Landscapes Where East Meets West

Mary McCoy, Art Critic and Artist
The Washington Post, September 25, 1993

Although Washington painter Kit-Keung Kan’s show of landscape at the American Association for the Advancement of Science is too small to be a retrospective, it does trace the development of this Chinese-born artist’s particular blend of Eastern and Western influences over the past decade.

Kan paints layer upon layer of ink and watercolor on rice paper, blending luminous colors and shadows that impart a sense of mystery and solitude. In the context of this disciplined method, his impish plays of spatial illusion against flat, iconic forms are surprising. In the earliest of the show’s 10 works, “Rising Clouds II” (1982), a dark surface textured with brush strokes teasingly vacillates between the two — dimensionality implied by a red band across its lower edge and the infinite depth suggested by delicately modeled clouds — a la Chinese landscapes — sliding up its surface.

More recently, Kan — who has been painting for more than 30 years — has redefined his chosen vocabulary of highly simplified mountains, trees, water and clouds as he moves toward realism. In “Landscape #37” (1992), he retains his habit of drawing tension from the placement of a prominent feature — in this case a stark mountain peak — at the extreme edge of the painting. Far below, trees with innumerable spidery branches that reach up into a bluish mist are so carefully detailed in animated, calligraphic strokes that they seem almost photographic. This same brand of tension and contradiction has energized Kan’s imagery all along, but in the newest work it does so with remarkable subtlety and maturity.