Invented Landscapes Flows in Poetic Ways

Eric Gibson, Art Critic
The Washington Times, January 16, 1992

The branch of Robert Brown Gallery at 2030 R St. NW (near Dupont Circle) is showing the work of two painters through Jan. 25. One of them, Kit-Keung Kan is a representational painter of landscapes. […], the other artist, works in abstract.

Neither exhibit is what one would expect. Kit-Keung Kan’s paintings appears quite prosaic but contain elements of poetry. […]’s disappoint despite initial promise.

Mr. Kan paints in thin washes of ink and watercolor on rice paper. All his subjects, save a view of Niagara Falls, are invented. They’re often variations on a view of mountains or rocks seen across water with trees or grasses as part of the view.

They are extremely well-painted, yet one’s initial impression is of blandness, the consequence of too meticulous and perfect a manner. Everything is clearly delineated — Blades of grass, branches of trees, distant mountains. Even the mist, frequently featured in his work, has a studied perfection to it.

And again, initially there seems nothing particularly inspired about his point of view. Each landscape is handled in an altogether straightforward manner.

Yet as this catalog of defects is taking shape in one’s head, other qualities begin to surface in Mr. Kan’s paintings, subtler elements that endow his work with a fugitive vitality.

He orchestrated his varied landscape elements so that a part which — at first — appears only a detail, a part that is subordinate to the whole, turns out to be the focus of the composition.

This is the case in a landscape in which a denuded tree overhanging a body of water dominates the foreground. Although the scene forms the subject of the painting, the thin, leafless branches have a hypnotic power, as if the artist intended that they are more than simply part of the scenery or a composition device, but as the catalyst for a meditation on the whole subject of landscape.

This strongly contemplative aspect to Mr. Kan’s sensibility is distinctly oriental in character. (Mr. Kan is Chinese and studied painting and calligraphy in Hong Kong.) It elevates his paintings from the merely descriptive — which is what they appear to be at first — to something more enduringly satisfying. o