New Infusions of Life into Nature written by Claire Cuccio

Scholar, author and curator Claire Cuccio  gives her unique insight for the upcoming exhibition “Infinite Entities” at Dong Yue Art Museum



Guilin Path 《桂林田间路》Niamh Cunningham 70x70cm

Niamh Cunningham’s first sojourn from the green and blue horizons of her native Ireland took her to the striking seasonal shifts of bright cityscapes and deep-colored forests of Prague and the desert yellows and aquatic blues of Dubai. She is now long settled in the lands of China. From her home in Beijing’s metropolis to the interior of Wuling to Guilin, Cunningham has encountered China’s own palette of colours as well as its distinct vistas and close-ups in which to contemplate the glories of the natural world.


Stretch 《拉伸》Niamh Cunningham 70 x70 cm

But in a 21st century rendering of any landscape, artists are posed with inevitable challenges of how to portray nature that has either been so wondrously captured by the ever finer pixels of digital imaging, or to the other extreme, has been ravaged and mined so that it is devoid of all of its vibrancy and colour. Cunningham has set out to transcend these limitations in her own visual production.

Gulin Memory 《桂林记忆》Niamh Cunningham 90 x90 cm

First explored in a workshop led by Gordon Novak as part of a 2014 residency in Hunan’s Zhangjiajie, monoprinting has recently become Cunningham’s medium, in part as a respite to painting as well as for an alternative creative space. While the effects and techniques are different, the monoprint is actually the closest of all print mediums to a painterly mode, though it offers a singular translucence that you might say is ideally suited for representations of nature. Forgoing her paintbrush on canvas, Cunningham inks up a vehicle of glass with her image born by Chinese, Korean or Western watercolours and sends it through a press to produce a single impression on a variety of Chinese xuan papers (xuan zhi), including those of bamboo and other tree fibers. To finesse the colours bleeding into the paper, Cunningham also applies different salts, solvents and detergents to respond to the surface tension of her glass canvas. ‘I feel the method is not really suited to tight representation but it can allow a whole new veil of softness to work with, which can bring you to a new and different place of the same scene,’ explains the artist.

Jie Na’s sea 《那洁之海》 Niamh Cunningham 70x70cm

In Cunningham’s piquant pastels infused with the luminosity that xuan zhi permits, the artist reminds us of the exquisiteness of the natural world. She renews our interest in the marvels of nature not simply through her warm but bold and translucent colours, but also in her microscopic viewing that hints at the clean but complex organic structure of the flower or the tree. Her washes of the outlines of natural places are clue enough to know what we are looking at, while simultaneously she deconstructs their beauty at a more molecular level. The impact is almost otherworldly, moving us to pause and consider what this beauty is that exists in one state or another in our midst today.

Support needed -differentiation《支持系统,加油》Niamh Cunningham 90x90cm

In many of her works, Cunningham suggests a more evident convergence of nature with science by preserving a wide white border on either side, as if the scenes have been stilled on slides whereas others that are round appear confined to a dab like a lab specimen that invites greater observation under a microscope. This reminder of the complex structure of the organic matter that is landscape also infuses a degree of seriousness spotlighting the overall importance of landscape from its sweeping majesty, its organised structure and its role in the science of life around the world.



Claire Cuccio | March 2017


Claire Cuccio, PhD, is an American independent scholar and curator long based between China and Japan, where she has focused primarily on traditional printmaking and the evolution of print techniques by contemporary Asian artists.



Please note that this exhibition, a two person show with fellow artist Gengxin,  will be discussed in detail on the airing of the upcoming program Beijing Guest on Beijing TV- BTV channel on April 7th /10th 2017.