Ink Paintings: Existence and Transcendence
--A Review of Jizis Art（three ）
3. Progressive Levels of Transcendental Paintings
Due to the fact that the theory of Chinese painting most definitely does not take the ability to paint as the measure of a paintings value, but rather evaluates a painting by the level of its spiritual meaning, so for this reason the theory of realms, that is the realm a painting attains, is a special feature of Chinese art theory. The contemporary artist and critic Mr. Zong Baihua (1897-1986), when discussing realms in Chinese painting, has said: Why are Chinese artists not satisfied with purely objective, mechanical drawings? Because the realm of Chinese painting is not a single plane of natural reproduction but rather the creation of realms of painting, with each realm having a deeper level. In all, there are three levels: the drawing of an object as directly perceived through the visual sense; the conveying of the dynamism of life; and the revealing of the highest spiritual realm. (Zong Baihua The Birth of Realms in the Visual Arts)
In summarizing his own artistic process, Mr. Jizi divided his creativity into three progressive genres: continuation, rebirth, and pioneering. By the continuation genre, Jizi means that, on the basis of continuing traditional painting, and by means of deeply investigating life in order to make progress in sketching, while at the same time consulting the works of contemporary artists of merit, he obtained a profound understanding of painting, and gradually formed his own brush and ink style. Using a familiar adage to sum this up, we can say that Jizi: continued the traditional but was not confined by tradition, deeply investigated life to blend the strong points of different artists, and so formed his own style. What Jizi was seeking in this genre was to use his own skills with brush and ink to express real mountains and real streams, that is the mountains and the scenes that one sees with ones eyes. These belong to the category of scenery that one already sees physically and emotionally, and the basic spirit is Realism.
By the rebirth genre, Jizi means using principally his own sentiments in order to create an expressive realm that surpasses Realism. In order to achieve this goal, Jizi had to break through the techniques of previous artists, and proceed to explore and create the breaking of new artistic ground. His creative spirit in this genre was, in the words of Shi Tao: from the depths of my heart, using my own abilities, I will decide how to use the brush and how to apply the ink. What Jizi was seeking in this genre was not a pure, objective reproduction but rather the ability to paint a creative realm of the mountains and scenes in ones mind that belong to the category known as having ones mind set in a profound artistic mood. In this genre, the artists individuality is particularly distinctive and the basic spirit is Romanticism. While this genre is close in several aspects to Expressionism, it still remains in the category of conventional, rational painting.
By the pioneering genre, Jizi means that conceptually he wanted to go beyond the physical realm that simply shows images, and advance to the metaphysical realm. In this genre, the artist wants his creations to express the universal spirit of the Tao that is beyond the image, but obtained from what the Tao encompasses. To accomplish this, the artist collects all the images - the abstract, the concrete, and the mental - and gives them a macro realization that has a unified, music like effect. In order to obtain this goal, the artist must proceed with a full range of exploration and creation from thought to framework, from technique to expression, and other such aspects of painting. The creative spirit in this genre is described variously as: a pure mind glimpsing the Tao, a pure mind getting the sense of an object, using the Tao to discuss art, and using art to embody the Tao; and seeking method and image from the Tao. What the artist is seeking in this genre is to transcend just showing the features of mountains and streams in order to realize the materialization of the realm of Tao, that is to paint mountains and scenes in the Tao.
The Dao of Ink and Dharma Objects- On Jizis Paintings
For several decades Mr. Jizi persevered in his explorations. In the early years, he called his own little corner of the world such names as The Bitter Blue Studio, and The Studio for Chanting in the Withering Cold, and hence we realize just how difficult it was for him in the beginning. It was just in this bitter cold period that he assiduously studied previous artists, establishing a solid foundation in traditional painting. From the end of the 1960s, he began to explore his own style. He worked during the day while at night he calmed his mind in order to delve into art, but it was a difficult time nonetheless. At the beginning of the 1970s, he started from personal experience and called his corner of the world The Not Easy Studio. It was just in these difficult circumstances that his explorations took shape as ink and brush landscapes painted in his own style. He continued his own style creating his manifestations of the frozen ice and fluttering snows of the North Country, the biting cold and tragic majesty of the Yan Mountain ice and snow landscapes. At the end of the 1980s, following the impact of the rise of business in China, one by one artists began to engage in business, but Jizi continued to abide by the ancient Taoist precepts of extreme emptiness and guarded quietude (i.e. remaining unperturbed by what others do and concentrating instead on quietly honing a skill).
At this time, Jizi changed his studio name to The Determined Studio, and continued his profound exploration. These explorations finalized in the experimental paintings that became the artistic expression known as the Tao of Ink Landscapes. The dictum for Jizis The Not Easy Studio was: It is not easy for those who know the difficulties, but there are many who, because they know the difficulties, lower their expectations. It is thus especially not easy to know the difficulties but still not lower ones expectations. Thus for one who does not lower his expectations but instead makes them definite, then such a person is really noble, and this nobility represented that profound spiritual essence necessary to advance Jizis art.
At least as far as the stance that the ancient Daoist philosopher Laozi took in the world after he realized the Way (dao), as everyone knows, was a rejection of the world. A modern Western example would be Ludwig Wittgenstein who, after his Tractatus Logical-Philosophicus saw the Way (dao), left the elite celebrity circle of Bertrand Russell, John Maynard Keynes, and others, and ran off to a far away mountain village to become an elementary school teacher and church gardener for more than fifteen years. Before his 27 June 2009 exhibition The Way of Ink and Dharma Objects - a Jizi Exhibition, Mr. Jizis individual life had already been hidden from the world for almost 70 years. As for the contributions of his artistic career, Jizi had been painting in silence for almost 50 years! After hearing this marvelous absurdity, one cannot but feel that it was a tragic and poignant fate, a really telling sign of a painter who has given his life to art.
In a comprehensive view of the course of his art and his artworks, we see that the artistic realm that Jizi was seeking in his brush and ink landscapes belonged to the same category as the works of the contemporary artists Qian Songyan and Song Wenzhi (mentioned above). The originality of Jizis snow and ice landscapes is that he understood the weak points of classical landscape painting in displaying snowy mountains and frozen peaks, and hence created such special techniques as the rough, choppy, slanting, and hollow brush methods for showing the textures of snow and ice. These two kinds of artworks, Jizis brush and ink landscapes and his snow and ice landscapes, however, formed a solid foundation for Jizi to proceed to explore his Tao of Ink Landscapes. Because his Tao of Ink Landscapes were not just an extension of his brush and ink landscapes, but in particular were the expressive techniques he used in the snow and ice landscapes, they incorporated inner elements that made for unique modeling, and captured the snow and ice landscapes emphasis on expressing the artists heartfelt sentiments. By means of expanding his thinking and restructuring and modifying the configuration of the paintings, moreover, Jizi sought to reproduce a painting that surpassed merely showing an image.
A sharp difference between Jizi and his ancestor Laozi and the Westerner Wittgenstein is that the disappearance of the artist Jizi carried with it much more of being enforced and the tragedy of the nation and its people during that era. At the time of the 1976 Tangshan earthquake, just before the death of Mao Zedong, Chinas intellectuals, including artists, had only several modes to choose from: they could be (Maos) students, (state system) slaves, hide from the world, or become martyrs to their own ideology. One could not talk about an independent cultural life, and artists were the first to inhabit this strange world, painting chaotically and indiscriminately, their dreams of making artistic contributions sabotaged. Mr. Jizi chose to survive by disappearing: on the one hand, he wore commoners clothes, absolutely did not flaunt his right to speak, and avoided making his alienation a calamity. On the other hand, he crossed over to doing paintings of the sea, gradually realizing that worldly appearances are like watching clouds form white garments that then became black dogs. The towering decisiveness of his brush and ink were still on the distant horizon. Even so, the paucity of artworks in his early period allowed him, after weighing the matter over and over, to destroy these works voluntarily. Isnt this also a kind of suicide? This was a kind of cultural suicide different from the suicides of the novelist Laoshe (1899-1966) and the translator and art critic Fu Lei (1908-1966) who took their own lives. Chinas intellectuals like Laoshe and Fu Lei did not endure, while Chinas intellectuals like Mr. Jizi endured until after 1977, endured until the science spring and endured until the art spring.
The 1980s were a watershed for Chinas society and also for Mr. Jizi. Just before the middle of the 1980s was the first period of his painting, the period of brush and ink landscapes. Snow Yak, a name that combines the noble and the beautiful, that harmonizes dynamism and sentiment, a masterpiece of traditional realism, was even more a self-portrait of Jizis spirit. Dark brown as the substrate of the style of primary colors displayed the dark memories (black) of the tragic period and a spiritual schemata of the warm and surviving human vision (red). The top of the painting has mountain clouds in contact with the snowy aura (white); in the middle of the painting, high mountain yaks stand in the snow. There is no need to say more, an agreement is here, a spiritual binding. In the painting lone yaks have embarked for the spiritual peak! Too many hardships, too well honed, too thickly accumulated caused Mr. Jizi not only to be unable to remain in a pure and beautiful spiritual homeland but also unable to be satisfied with just treating with contempt the strictures on art. He was not only different from those national artists who painted sweet and vulgar figures but also different from those bewildering abstractionists. Mr. Jizi was like that high mountain yaks who had arrived at the foothills where the snow ends and whose eyes longed for the summit, a secret admonition to climb to the summit engraved in his mind.
After departing from the Brush and Ink landscapes, during his so-called Snow and Ice landscapes, Jizi had two natural objects for his choice of themes: the Great Wall in northern Hebei Province, and the snow regions of Tibet. Selecting these two great objects was at a minimum the result of three bits of good luck. First, selecting the Great Wall in Hebei was for Jizi, a Hebei native, looking homeward, a predetermined existentialist encounter. Second was the lines from Mao Zedongs poem Snow : The vast frozen land is covered with ice. And the snow flits far-flung in the sky. On both sides of the Great Wall. The empty wilderness survives. This poem is a symbol of the highest cultural vision, and it prepared the way for the acceptance of realism in historical studies. And third, the Great Wall meanders through the hills of Hebei, and possesses a timeless ontological status and is a symbol of the Way. The Great Wall also signified that the painter was crossing a Rubicon, bidding farewell to the success and possibility of private enjoyment, and instead making himself set out again to create from heaven (qian) and earth (kun) a realm of noble intentions and purity. The two works Snow on the Great Wall and Waves Breaking on Shore are expressions of and witnesses to this realm. In Snow on the Great Wall the Great Wall meanders, but where does it end? In Waves Breaking on Shore the sea of mountains and the waves of clouds are frightful, where can we find a mooring? The Tibetan snow region arrives responding to karma and says put brush to paper. First, the Tibetan snow region has mysterious and sacred aspects; second, in his snow and ice landscapes period, Jizis choice of the Tibetan snow region could not be more natural; and third, the image of a hidden, snowy region that is too mysterious and sacred provides the symbolic answer to the questions where does it end and where can we find a mooring. If for example we say that the Great Wall of homeland Hebei is a brush and ink symbolic language for time, and the surging and frightening cloudy mountains are an artistic representation and generalization of lifes quirks, then the far off snowy regions of Tibet are the brush and ink symbolic language for space, a figurative representation of a spiritual homeland. The distinction between the Hebei Great Wall and the Tibetan Snow Regions is time and space, the symbolic image of the road and the destination, and also the symbolic image of the last farewell. From the unification of time and space in the symbolic imagery of the Hebei earth and the Tibet heaven, to the two paintings titled Mixing Heaven (Qian) and Earth (Kun) and the Great Herd that represent the beginning of an ontology in which the universe is one, the artist then goes from snow and ice landscapes to the Dao of Ink landscapes, from an aesthetic momentum to arriving at the spiritual wisdom of the mysteries of dharma objects (fa xiang). Ink and the Way (dao) complete their final encounter as mutually presented and clarified. Beauty is the way that truth (dao) dwells in the world. From the dwelling of the Way (dao), Jizis brush and ink open out on an incomparable purity, glory, and spirituality. For the past thousand years, Chinese painting formed a composition paradigm known as the three distances : the level distance (drawing an extensive space both horizontally and laterally); the high distance (looking from the base of a mountain to the peak); and the deep distance (glimpsing other mountains from atop a mountain). The level distance is used the most with high distance second. While there is this third method, the deep distance, it is rarely used and basically absent from paintings. Mr. Jizis Dao of Ink Landscapes fundamentally uses this deep distance method for construction, for patterns, and to fill a void. We can say he is the Master of this deep distance method. The method is an arduous one that opens up mountains and forests so merit goes to the pioneer. The mixing of heaven (qian) and earth (kun) and the solemnity of the dharma objects (fa xiang) are the wealth and honor of he who integrated them.
The Benevolent Person is Boundless, His Artworks Impressive and Natural
This is no accident. From the perspective of the philosophy of art, the above described level distance and high distance methods rely even more on a persons eyes and external visual experiences to discriminate between two great humanistic aspirations: the graceful and lasting appeal of quietude, and the lofty realm of movement. The deep distance method is quite different. Although we cannot say that the deep distance method has no relation to a persons sight and external visual experiences, deep distance first and foremost, however, depends on a persons spiritual wisdom and inherent transcendental intuition. The level distance and high distance methods are more about leaning about painting from natures creations while the deep distance method is much more about finding the source for a painting in your mind. This without doubt puts quite a demand on an artist. In thousands of years of art history, the artists who could find the source for a painting in their minds are few in number. Many of them were Shi Taos (1630-1724) eminent monks who excelled with the brush (according to Huang Binhong 1865-1955). Jizis paintings to a great extent changed this historical pattern of Chinese painting. Jizis paintings encompasses three periods and styles: brush and ink landscapes, snow and ice landscapes, and the Dao of ink landscapes. Speaking from a creative paradigm, Jizis paintings exactly correspond to what traditional Chinese painting calls the three methods of level, deep, and high distances. Jizis Dao of ink landscapes in particular use and practice the deep distance method. Although Jizi himself was influenced by the religiosity of the other shore philosophies of Shi Tao and Blaise Pascal (1623-6162), with respect to the two aspects of creative mentality and the general appearance of paintings, Jizi still implemented the pursuit of Chinese painting for the highest spiritual realm (according to Jizi), and without doubt this is a significant gain and good news for traditional Chinese painting. The name and the theme of The Dao of Ink and Dharma Objects appropriately epitomizes the highest spiritual realm and the realm of painting. In Chinas traditional culture, the spirit of Chinas thought is pictured as an ancient cauldron with three legs representing Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. In the The Dao of Ink and Dharma Objects name itself we can see the deep colors of this cauldron. Faced with vast and profound art works, the critics approved: these paintings are by a modern landscape artist who, after returning to the concept of insight into the Dao, has created new graphic representations and a new realm (said Jia Fangzhou); these paintings give new life to the universe and mankinds past (said Yin Shuangxi); and these paintings have mysteries that nature hides (said Danto). The Dao of Ink, from the source in Jizis mind, has finally arrived at a universal pure realm! With regards to this loyal artist, after a long period of great testing, the world finally pays him some small formal courtesies! This will be seen as iconic but it has symbolic significance.
-A Discussion of the Essentials of Jizis Landscape Paintings
If we are only talking about the specific time, Jizis Dao of Ink came into our world along with the 21st century. The trends of coloration, geometric symbols, and construction and ink of the past two years were not the start of the Dao of Ink but rather they derived from an internal response to the Dao of Ink. These trends sprung from the Dao of Ink realm and adjusted and changed to it. To be more specific, these trends appeared as the Dao of Ink landscapes changed to Dharma Objects, and from the initial emerging, these dharma objects gradually approached their grandeur. Beyond this, we are not well versed and this is where questions and misunderstandings arise.
The first of these questions and misunderstandings is that, when some of our friends are faced with the modernity and the composition series of Jizis Dharma Objects, they say that Gu Wenda (born 1955), Zhao Wuji (1921-2013), and other artists have already explored and presented this. My response to these friends is that, as a technique, composing is a key logical element for mankind. As game playing, childrens toy blocks are vivid and intuitive; as painting, there are extensive precedents in Picassos cubism (composition) and Viennese Neo-expressionism (colors), and China was a successor to these. As for the method of Dao, I have seen none who can compare to Jizis the Dao of Ink and Dharma Objects or his Grandeur of Dharma Objects. The subtitle of Jizis Composed Ink Paintings is a dialogue with the Dao. Jizi is the product of an ontological realm and he composes by following his karma, not by playing with drawing techniques, and this should make us feel remorse for half the questions and misunderstandings. Modern? This is both too rich and also too vague. There is absolutely no doubt that Jizis Dao of Ink and Dharma Objects enhances the modernity of Chinas ink painting but does not in the slightest blur the modernity of other artists. As a person from the lower ranks of the nations fate, who was aloof and alone in the world, if Jizis creations are really similar to some other artist, then this can only be explained as a providential wonder.
When I first got to know Mr. Jizi (Wang Yunshan), I was moved by his broad mindedness and compassion (ren). After viewing his paintings, I felt that both their uninhibited spirit and their ability to carry the Dao were equally important. By spirit here I mean the talent aroused in artists since ancient times by mountain, rivers, and the universe, not the impromptu and leisurely images of the literati, nor the escapades and self amusement of those who merely play with brush and ink. By Dao here I mean both the Dao of Heaven and Earth, and also the Dao that molds character. Even if a painting does not have people in it, still that painting pulsates with human strength. This strength is externalized as natural landscapes, some of which are desolate, some wild, and some magnificent. These paintings construct a world of landscapes that are sublime and also slightly tragic, and so mysterious that they cause people to meditate on them.
The second of these questions and misunderstandings is that Observing Tibet from Hebei is for the artist Jizi a duality. It does not seem to matter that, from an aesthetic or an ontological perspective, the artist Jizis Observing Tibet from Hebei is reasonable and legitimate. Actually, with respect to Jizi himself, whether or not the Observing Tibet from Hebei in the Dao of Ink and Dharma Objects was necessarily worth it, is something really worth pondering.
Jizi lived beyond the Great Wall at the foot of Mt. Yan. For several decades he was steeped in a bold and broad environment of mountains and rivers. His remarkable landscape creations have reached new heights in the cultural spirit and main body of Chinese art, a cause for both admiration and surprise. I visited Jizis apartment in Beijing several times and was always moved by his artistic dedication, and admired the delightful vitality and vast spirit of his paintings.
Speaking merely of an external civilized ecology, a full twenty years ago, the talented poet Zha Haisheng (1964-1989), known as Haizi, after his encounter with the Dao - even if it was only aesthetics (theme) - laid down on a track near the Great Wall in Hebei and committed suicide. Confucius lived to the seldom seen age of 70 and died in his sleep. In the Analects of Confucius, he stated quite frankly that Having heard the Dao in the morning, one may die without regret that evening. From brush and ink landscapes to snow and ice landscapes, and from snow and ice landscapes to the Dao of Ink landscapes, Jizi did all these landscapes for himself. Now that he has encountered the Dao, from the Dao of Ink landscapes to the Dao of Ink and Dharma Objects, Jizi is living for others. And for what do those other live? We wont mention the slaves to consumer fetishes, money, enjoyment, and power, or those monastic managers who take the Dharma Objects as a bounden duty to destroy their fellow monks! Jizis earnest remonstrations, his poor dress but rich spirituality, his use of ink to channel (Dao) Dharma objects, his use of the brush to reveal the realm of the Dao, and his brush and ink tools have an ontological view of Dharma objects, a Daoist realm, and a homeland! Speaking from the perspective of an art ontology, the Daoist realm of brush and ink is a realm of clarity for painting. From the ancient Daoist philosopher Zhuangzis ideological principle that first there must be authentic people only then can there be authentic knowledge, Chinese paintings realm of clarity must perforce rely on the artist himself attaining to the realm of clarity. The realm of clarity is a fundamental issue and key concept in Western art. Heidegger has made it clear that, as far as this key concept of a realm of clarity goes, the poems and songs of the German poet Johann Holderlin (1770-1843) and his existential thought cannot but be associated with it. Jizis paintings, hidden for a long fifty years, finally took the Dao of Ink paintings and brought them into the realm of clarity, and to a basic extent this also has a certain cannot but be associated with the ontological thinking in modern Chinese academic thought that claims a responsibility to enquire about the Dao. Jizi has a Great Master of the Dao of Inks spirit of freedom, aloofness, and labor of love that burst with a childlike sincerity and purity. Jizis new work continues, fully indicating his merits, sentiments, and results.
As early as the Northern and Southern Dynasties, Zong Bing had already theorized that: Sages use their own intelligence and wisdom to realize the Dao; worthies clarify their minds to savor artistic images that emerge from the Dao; in this way, both sages and worthies comprehend the Dao. Landscape painting uses forms to adorn and embody the Dao, allowing the benevolent (ren) to rejoice at finding enlightenment among landscapes. From the beginning, traditional landscape painting based the viewpoint for its value judgments on this metaphysical quest for the Dao. Thus forms adorned the Dao, and were physical signs of the Dao that provided pleasure to viewers. Because the Dao is abstract and primeval, and due to the constraints of the cultural position of adorning the Dao, the forms of traditional landscape painting, on the basis of maintaining a certain degree of identity, had the artists using accrued combinations of brush and ink symbols; a subjective, virtual space-time continuum; fixed drawings, stylized techniques, and an orientation toward relatively constant artistic values - all of which became the significant features of traditional landscape painting. These limits and constraints, although they assured the completeness and purity of the traditional landscape painting system, and allowed the ancients in the midst of their ability to model mountains and mold rivers to describe the unaffected spirit in their bosoms, and in the realm of going beyond the image to embody their intuition of the Dao, nevertheless, this relatively mature system also presented a relatively rigid visual language. How to breakthrough this paradox was not only an internal requirement in the historical development of traditional landscape painting, but also an issue that is now even more urgent in the face of Western cultures impact on and penetration into Chinese culture in the contemporary and modern periods.
An individual soul? A heavenly task?
In the more than fifty years that Jizi, who will soon be seventy years of age, has pursued the arts seeking the Dao, he has deeply felt the anxieties of the present age, and the anxieties and confusion in the development of art. He uses benevolence (ren) as his foundation, nourishes his vast, flowing passion nature, and structures his philosophy from the Dao of Heaven, earth, and man. As the poet said: The vast, flowing passion nature is just the sense of righteousness that exists in the world. What this sense of righteousness confers on humanity is a highly integrated sense of truth, goodness, and beauty, and of the noble, tragic, strong, upright, and serene. The artworks of artists are the products of the artists taking an action (youwei) but their artworks should also embody a spirit of taking no action (wuwei). Taking no action is the spirit of the universe, the spirit of the great Dao. Artists are not only understand the harmony among Heaven, earth, and man, but also are proponents of this harmony, while at the same time they seek a cosmic consciousness. Jizi strictly grasps this type of artistic seeking: his artworks are concrete manifestations that he bears responsibility for this seeking for a cosmic consciousness, and for this reason he named his landscapes the Dao of Ink Landscapes. From the following quote from Jizi, we can see his self-disciplined pursuit of this goal: Viewing my paintings is not a cheerfully pleasant experience, a relaxing pastime, nor an experience that experts on traditional and orthodox brush and ink paintings relish, but rather an experience for those who can exchange serious ideas on all aspects of the artworks. My paintings are not the brush and ink works that the literati delighted in painting, they are not poetic paintings, and they are not paintings that play with ink, or that joyfully satisfy the artists wish to express his carefree spirit like all those paintings of mountains and recluses. My paintings do not have spiraling smoke, drizzling rain, floating boats, weeping willows, dripping ducks, matching pairs of Mandarin ducks, or Ladies Among the Plantain Trees. What my paintings set out to do is express the endless movements, tenacious struggles and rivalries, and the loud screams of life in the universe. I strive to use my artistic language to wash away humanitys depressions and troubles, and to seek the true meaning of life in the universe.
If we select a simple and sincere manner of description, then Jizi is a painters painter who has really revived for us the original image of the artist and the significance of an artists work. As for historical awareness, it was no later than the Tang dynasty when Zhu Jingxuan, in his Record of Famous Paintings of the Tang Dynasty, said: The painter is a sage who surpasses at finishing what heaven and earth cannot, and displaying what the sun and the moon do not illuminate, thereby stating the matter quite clearly. Looking from the perspective of the just passed twentieth century, the challenges for reviving the image of the artist as sage and reviving the significance of his work are unprecedented, and unless there is natural intervention and help, the revival is very difficult to imagine. And it is only in the atmosphere of natural intervention and help that we can become enlightened about Jizi as a painter who all his life has made the Dao a companion, and his attachment and loyalty to, and clarity about the Dao of Ink. As to the external world in which technique flourishes even as art itself is degraded, without doubt Jizis Dao of Ink and Dharma Objects is a marvel of contemporary art and civilization, and at a minimum a visual happiness that we will find difficult to view again. That people from the same house are friends while people going the same way (dao) are companions has long been an axiom. I myself have slightly hidden those friends whom I daily get to know better and with whom I bend my ear to the Dao; but as for Jizis painting career and destiny, in my heart of hearts, I have always considered them a blessing and an honor.
The goal of artistic language is producing a mode of expression about art, rather than the purposeful expression of art. The fundamentals of this artistic language are what is being described and how it is being described. The traditional art of the East and the West each has its own artistic language system; nevertheless, we can see among the differences a consistent pursuit of the artistic spirit. Jizis landscape paintings use just such a historical view, a sense of the times, and a strong sense of purpose to perfect his own artistic language in order, not only to penetrate the vertical image sequence in the language of traditional landscape painting, but also to carry out a horizontal dissection of Western art, so that in making decisions about the vertical and the horizontal image sequences, the artist opens up a new realm for his own paintings features and figures.
1.The allusion to clouds changing their transitory semblance from white garments to black dogs is taken from a poem by the Tang dynasty poet Du Fu (born 712). 2.Translation of Maos poem Snow is by Paul Wood, 1993, Tianjin Peoples Publishing House. 3.Qian and Kun are the two lines, solid and broken respectively, that represent heaven and earth and make up the eight trigrams that, in ancient China, formed a basic schemata for the universe. 4.Dharma objects is a key concept of the Buddhist Consciousness-only School whose major tenet is that nothing exists independently of mind.
The Dao Inspires Creation of the Image; Mind is the Source for Creating the Artistic Realm
5.The word Dharma stands for all past, present, and future things and events while objects describes the result of the interaction between those things or events and mind. 6.The method of the three distances, level, deep, and high distances, is an artistic theory formulated by the Song dynasty artist and scholar Guo Xi (1023-1085).) 7.Learning about painting from natures creations, but finding the source for paintings in your mind is an artistic theory formulated by the seventh century Tang artist and scholar Zhang Zao.
The image is the basis for the visual arts, and different landscape images present different artistic interests and realms. In his Discourse on the Northern and Southern Schools, Dong Qichang emphasized a plain and innocent literati aesthetic and, by stressing the independent nature of ink and brush paintings, Dong restricted the Northern School and raised the Southern School. At the same time that Dong was developing the literati style of brush and ink painting, he was also forfeiting the true beauty of landscape painting. By insisting on using similar graphic modes and following the same painting routine, Dong in effect waylaid creative use of the brush. The Northern and the Southern Schools have their differences, something already evident from the earliest development of landscape painting. But does this initial basing of landscape painting on creative accomplishments and on the different natural conditions of different landscape features allow us to say that the Northern School led by Jing Hao and Guan Tong was either inferior or superior to the Southern School established by Dong Yuan and Ju Ran? This type of differentiation is really rather meaningless. Northern places produce a bold people while southerners are more gentle, and differences in aesthetic orientation alone do not allow us to directly declare one superior and the other inferior. Mr Jizi was born in the North and was raised amidst northern lands and waters. All of his landscape paintings - no matter whether his Snow and Ice Landscapes, his Dao of Ink Landscapes, or his later landscapes of self structured scenes that permeate the cosmic consciousness - all these landscape paintings have their origins in Northern landscapes. Of course, an individuals encounters in life are external factors, Jizis inner drive comes from finding the source for paintings in ones mind as well as a cultural knowledge powerful enough to penetrate history.
Jizi has astutely grasped the transcendent spiritual essence of traditional painting. He has inherited the ideology of purifying the mind to glimpse the Dao, and purifying the mind to get the sense of an object. He has thought deeply about what after all is the highest realm that Chinese painting wants to attain. He has drawn cultural and spiritual nourishment from Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism, and realized that transcendent realm of the Dao where the sages trace out the beauty of the universe, and comprehend the myriad of things in the universe; where great images have no forms, and great music uses sound sparingly; and where looking for it, there is no form; listening for it, there is no sound; and men who discuss it find it abstruse. Jizi has taken the narrow definition of Dao and extended it, endowing it with the vitality of the times. He collectively designates the Confucian, Daoist, and Chan Buddhist spirits as the spirit of the great Dao. This spirit of the great Dao is not only the organic content of personal cultivation, but also the projection of ones sentiments onto nature, both of which ultimately emerge as images that transcend nature.
In the Snow and Ice Landscapes of his early period, Jizi primarily took Tibets majestic and sacred mountains and rivers, as well as the Yanshan mountain range both within and without the Great Wall, as his themes. After these themes underwent subjective cropping, they metamorphosed into scenes of universal significance and broad grandeur. Among these are scenes of traditional Tibetan temples and the meandering Great Wall, manifestations of humanitys own strength that are also the pictures visual centers. With the undulating, mighty mountains as the central subject, the magnificent towering mountains, surrounded by clouds that surge and billow, provide a counter force to the buildings on the towering, motionless mountain peaks, and to the great tension that lies hidden inside these mountains. The solemn and sacred snow mountains that are deep and secretive change into varied clouds and mists, while the deep and solemn temples, the thick and dull Lama trombones, the strong religious atmosphere, the broad and intensive folk customs - these kinds of wonderful, natural scenery and mysterious and ancient cultural landscapes are a profound cultural heritage symbolizing for humanity an eternal allure that is charming and mysterious. The Dao of Ink Landscapes and the later new compositions that permeate the cosmic consciousness have both advanced the refinement of depicting scenes of mountains and rivers that transcend a space-time continuum. These landscape paintings have images that not only appear to be ancient caves, but also some kind of unknown outer space where various types of mountainous forms interlock, extrude, and mutually overlap with round forms to create a multi-dimensional imagery that possesses strong symbolic significance. Just as Jizi himself has said: In my explorations of landscape painting, the landscapes in the paintings are not composed of mountains that one can see in the natural world with ones own eyes, nor are they reproductions of the imitated, decorated, and scenic natural mountains in other landscape paintings. Rather, the landscapes in my paintings are symbols that as much as possible signify art. I borrow these symbols to express a deep awareness of my primary ideas so that this deep awareness, by means of the objects in the paintings, can as much as possible overflow with intuitive understanding. Jizi has taken the state of mind where Heaven and humanity are one, a state of mind that exists in the traditional landscape creative process and, by means of intuitive comprehension, visually expressed this state of mind in the paintings, painting it as visual, aesthetic objects. These traces of the realm of the Dao give people a sense of the mysterious, the sublime, the tragic, and the sacred. The paintings great tension and broad realms give people a spiritual shock that seems to be a kind of transcendental purification of their souls.
Partial Remodeling and Total Reconstruction
Delineation, light ink strokes, rubbing, spotting, and staining are all basic brush and ink strokes and methods of artistic expression in traditional landscape painting. Some painters, based on their painting process, use these methods independently, while other painters apply them flexibly. As for displaying mountain rocks, most rocks have three tableaux: a rock is first delineated, then light ink strokes and staining are used to distinguish lightness and darkness. The brush strokes used for this were developed by painting different landscape topographies. Ultimately, the brush strokes become various types of stylized techniques. These stylized brush techniques have names such as: the axe swing stroke, the wrinkled stroke, the folded band stroke, the veins of the lotus leaf stroke, the horse teeth stroke, the dense dotting stroke, and so on. In fact, the artists used lines as units and either shortened the lines to dots or extended them for a tableau. These then became a collection of three different brush strokes: the line, the dot, and the tableau. Due to his unique way of creating images, Jizi, in connection with traditional landscape paintings display of snow and ice landscapes by using the brush to produce weak, pale spots, created unique brush techniques such as the coarse snow stroke, the split snow stroke, the wrap around snow stroke, the nest of snow stroke, and so on. These brush stroke techniques embodied the use of tableau as the basic creative unit; within the tableau, lines appear that are agile and use ink in interesting ways. These brush stroke techniques display the mottled changes in the textures of mountain rocks that are quite consistent with the modern aesthetic vision. The textual relationship among tableaux utilizes certain shading techniques that not only have a segmental sense of weight, but also coincide with the overlapping method brought about by the layered changes that traditional landscape painting used to display the shaded (yin) and lighted (yang) aspects of mountain rocks. The panoramic landscapes of the Northern Song not only emphasized having the painting show its essence when viewed close up, by which they meant pursuing a subtle view of local mountain rocks that embodies the physics involved, but they also emphasized having the painting show its power when viewed from afar, that is that the imposing manner of the whole painting radiate the timeless Dao of landscape painting. Jizi fully absorbed the Song landscape artists concepts of artistic rules and reasons. On the ample basis of partial remodeling, Jizi uses great architecture throughout his landscape paintings in which the real and the theoretical are equal, the dynamic and the static participate equally, and the clouds that completely cover the painting wander among the mountains. Jizi frequently employs the layered accumulation of ink technique that not only drips ink thickly, but can also be used to apply white carefully to maintain an outer appearance of the immeasurable traces of clouds and mists. Jizi has obviously learned from the approach to clouds in Western landscape painting, while at the same time, in order to enhance contrast, he has grasped the sense of rhythm and excitement of the whole panorama. Jizi also cleverly utilizes the role of light: the blackest and whitest physical images are juxtaposed for contrast, highlighting the visual tension.
In composition, traditional landscape painting stressed arrangement and management so that traditional landscape painting could give even more expression to, and derive more meaning from, a planar surface. Especially after the landscape paintings of the Northern and Southern Song Dynasties, however, the spatial sense gradually became faded and exhausted. The method of the three distances became even more independently applied, and one could no longer dwell or roam in the fascinating spaces of landscape painting. The lack of a visual sense could not of course shock a viewers inner mind. In his Dao of Ink Landscape Series, Jizi completely broke with the traditional stylized composition and advanced his restructuring of images to establish a deep and mysterious space that made people realize the reality of chaos and distress, and that led them into a holy land of the soul that is mysterious, distant, and profound. In order to expand the layout, broaden the scene, and comprehend the realm of the Dao, Jizi carried on the traditional scattered perspective method, which is also the foundation for a panorama, and created a perspective on space of four or more dimensions that he named the multi-dimensional perspective. He said: The universe is extremely deep and profound, and its time and space have no location, no direction. . . . As much as possible, I expand an artworks limits on the expression of forms, and give expression to the artworks unlimited spiritual sphere. At the same time, Jizi transformed the traditional relationship between the real and the false to counter the tradition of putting less emphasis on emptiness. He also mastered Western arts relationship between the real and the false, thereby greatly strengthening the tension in his artworks, and fusing the paintings black and white relationship and the optical effects, boldly utilizing a black color that traditional landscape painting called dead black, thereby reinforcing the paintings overall feeling of depth. At the same time, Jizi learned from factors used in plane surface composition such as apertures with mountain rocks overlapped and interspersed. His shading effects are as intangible as a time tunnel.
A Solemn Sublimity, An Illusional Brilliance
My paintings are not the kind of paintings that stop once they have reached the level of providing the viewer with a pleasant mood or some character cultivation (although they often include these). Nor do I require that viewers completely understand my paintings. Instead, I only require that the initial feelings that people viewing my paintings have, by means of a first intuition, cause them to reflect rationally on the paintings and, by means of this reflection, come to their own understanding. I believe that this type of understanding, no matter the point of view, enables them to relate to the deepest layers of my mind. I strive to create the power to shock, and to impact and cleanse the viewers soul. Jizi is extremely clear about the ultimate concerns and pursuits of his art. He sums up that a philosophical realm of poetry and the height of a realm of the humanist spirit are the profound philosophical thoughts that give his artworks a strong, spiritual penetrating power that moves peoples souls in an almost religious manner.
Religion is a type of belief, and the greatest feature of religion is perhaps that it embodies a spirit of transcendence and purity. Jizi puts it well: The universal spirit of art is not religion, but it has a religious ethos. His Snow and Ice Landscapes depict a sacred atmosphere: the desolate, melancholy, snowy plateau; the solitary yak walking alone; the towering, quiet temple; a cows skull placed atop a rock for worship
Confucius previously proposed this formula for self-cultivation: Set your will on the Dao; be in accord with virtue; depend on benevolence (ren); take pleasure in the arts. In Jizis works, not only does art give pleasure, but art is also the best choice for carrying the Dao, for transmitting the Dao, and for embodying benevolence (ren). Art, in other words, is Jizis whole life. The noble-minded person, like Heaven itself, continues to advance with a lofty fortitude. An energetic life has caused the art of Jizi, this benevolent (ren) person, to be free and boundless. The explosive force of his art will have lasting repercussions in the context of a long ago and remote Chinese art form, and especially in the overall pattern of the development of contemporary Chinese art. How Chinas traditional ink art should develop is an issue that presents a major cultural choice. Traditional art is most definitely not something that is fixed and unchanging, but how it should change and how to put the change into practice are difficult issues, and many artists have given a lifetime of effort to this issue of how best to change tradition. With regards to this issue, we can say that the creative artistic practices of Jizis paintings have provided us with a good case to research the transformations in contemporary Chinese ink art. Studying and viewing his art should provoke us to think deeply about Chinese art at this point in contemporary art history. That a great talent takes time to mature has always been a fascinating theme in the history of Chinese aesthetics.
(The author is a research fellow at the National Art Museum of China.)
Translated by E. F. Connelly, PhD