Chi­nese Sto­ries in Tra­di­tional Paint­ings

“Tra­di­tional Chi­nese paint­ing is like em­broi­dery—both need to be care­fully ex­am­ined to find their hid­den mean­ing.”

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text by Yu Ge

In the early 1940s, Zhang Daqian (1899-1983), one of the most fa­mous tra­di­tional painters in mod­ern China, spent nearly three years copy­ing mu­rals pre­served in the Bud­dhist grot­toes in Dun­huang, in China’s north­west­ern prov­ince of Gansu. In 1944, he held an ex­hi­bi­tion in Chengdu, cap­i­tal of Sichuan Prov­ince, to dis­play what he copied. Among the vis­i­tors was a 10-year-old boy, who still has a brochure from the ex­hi­bi­tion.

The boy was Jiang Ping, who was born into a fam­ily of cal­lig­ra­phers and painters. His fa­ther, Jiang Fanzhong, was a friend of Zhang Daqian. Three years later in 1947, Jiang Ping be­came Zhang’s youngest stu­dent.

Over the past seven decades, Jiang Ping has con­tin­u­ously ab­sorbed Zhang’s paint­ing tech­niques while ex­plor­ing his own style, even­tu­ally reach­ing the status of a paint­ing master of Sichuan. In May 2018, 84-year-old Jiang Ping held a solo ex­hi­bi­tion at the “China Trea­sures” art gallery in Bei­jing Ho­tel, dis­play­ing over 120 paint­ings he fin­ished over the past 20 years.

On ap­pre­ci­at­ing tra­di­tional Chi­nese art, Jiang told vis­i­tors: “Tra­di­tional Chi­nese paint­ing is like em­broi­dery—both need to be care­fully ex­am­ined to find their hid­den mean­ing.”

Si­lent Moun­tains, Glassy Ponds

Tra­di­tional Chi­nese paint­ing is pop­u­larly re­ferred to as “ink-wash Dan­qing.” In fact, “Dan­qing” refers to heavy col­ors such as cinnabar and turquoise used in art creation. There­fore, the name “ink-wash Dan­qing” not only in­cludes ref­er­ences to two dif­fer­ent col­or­ing styles, but also rep­re­sents two ma­jor gen­res of tra­di­tional Chi­nese art: ink-washing paint­ing and re­al­is­tic heavy-color paint­ing.

Zhang Daqian was dubbed the “East­ern Brush” by many in West­ern art cir­cles. Many of his works in­te­grate re­al­is­tic and free­hand styles. Jiang Ping inherited this strat­egy and is par­tic­u­larly pro­fi­cient in re­al­is­tic paint­ing. His ex­hi­bi­tion in May dis­played both ink-wash and heavy-color paint­ings in­volv­ing sub­jects like

flow­ers, birds, land­scapes, an­i­mals and in­sects, fus­ing hu­mor with solem­nity.

In con­trast to free­hand paint­ing fea­tur­ing rough and sim­ple lines with fo­cus on set­ting the mood, re­al­is­tic paint­ing re­quires draw­ing de­tails with ex­quis­ite, metic­u­lous strokes sim­i­lar to classical West­ern oil paint­ing.

Per­haps this is why Jiang Ping likened tra­di­tional Chi­nese paint­ing to em­broi­dery: both re­quire painstak­ing metic­u­lous­ness. “Re­al­is­tic paint­ing is time-con­sum­ing, and each piece of work could take more than a month to com­plete,” he said.

More­over, tra­di­tional Chi­nese paint­ing is of­ten ac­com­pa­nied by cal­lig­ra­phy, po­etry and seals, which en­rich the artistic value of the paint­ing. Jiang Ping be­lieves that “po­etry is mu­sic to paint­ing, and paint­ing is dance to po­etry.” He of­ten se­lects a poem be­fore be­gin­ning a paint­ing and likes to write mean­ing­ful verses that eu­lo­gize virtues and good char­ac­ter on his paint­ings. Ac­cord­ing to Li Yan­sheng, a for­mer re­searcher at the Palace Mu­seum, Jiang Ping in­her­its Zhang Daqian’s style that re­tains the core value of tra­di­tional Chi­nese schol­arly paint­ing.

“Jiang Ci­cada” and “Jiang Fan”

Jiang Ping’s paint­ings de­pict a wide ar­ray of sub­jects in­clud­ing flow­ers, birds, fish and in­sects. He is so noted for his ci­cada paint­ings that he was nick­named “Jiang Ci­cada.” A paint­ing de­pict­ing ci­cadas in the moon­light was par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar at the ex­hi­bi­tion. In the paint­ing, five life­like ci­cadas fly­ing or perch­ing on wil­lows bathed in the moon­light cre­ate a po­etic am­biance.

In tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture, the ci­cada sym­bol­izes no­bil­ity and moral in­tegrity, so it’s a pop­u­lar sub­ject for many paint­ing masters.

Jiang Ping be­gan to draw ci­cadas

in the 1980s. Af­ter care­ful re­search of ci­cada paint­ings from past dy­nas­ties, he con­cluded that few of those works de­voted much de­tail to the in­sect’s wings and some even in­cor­rectly de­picted its body struc­ture. Ac­cu­rately rep­re­sent­ing the ci­cada’s body struc­ture and vividly de­pict­ing its thin, trans­par­ent wings be­came Jiang’s mis­sion. Over the next sev­eral years, he col­lected ci­cadas from the wilder­ness, made spec­i­mens and stud­ied their bod­ies care­fully. “Just like Qi Baishi’s de­pic­tions of shrimp, I ap­ply the thick­est stroke be­fore the ink dries,” Jiang re­vealed. “This is how I clearly de­pict the veins on their wings.”

Ac­cord­ing to se­nior Chi­nese col­lec­tor Li Bao­jia, Jiang Ping’s ci­cadas dif­fer from those of his teacher Zhang Daqian. “Jiang’s ci­cada paint­ings are more mean­ing­ful and con­vey pro­found tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture.”

Along with ci­cadas, Jiang Ping’s work on fans is also out­stand­ing. Many of his painted fans are on dis­play at the ex­hi­bi­tion as well. Chi­nese fan cul­ture has a long his­tory. As early as the 18th cen­tury, Chi­nese fans were in­tro­duced to Europe via the Silk Road and gained pop­u­lar­ity with the up­per class of the West. Af­ter cen­turies of evo­lu­tion, fan paint­ing and cal­lig­ra­phy have be­come icons of classical Chi­nese cul­ture.

Jiang had al­ready be­come pas­sion­ate about fan paint­ing and cal­lig­ra­phy by a young age. So far, he has cre­ated more than 1,000 pieces of one or the other. He in­te­grated and ab­sorbed high­lights of other artists to form a dis­tinc­tive fan paint­ing style af­ter fur­ther ex­plor­ing the aes­thetic and visual ef­fects of color brush­work. He once pub­lished a col­lec­tion of fan paint­ings, for which fa­mous Chi­nese art critic Liu Chuan­ming wrote in the pref­ace: “Paint­ing on fans, es­pe­cially fold­ing fans, re­quires not only fol­low­ing the curves of the fan to fill the space but also re­al­is­tic tech­niques to draw the empti­ness. Jiang Ping per­forms ex­cep­tion­ally well in both re­gards, so his fan paint­ings are im­bued with an ar­chaic touch and pre­serve or­tho­dox styles of tra­di­tional fan paint­ing.”

Bond with “China Trea­sures” Art Gallery

The host of the 2018 ex­hi­bi­tion, the “China Trea­sures” art gallery in Bei­jing Ho­tel, is lo­cated ad­ja­cent to Tian’an­men Square, the Palace Mu­seum and Wang­fu­jing Pedes­trian Street. Li Jing, founder of the gallery, for­merly worked with civil avi­a­tion com­pa­nies and me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions which left her with rich ex­pe­ri­ence in man­age­ment and in­vest­ment. She has been com­mit­ted to the pro­tec­tion and in­her­i­tance of tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture for many years. In 2008, she founded the art gallery to pro­mote and col­lect pre­cious art cre­ated by state-class masters that are con­sid­ered “na­tional trea­sures.”

Li Jing was im­pressed when she first saw Jiang Ping’s work. “Many se­nior artists spend all of their time paint­ing rather than pro­mot­ing their art,” she ex­plained. “But their works are very im­pres­sive. What kinds of Chi­nese sto­ries are worth hear­ing? I pre­fer sto­ries from se­nior artists who have inherited tra­di­tional cul­ture.”

Along with tra­di­tional cal­lig­ra­phy and paint­ings, the art gallery has also col­lected more than 100 pieces of cloi­sonné and carved lac­quer­ware. Both crafts were part of the first group of Chi­nese in­tan­gi­ble cul­tural her­itage. Many art and crafts masters have es­tab­lished co­op­er­a­tive re­la­tions with the art gallery in­clud­ing con­tem­po­rary Chi­nese carved lac­quer­ware master Man Jian­min and cloi­sonné master Xiong Song­tao.

Dur­ing Jiang Ping’s paint­ing ex­hi­bi­tion, the art gallery or­ga­nized sev­eral events themed around tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture to ac­cent tra­di­tional Chi­nese paint­ing with per­for­mances of guqin (a tra­di­tional seven-stringed plucked in­stru­ment) and tea cer­e­monies. On June 9, 2018, Djoomart Otor­baev, for­mer prime min­is­ter of Kyr­gyzs­tan, vis­ited the art gal­ley and showed great in­ter­est in tra­di­tional Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy, paint­ing and royal trea­sures. He pointed out how spe­cial Chi­nese cul­ture is and how much of it can­not be found in any other coun­try. He also ex­pects more ex­cel­lent Chi­nese cul­tural achieve­ments to be­gin be­ing ex­ported.

The ex­hi­bi­tion dis­played over 120 paint­ings by Jiang Ping. by Han Wancheng

de­picts five life­like ci­cadas fly­ing or perch­ing on wil­lows bathed in the moon­light, cre­at­ing an el­e­gant, po­etic am­bi­ence in line with the verse on the paint­ing.

The “China Trea­sures” art gallery in Bei­jing Ho­tel, founded in 2008, is com­mit­ted to pro­mot­ing and col­lect­ing pre­cious artworks cre­ated by state-class masters that are con­sid­ered “na­tional trea­sures.” by Cheng Gong

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