Works by pioneer of night scenes on display
Around 80 years ago, Chongqing provided a temporary shelter for people from northern and eastern China who had escaped the Japanese invasion. Among them was Zong Qixiang (1917-99), then an art student at the Central University.
There, he often lingered by the riverbank gazing at the misty mountain city while listening to the sound of the water.
He was so touched by the scene that he produced several watercolors of the night view, and he posted them with a letter to his mentor, artist and educator Xu Beihong.
Xu’s reply read: “Ancient Chinese painted night scenes in a symbolic way and they failed to present the luminous feel. Do you think you can depict the beauty of the lights with the ink-brush technique?”
Zong then created his own style: He used varying shades of ink and the liubai (leaving blanks) technique to show brightness in the dark night.
He showed his ink-brush paintings of Chongqing’s night view at a solo exhibition in 1943. His creativity impressed viewers, including Xu.
In an article praising his student, Xu wrote, “With very simple brushwork, he presents the twinkling lights of Chongqing, the houses on the mountain slopes, the ragged hilly paths and chaotic streets. He has made a major breakthrough that deserves to be written about.”
An ongoing exhibition in Beijing commemorates the 100th anniversary of Zong’s birth and features his night view series.
His works include some of the most beautiful places across the country, such as the Three Gorges, and the Huangpu and the Lijiang rivers.
The exhibition, titled Harmonized Beauty, is on at the museum of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, where Zong taught for several decades until his retirement in 1987.
It is one of a series of activities ahead of the academy’s 100th anniversary in 2018.
Yu Yang, the exhibition’s curator, says Zong’s output demonstrates his sensitivity to light and color.
He says Zong painted the lights in the war-torn era to show the sheer tenacity of the people in the face of the invasion, and in peacetime to celebrate the beauty of the country.
Fan Di’an, the academy’s
9:30 am-5:30 pm, through Aug 27, Mondays closed. Central Academy of Fine Arts, 8 Huajiadi South Street, Wangjing, Chaoyang district, Beijing. 010-6477-1575.
head, says Zong opened new ground in the traditional realm of mountain-and-water painting.
“Through the illuminated mountain towns, bridges, towers and sailing boats, Zong envisioned a spiritual place.”
Zong’s oeuvre includes natural landscapes, flowerand-bird paintings, portraits of ethnic groups and watercolors. They are also on show at the exhibition.
Zong’s paintings from the 1940s portray people who struggled for a living, such as boat haulers and woman workers in cities.
In the 1950s and ’60s, he focused on soldiers and ordinary people in New China.
Zong traveled extensively across the country after the 1950s. And in the last two decades of his life, he lived and painted in South China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
Among his landscapes on show are those he painted when journeying through the mountains and waters of Guilin and the forest-enveloped villages of ethnic groups inhabiting Guangxi.
Yu says that Zong often told his students that to produce works that touch people, painters had to be versatile, focused and observant like actors.
Jia Youfu, now 75, and a student of Zong in the early 1960s, says Zong often criticized him for following textbooks in a mechanical manner.
“He said, ‘ How can you overlook the beauty of nature? If you see the world from the perspective of other people, without critical thinking, you will end up being a nobody,’ ” says Jia, an established painter.
“Some 50 years after I graduated, I have not forgotten his words.”