Sat, Dec 30, 2017 - Page 14 News List

Bilingual Arts: The shared origin of painting and calligraphy: IV

Li Bai in Stroll, hanging scroll, Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), ink on paper, 81.2 x 30.4 cm, collection of Tokyo National Museum, Japan.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Due to the peculiarities of the Chinese brush and ink, the painted line plays a crucial role in the depiction of form. On Sept. 30 Bilingual Arts looked at how the likeness of Vimalakirti was rendered in the style of Wu Daozi, who would build up clothing and form in his paintings with flowing lines.

The artist Liang Kai (approx. 1140 —1279) also painted his work Li Bai in Stroll with lines, although here he used broad strokes in an unrestrained style, using light tones. He painted the outline of the figure and clothing assertively, in what appears to be a single stroke, against a background he kept completely blank.

Liang captured the very essence of his subject with his precise control over brush and ink. With economical strokes, he created the collar with an ink wash, followed by the facial features — forehead, nose, eyebrow, eye, lips, jawline — in profile, using the tip of the brush, before painting on a wispy beard. The thickest ink he uses to paint on the top knot, then giving short flicks of the brush to depict individual strands of hair.

This is a representative work of the Chan (Zen) Buddhist painting style, employing bold yet free, succinct brushwork to create a rendition quite ahead of its time, capturing the unpretentious personality and laid back aspect of the poet Li Bai (701 — 762) as he strolls along, reciting verse.

Liang Kai was originally known for the meticulous brushwork of his landscapes and figurative paintings. He served in the imperial art academy, at the whim of the emperor, where it was said that everyone was in awe of the detailed quality of his paintings. He would later, however, eschew the status that came with the academy, and reject the detailed, meticulous painting style that it represented, turning instead to painting Buddhist and Taoist subjects, as well as the ancient sages. He began to imbue his work with the Buddhist and Taoist concept, popular at the time, of the moment of enlightenment, using simple brushstrokes to convey profundity. This style was called jianbi hua, meaning “minimalist painting.”

Liang Kai’s conversion from painting realistic depictions to focusing on how to capture the essential spirit of his subject could be said to be a reaction to the prevailing painting style of the time. As this jianbi hua style entailed the paring away of the unessential, what was left, with each stroke of the brush, was the most essential, the most able to capture the spirit of the subject: That, in itself, was incomparable precision, something that could only be achieved through the most ardent training in realist depiction.

(Translated by Paul Cooper, Taipei Times)








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