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5. The returning raft amidst the wind and rain November 26, 2007

Posted by kentneo in Art.

Feng Yu, the wind and the rain, Gui – to return, Zhou – the raft. The returning raft amidst the wind and rain.


Sometimes I get bored of painting, I will do some calligraphy, when I am bored of writing calligraphy, I will sketch some Tu Hua Wenzi (pictograpghs). If I am still bored I will write an essay, I can’t write poems and am not very good at chess as it takes up a lot of energy from my brain. But when I am painting, I sometimes do human figures sometimes landscapes, basically what comes to mind I will follow that direction and let it develop naturally and paint that without restricting myself to a topic or to a situation (eg. monetary gain).


In the West, there is a saying, once inspiration is there, one must start to paint. Talking about landscapes, if one is familiar with calligraphy, the same skill can be applied to painting. The basic brushstrokes that make up Chinese landscape painting is the use of dots, lines and large wet brush strokes to express the image in one’s heart. If you have a poem you can’t seem to forget, that could be the source material for your painting.


Western realism painting has reached its peak, I don’t think they can develop further. Whereas Chinese painting from Han (206 BCE – 220 CE) dynasty to Tang (618 – 917 CE) and Song (960 – 1279 CE) dynasties and from Song to Yuan (1271 –1368 CE) and Ming (1368 –1644 CE) dynasties, painting and poems have mostly followed a similar set of rules. In some dynasties with shocks to the system, painters also change their styles. In any case as we are all after the satisfaction of achieving something meaningful, humans will lean towards things that are beautiful, who wouldn’t want to be joyous/happy? The type of happiness where one forgets oneself attained through achievement. Having said that, people like change, especially young people’s thoughts contain a lot of illusions, although rich in creativity they are also chaotic, but that is human nature. Which mature person had not been through the period of youth? Dreams of the youth are the type that brings advancement, everyone has to experience that and the process is not going to disappear anytime soon.


In art, realism is a logical step in the progress of art, but that isn’t permanent. The west have realistic art, the east has abstract art (Xie yi – to paint the representation of ones thoughts and not necessarily the realism of the environment), both these forms are seeking new and interesting ways to express their environment, but only the works of the artists that are the most talented will remain. For example, the “Three hundred poems from the Tang dynasty”, in the Tang dynasty itself there must have been over three million poems, not all survived till today, through the years of spring-cleaning only the most valuable three hundred have remained. As artists or writers, we won’t be able to get away with bad output, every piece of work has to be good.


Western painting, uses watercolors, Chinese paintings we use water and ink, even the paper and the tools such as brushes are not the same, the outcome of the painting will not be the same, this is actually a good thing and watercolors and water and ink should be in the same family. Presently, the in thing is to do “dry” watercolor paintings, which is not dissimilar to the Chinese way of using “dry” ink (“jiau mo”, “su mo” ink method). The difference is in that the foundation for Chinese paintings are from writing calligraphy. The unique point about Chinese calligraphy is in its elegance and style and the effort required to reach that skill determines whether the painting is good or bad. Color is secondary as Chinese black ink is considered to have five different distinguishable tones and this is the important distinction. Both Japan and Korea (and in the past Vietnam) considers calligraphy as a treasure and spend enormous efforts pursuing it, but as they have strong national pride and a form of “ba qi”, that hinders their development in this area and yet we Chinese take this entire art form for granted. The Japanese have used culture as something to be treasured and is part of their heritage as they advance economically and it seems illogical that we Chinese do not do the same.


I have painted “A man returning from the storm” and another, “A raft returning amidst the wind and rain”. I can’t seem to find the former but found a copy of the latter, so lets talk about that.


When I did this painting, I was only practicing using lines, there was no real direction for the straight lines so the painting became a piece of rain like streaks. Apart from the weeds and the man’s rain coat made of grass, which are lines, the lines used to draw the shoreline has morphed into dots (because of the water content in the brush before drawing the lines). Although waves are not specifically drawn in, some strokes of the brush make a number of abstract waves; this is the wonderful thing about the versatility of Chinese ink.


If you have mastered the drawing of long and short strokes of lines, it is easy to paint paintings like this. It is best if you use Chinese rice paper and draw a series of lines. The image you had in your mind (whether its abstract or not), will appear on the paper. You should date the paper, if possible, do this everyday, after a while, you will notice you have developed certain strengths. Look through your older drafts, there will be some that seem to have form and others that don’t. For the ones with form, they can be categorized into the “realistic” pile and the formless one can be in the “abstract” pile, none of the paintings need be categorized as old style or modern art. If any of the paintings remind you of a poem or a verse, that is the response from your inspiration, you can then title that painting with the poem. (This beats the western method of painting realistically).


On the topic of a storm (wind and rain), when one writes about it, its quite simple to describe but it’s a difficult topic to paint, for how do represent wind? Rains usually follow wind, there are big winds and there are small winds, and with rain, they range from furious rain to light rain. We know that mountains and rocks are stable, they don’t move but we can use the help of leaves and stems and humans too as they wear rain coats to express the motion of wind. The atmosphere should be dark, with heavy clouds and the “shuen ran method” can be used. Other representations such as a sea of clouds, a cloak of mist, morning mist and fog can be used. To add strength to the final outcome, use of lines, dots and big watery patches cannot be used simply. One needs not only technique but spirit.


If one wants to practice technique, the storm is a good one to do, but talent will truly bring out the atmosphere of the painting.


There are a lot of poems about storms. I don’t remember too many, only the two more common ones, one is by Wei Yingwu (740 –830 CE) :


As I sit at home in my cold living room, (living room of an official)

I suddenly thought of my friends who now live in the mountain, (refuse to serve emperor)

They have picked up twigs from the banks of the stream;

And used it as firewood to cook “bai shi”;

I would like to bring them some wine,

To comfort them in the night when the wind and rain blows, (to chat)

The mountain is full of fallen leaves;

How will I find where you are?


And another is by Juin Qi :


Chinese paintings place emphasis on the meaning of the painting, whereas western paintings are more keen on making it look realistic. There are important techniques to be learnt both ways, for how do you paint space/universe and how do you paint ambition/dreams. As Lao Zi once said, “there will always be things we do not understand, oh! but to stand at mystery’s door!”.


So, it is good to think about how to achieve satisfaction from one’s situation, but you need to have the foundation. As they say the tree without roots will not grow, and how many buildings have toppled because of the lack of foundation.


In reality, realistic paintings have reached their peak, color photos have taken their place which will be replaced by color movies. But abstract paintings are dependant on the message they convey. Which will need technique, talent and inspiration.



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