Classical Chinese painters were masters of rocky mountains, but Liu Dan, one of a group of contemporary artists putting a new twist on a thousand-year tradition, sticks with just the rock.
Liu's minutely detailed Scholar's Rock, a large-scale, almost photographic exploration of a single, gnarly, eroded stone at once pays homage to the classical tradition of scrupulous ink and brush skills, while turning the notion of soaring landscapes on its head.
The work, among a collection of contemporary paintings that went on show on Thursday at Christie's in New York, demonstrates how a modern school hopes to breathe new life into China's heritage.
Challenging China's staid traditions is nothing new. Ever since the Cultural Revolution receded, Chinese painters have been exploring western innovations.
But a smaller group of painters, which appears poised for commercial success, looks to classical techniques as inspiration for 21st century work.
"They are working in a traditional medium, but in a very contemporary vernacular," said Paul Johnson, a senior director for Christie's North America.
Although still a niche, this reborn classical genre has a strengthening presence in the Asian art market and is winning a foothold in the West, Johnson said.
The 25 works by nine artists are discreetly for sale, with prices ranging from US$27,500 (Dh101,002) to $770,000.
In a sign of growing recognition, a "major US museum" will soon devote an exhibit to this Chinese style, Johnson said. - AFP