Ancient art inspires ink painter to create modern work
Ma Xiaotian has been painting lotus flowers at his studio in Beijing even in the July heat.
The ink painter says the dark green leaves and pink flowers on paper “have a magical power to cool his body and mind”.
He has just completed a painting, more than 1 meter in height, which took him three days to finish, from early morning to late night.
“When painting lotus leaves, I use the technique of lishu (a style of Chinese calligraphy),” says the 55-year-old artist.
Lotus is one of his favorite topics. The painter has also painted figures, birds and flowers, and landscapes — all of which have been included in his new book released in spring.
A solo show is under plan and will be held by the end of the year, he says.
The book has more than 100 pieces of ink-and-wash paintings, almost half of which are figures, such as men fishing on a boat, children dragging a cow or an old man playing the guqin (a traditional zither) under a tall tree.
The earliest figure painting in the book is one depicting a beautiful woman in ancient clothing, which Ma painted at the age 17. The piece won him a national prize and encouraged him to explore the art form for a lifetime.
Unlike many other Chinese painters who went to art colleges to learn the skills, Ma didn’t train at such an institute. He learned from different painters he admired.
The Beijing native started painting in his teens. He also started to work at a communication company by the time he was 17. He spent all his spare time on ink paintings after work. He tried his best to make friends with master painters, such as Huang Yongyu, and learn from them in person.
“Only when I paint I feel like myself and I feel happy,” the artist says.
Li Yanan, a longtime friend of his, says Ma usually uses his ink brush instead of a pen to take notes during meetings.
Ma once ran a telecommunication business and set up a separate painting space at his office.
“We were shocked that he suddenly closed down his business five years ago and said he would devote all his time to Chinese painting,” Li says.
In the last five years, Ma has learned different styles from ancient and modern masters, while trying to find his style.
Although he has tried various techniques, the one thing he has stuck to is painting based on ancient skills but with a modern mindset.
He says he is a firm defender of traditional Chinese painting, which both looks good and reflects the painters’ inner mind.
“We should have confidence in our own culture and art,” says Ma, wearing a Chinesestyle jacket and sitting at a tea table.
He likes to read books and ancient Chinese poems. In his studio, there are lots of books on his desks and bookshelves.
“Chinese art emphasizes the cultivation of a person’s mind. It needs one’s life experience, knowledge of literature and great painting techniques,” says Ma, adding that a lifetime is needed to explore such art.
Ma Xiaotian works on his ink creation in his Beijing studio.
TheMountainandtheBoatin theFall, ink painting by Ma.