Reviews

Apollo Magazine, August 1961

Douglas Bland’s romantic abstracts, which are on view upstairs, glitter and shine like jewels under the sea. They seem sensual, for the artist takes real pleasure in the sheer sumptuousness of merging colours. They seem brash, for at no time is the idea an effect, for its own sake, mitigated, yet they are extremely well done, as an idea and in execution. When applied to Bland’s paintings, the word ‘decorative’ becomes a virtue as the artist’s wholehearted and unambiguous approach to what he is after, i.e. a visual feast, is a success.

Jasia Reichardt

 

Round the Galleries, Guardian, 30 July 1961

The Drian Galleries in Porchester Place, near Marble Arch, are dedicated to abstraction, usually of the kind known as expressionist though the word becomes annually less useful to the distracted categorist of styles. What really matters is no longer the name given to the category but the artist’s place within it. On the first floor are shown paintings by Douglas Bland, who is English but, after living in Bali, now works in Hong Kong.

Artists, especially abstract artists, are luckier than ordinary mortals. They can live anywhere. Their methods of communicating with their fellow-humans are not restricted by barriers of language or even by the nature of their environments.

Abstract, in the strictest sense of the word, he may be, but traces of oriental vision can be detected in most of the paintings. The landscape of mountain and water or mountain and mist (the titles of his pictures are often interchangeable with those of Sung painters) is implicit in his work. These could be pictures by a pantheistic Chinese hermit.

Eric Newton

Abstract Paintings of Douglas Bland, South China Morning Post, 4 October 1966

Some years ago we spoke of Hong Kong as being a cultural desert. None but the naive will deny that we are still in this desert and far away from crossing it. It is true that we now have a concert hall capable of accommodating world-famous orchestras and a theatre to accommodate theatrical groups.

But these are interpretative arts only. We have no major writer, novelist, poet, dramatist, composer of artist. A cultural climate is needed to nourish and produce them. It is hard to visualise a refugee among us toiling away in some resettlement area on a great novel, or an illegal immigrant illegally occupying some hillside land, chipping away at an illegally gotten piece of granite that would produce a great sculpture.

Yet in this desert a few talented artists, a very few, exist and blossom. One of these is Douglas Bland who is more than just a local painter, for his paintings are in many private collections in the United States, Europe and Britain as well as in many homes in Hong Kong.

Thirty-four of Bland’s abstract works are now on exhibition at the Sally Jackson Gallery in the Ocean Terminal.

Half of the exhibits he has called drawings, but in actuality are paintings of mixed media – a combination of monotype, crayon, felt pen and ink on soft paper. They are drawings in that, like drawings of old masters as studies to their paintings, they sow, as Bland’s oils do not show, the gifts at his command for his non-objective paintings.

Bland is a master of colours – not powerfully used as they are used by the abstract-expressionists but compellingly and sensitively used as if they were flowed on to the canvas to form landscapes of the mind, of swamps, seashores and mountain ranges. His colours, too, are of the tropics – bright oranges, yellows, cool blues and white foam of the sea.

It is always tempting to compare him with the American mystics, Mark Tobey and Morris Graves, who are profoundly influenced by the great thoughts (not Mr Mao’s of course) and calligraphy of the Orient, and whose paintings sometimes suggest fragments of prehistoric China, of bronze and seal writings and of oracle bones.

These, too, are recurring themes in Bland’s works.

Dr Wong

Around the galleries, Hong Kong Standard, July 1963

Douglas Bland states in the elegant brochure accompanying this exhibition that one of the strongest influences on his work was his experience as a cartographer to the Maritime Customs Service in China between 1946 and 1948. “I was making and correcting charts of rivers and estuaries and this brought me into close contact with the life of the rivers as well as the landscape.”

Even a brief examination of his paintings reveals the truth of these words, but perhaps not quite in the sense which might be inferred from the statement. Many of Mr Bland’s abstracts remind one very strongly of the contours and markings to be found on a map of a landscape as seen from an aeroplane.

But Mr Bland is creating something far more difficult and important than pretty abstract patterns based on certain types of marking. What he is aiming at is a sort of “poetic imagery in paint.” Just as a poet will try to use a word which conjures up a multiple image in the mind of the reader, so Mr Bland gives us a multiple image of his subject matter in one painting.

This “multiple image” effect would be striking enough in itself but Mr Bland also brings to these paintings a splendid sense of balance and rhythm so that the complex patterns are always harmonious. Each detail has an aesthetically satisfying relationship with the painting as a whole.

Furthermore he has an excellent eye for colour, whether it is to be used in dramatic contrasts or subtle blends.

In several of his paintings Mr Bland makes use of Chinese characters either as the basis or for the whole composition.

Altogether this is a most impressive exhibition.

Leonard Cassey

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