An­cient art in­spires ink painter to cre­ate modern work

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE - By DENG ZHANGYU dengzhangyu@chi­

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.

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