exhibits his work internationally, particularly in the U.S., Hong Kong and Taiwan. The paintings in this show are part of a large series of water paintings that has been Kan’s focus for the past 15 years. With the exception of the four-panel “Falling Water VII,” a nearly 13-foot-long painting of swirling blue-green water and rocks that has been shown in Hong Kong and China, none of these works have been exhibited before.

After coming to the U.S. in 1968 for graduate studies in physics, Kan began traveling to the country’s national parks. Visits to Great Falls Park and Niagara Falls inspired his interest in rushing water.

“The rapids and falls in these two places made a strong impression on me,” Kan said. “I found that the traditional techniques of painting water in Chinese painting is not enough to express the energy of these flows of water.”

Because the traditional Chinese method of painting water using only line work couldn’t convey the power of the surging rapids and waterfalls, Kan began experimenting with intricate patterns of dots of ink painted in many successive layers to evoke the speed and force of foaming water and the softness of the mist surrounding it.

Many Arboretum visitors will remember Kan’s scrolls of calligraphy installed as sculptures in the Arboretum’s forest in the winter of 2009–10. The artist studied both the traditional Chinese arts of calligraphy and painting from an early age and continues to innovate in both fields.

The power of nature is always the central theme for Kan. He explained, “It was ingrained in my background in Chinese literature and art that nature occupies the same place as God as in Western culture. Western culture concentrates on the human and finds nature passive. However, Oriental culture finds human activities and emotions too transient. I paint landscape to project my ideals of the order of things.”

This show is part of Adkins Arboretum’s ongoing exhibition series of work on natural themes by regional artists, sponsored in part by Caroline County Council of Arts. It is on view Aug. 1 through Sept. 30 at the Arboretum Visitor’s Center located at 12610 Eveland Road near Tuckahoe State Park in Ridgely. Contact the Arboretum at 410-634-2847, ext. 0 or info@adkinsarboretum.org for gallery hours.

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