Last month, Hong Kong-based visual artist Danny Liu held Part II of his solo exhibition, ‘Fifty Shades of INK‘ at the Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre. Liu’s contemporary Chinese art exhibition showcased a beautifully riveting selection of his work, old and new, to explore a plethora of themes we like to pretend don’t dictate our lives.


Give Ink a Hand 2016 | Photography by Alice Pearce

“This exhibition revolves around the issues of consumption and displacement to display the implications of metropolitan life, human behaviour and mother nature. It presents human perspectives of the cityscape while addressing the challenges encountered for Chinese culture, the declining bee numbers due to resource exploitation, displacement of social roles, and mental health imbalance.” Danny Liu

Imaginary Mountain

Imaginary Mountain | Photography by Alice Pearce

Liu’s exhibition serves as a visual hotbed for societal concerns rife in today’s modern way of life, advising viewers to “slow down, reflect and rethink”. The traditional sensibilities that characterise Chinese ink painting offers artists and its audience the opportunity to spiritualise, contemplate, and to observe life retrospectively -just like the cumulative nature of this exhibition. Fifty Shades of INK addresses three main concerns for the viewer to ponder: materialistic values versus personal values, the relationship between humans and nature, and the rapidly moving lifestyle versus slow living.

Ink Consumption1

Ink Consumption 2016 | Photography by Alice Pearce and Dan’s Studio

Initially, these themes seem rather disparate, but walking through the exhibition it becomes strikingly clear how intrinsically connected they are. It’s almost as if you are being brought into a journey of realisation that we have been blindsided by the effects of living in a consumerist culture, to the effect where we lose our bearings on what really is important. Talking about his installation piece, Ink Consumption (2016), Danny says that “we are consuming nature by pursuing things we may not always need. I sketched on receipts; the numbers -representing material desire- fade out over time, but what remains on the paper is our true value, things that we cannot buy with money, such as family, friends, happiness and health.”

Wen Ren

Wen Ren | Photography by Alice Pearce

3CM Three Connected Mountains

Three Connected Mountains | Photography by Alice Pearce

One may think that the amount and richness of ideas in Fifty Shades of INK borders overcomplexity, threatening to oversaturate the viewer. But Liu’s work is visually simple yet poetically detailed, almost like a children’s fairytale where captivatingly innocent and memorable storylines are superimposed by life morals. It is this core feature in Danny’s work which allows him to send a potent yet sad truth.

Imagining No. 1-9

Imagining No. 1-9 | Photography by Alice Pearce

Instilling contemporary ideas into his work, Liu presents a sense of modernity in Chinese art and its heterogenous relevance to a vast audience. Adding his personal revolution to the genre, Danny challenges himself by experimenting with new materials not traditionally used in Chinese ink painting such as canvas, plastic, silk, porcelain, tea, and through installations. However, he still finds the traditional xuan paper (rice paper) the most interesting medium to work with, because there is always a different result depending on the type, aging, and humidity of the rice paper.

Busy Bees 2016 (Detail) 2

Busy Bees 2016 | Photography by Dan’s Studio


Busy Bees 2016 | Photography by Dan’s Studio

In Busy Bees (2016), Liu installs a bird cage in front of a large-scale cityscape. In this piece, the viewer is encouraged to sit in front of it and ask questions about it. The shadow cast by the bird cage invites the audience to think again whether the bee eaters (birds) are caged or not. Liu shares, “we choose what we see, and some might see themselves as one of the birds. The cage represents stress and obstacles -which are only a projection. One has a choice to be free or trapped in the cage, note the cage is actually open, suggesting that freedom is a choice.”


Conversations 2015 | Photography by Alice Pearce

In Busy Bees (2016), Liu also applied Puer tea on the paper as a backdrop to the cityscape of buildings. The subtle colour and lengthy process of dying tea on paper contrasts the rapid moving urban lifestyle, and the buildings are painted to replace the mountains traditionally depicted in Chinese landscape paintings.



Conversations No. 2 2016 | Photography by Dan’s Studio and Alice Pearce


‘366’ 2016 | Photography by Alice Pearce

Unintentionally metaphorical, Fifty Shades of INK took place in the middle of Hong Kong Park, a natural sanctuary nestled in the centre of Hong Kong’s financial district riddled with skyscrapers. The location of the exhibition puts Liu’s artwork into perspective, and when you leave his exhibition to walk through Hong Kong Park, you see the world a little differently than when you first walked in.


Shan Shui 2013 | Photography by Dan’s Studio

Some of Danny’s earlier works feature a little white man, barely noticeable until you inspect the artwork a little closer. He explains that,

“Traditional Chinese painters pursue harmoniousness in a painting. The little figurine serves to arouse audience interest and curiosity to knowing more
about this tradition. It also represents the concept that humans only play a very small part in nature,
our problems exist usually because we over project them.”


Mountains On Mountains

Mountains on Mountains | Photography by Alice Pearce and Dan’s Studio

Through his meaningful and contemporary artwork, Liu has re-imagined perspectives of life to create an eye-opening, soul-searching exhibition. After this exhibition, it definitely can’t be said that Chinese art is only meant for the museums or older generations, because Fifty Shades of INK proves that Chinese ink painting is still just as relevant and reflective of modern times as it was back in the past.

More excitingly, Liu will soon be hosting Part 3 of his Fifty Shades of INK exhibition,

23-29th August 2016 (except Sunday 28th), 10am-10pm, at:
Anita Chan Lai-ling Gallery
Fringe Club
2 Lower Albert Road
Hong Kong
Enquiries: 2521-7251

With special thanks to Danny Liu for his artistic insight and personal comments, and Dan’s Studio for press materials.

Written by Alice Pearce

Edited by Christina Wright

Danny Liu (2016). Danny Liu Art [Online] Available at: