Works by pi­o­neer of night scenes on dis­play

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE - By LIN QI

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.”

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