Tu Hongtao: Drunken Forest

Tu Hongtao

Lévy Gorvy, Palm Beach

February 9 - February 28, 2021

Tu Hongtao: Drunken Forest was a single-work exhibition that marked the first public U.S. presentation for the celebrated Chinese artist. The monumental canvas Drunken Forest (2020), on view in Palm Beach, introduced American viewers to Tu’s painterly innovation and his compelling synthesis of diverse artistic traditions.

Drunken Forest is a masterpiece inspired by three journeys undertaken by the artist in 2020 to sites in his native Sichuan Province. There, he studied ancient stone carvings—including reliefs and statues in Qingshen County, Anyue County, and the Dazu District—that span a vast period, from the Sui dynasty (c. 580–620) to the 20th century, and encompassing Buddhist, Confucian, and Taoist iconography. For Tu, this overlapping of eras and cultures resonates with his own artistic goal of configuring time and space as manifesting both psychological sensation and physical reality. Drunken Forest resulted from Tu’s travels: combining natural motifs observed in nature with an array of memories and associations they invited—the painting features bravura brushwork and lush oil paint in rich tones to suggest foliage, earth, stone, and sky.

While Drunken Forest amalgamates the characteristics of the terrain Tu visited from memory and sketches, the work was also inspired by sculptures he visited at these sites. Remarking on the Purple Bamboo Guanyin, a celebrated statue among the Anyue Stone Carvings dating from the Song dynasty (c. 960–1279), he observed the work’s “free transition between sculptural and pictorial language,” noting how “the contour of the mountain is naturally represented in the characteristic of the stone.” Tu also drew from the compositional structure and technique employed by Cézanne, observing that “Cézanne’s language of painting was close to that of the quarry under Mont Sainte-Victoire.” Rooted in the visual motifs of the landscape and a cross-cultural appreciation for the potential of painting, Drunken Forest has a vivid presence and a compelling sense of place realized through Tu’s decidedly original vision.