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A Singaporean Gallerist’s Collection of Ink Paintings

By Renée Batchelor

Zhao Xiao Hai, “Dance of the Pouring Sunbeams” (2016)

“I’m often told that his paintings resemble photographs. Known for his forest scenes, the artist uses ink that has been left to ferment for a few days, and the thick, viscous ink dabbed onto paper gives the effect of lens flare and bokeh.”

Jia You Fu, “Passing of the Rain” (2006)

“The harmonious blend of green and gold and the balance between night and light was why I added this piece to my collection. Historically, Chinese ink landscapes made use of a limited palette of unmixed colours, so the green and gold are actually somewhat unusual.”

Xu Hua Xin, “Above the Clouds” (2018)

“This painting is created with the simplest of material: black ink, water, brush, and paper. Stripping away extraneous distractions, the artist focuses on mood through composition and tones of black and grey.”

Jia You Fu, “Taihang in Gold” (1997)

“Depending on the mood and time of the day, I feel the early morning energy of the cow herd leading his charges to pasture, or the tired satisfaction of a long day’s work as the sun sets behind the mountains. Chinese ink and poetry are symbiotic — the subject is just a means of conveying mood and atmosphere.”

Xu Hua Xin, “Frost Moon” (2011)

“An immaculate wall of ice and snow that reminds me of the view of Kilimanjaro from inside the crater. In Chinese ink, ‘white’ is typically represented by unpainted paper. With a brilliant combination of water and black ink, the artist creates nuances of grey to approximate white.”


Seah Yu Ying, the director of White Space Art Asia, is a second generation gallerist. He started the gallery in 2008 to represent young, contemporary ink artists from Asia. “I grew up surrounded by art and running around in a gallery so you could say my interest developed very early. I bought my first Jia You Fu ink painting from my father in my early twenties, through six monthly installment payments, and that painting still has pride of place in my home. I’ve been collecting for over 22 years now, so I am first and foremost a collector,” says Seah.

Spending time in China changed his perspective on Chinese ink. “I came to know many fine artists who opened my eyes to Chinese ink and the fundamental philosophical differences in how to interpret art, as well as how Chinese ink developed. It gave me a very different perspective and set me thinking about why Chinese ink, with its 2000 years of development, has not been able to respond to the zeitgeist of Western contemporary art,” says Seah.

Seah’s interest now extends to the next generation of painters including students of Jia. “I eventually settled on collecting Zhao Xiao Hai and Xu Hua Xin. Both artists possess incredible ink technique and approach the purity of black ink in very different ways,” says Seah. “I see in the younger contemporary Chinese ink artists artwork that can bring a very different conversation to the global art stage. It’s not a competition of East versus West, but an opportunity for a richer, more diverse conversation. This is why I collect Chinese ink,” says Seah.

Illustrations by Kimberley Batchelor