Chinese paintings

This is by far my preferred medium, as demonstrated by the numbers- in this album, there are thirteen porcelain paintings, thirty watercolour, twenty acrylic compared to one hundred and sixty one pieces of Chinese ink and colour paintings, more than twice the total of the other categories combined. Because of the large number, this category is divided up into thirteen sections for easy reference and comparison. It also illustrates well how I matured and evolved as an artist. All the paintings in this category involves the Chinese ink and colour medium, but my latest work involves mixed media and & from the traditional Chinese themes.

Traditional Chinese painting and the “Western” style painting, like watercolour and oil, evolved separately and independently for many centuries. Earlier Chinese painters used Chinese ink only, but in different dilutions to illustrate depth and perspective. Apart from the medium, the techniques and composition of Chinese and Western paintings also differed greatly until fairly 9, when a convergence began to develop.

Giuseppe Castiglione ( 郎世宁,1688-1766) was an Italian Jesuit, who later served as an artist at the Imperial Courts of three Qing Dynasty Emperors, namely, Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong. He is credited for bringing the “Western” style techniques, including light and shadows, to China. However, his techniques had to be modified to fit in with the Imperial Court expectations. For example, only full frontal views, never side or back views, were allowed on imperial portraits, and the shadows on the Emperor’s face had to be toned down as any darkness on the face was considered bad luck! His work, nonetheless, had a profound influence, not only on subsequent Chinese painting, but also on Western art, as quite a number of European artists of the time followed his style.

Chinese ink and colour are traditionally applied to Xuan paper ( 宣 纸,sometimes silk), which is classified into Shuxuan(熟宣), Banshuxuan(半熟宣) and Shengxuan(生宣), in their increasing ability to absorb water. The choice of paper has to match the painting’s style, composition and theme to achieve the best visual effect. Apart from the paper, the final brush stroke is affected by the concentration of the paint (always advisable to start off with diluted ink), as well as the pressure and speed the artist puts on the stroke. This is by far my favourite medium, and I believe its potential, as a medium for expression, is yet to be fully realized.

For those artists, like myself who have learned to use different media, it seems only natural that they may use a mixture of media and different techniques to best express themselveks. The boundary between Chinese and “Western style” paintings is becoming increasingly blurred. The Chinese style painters still regard Chinese ink and Xuan paper as essential ingredients in Chinese paintings, but, as new colours, like poster color and metallic color, as well as new papers (some artists tailor-make their own) gain in popularity, even Chinese ink and traditional Xuan paper may fade away as the essential ingredients . I believe that what makes Chinese painting stand out is not so much the medium, or even the techniques used, but the cultural background and conceptual understanding of the painter. For example, Chinese paintings go hand in hand with calligraphy. To me, Chinese painting is profound, and it remains my favourite choice to express ambience or aura in a nsubtle manner as opposed to depicting details as in representation.

Most of the work in this section was produced using Chinese ink and colour on Xuan paper, including coloured ones, like gold, silver, brown, blue and black. I used mixed media, Chinese ink and colour mixed with oil paint for some of the latest abstract paintings. Instead of Xuan paper, I have used tracing paper, gold, silver, blue and black card paper as the substrate for paint, and these paintings will be specified.

Traditional Chinese landscape paintings dated back to the end of Tang Dynasty (618-907AD), and began to flourish in the subsequent Song Dynasty (960-1279AD). These paintings differ from the Western landscape counterparts in two important respect. Firstly, the techniques are very different. Chinese landscapes are traditionally monochromic. Depths and perspectives are portrayed using different dilutions, as well as saturations of ink on the paint brush. Light and shadow are seldom, if ever included, and calligraphy is often an integral part of a painting.

Secondly, while conventional Western landscapes are representation of nature, Chinese landscapes are often imaginative and embodied the artists’ state of mind at the time. Started mainly in the Song Dynasty, the literati extolled the virtue of self-cultivation, often in response to political setback. Their paintings often reflect their imaginary retreat into the high mountains in reclusion. Therefore, in order to fully appreciate an old Chinese landscape painting, it is essential that the viewer knows something about the artist.

Having said the above, there are notable exceptions. For example, Wang Ximeng (王希孟 1096- 1119AD),a prodigy artist at the Imperial Court in the Song Dynasty, created the famous ink and blue/green colour painting on silk scroll, A thousand miles of Rivers and Mountains (1192 x 51cm) at the tender age of 18, but died mysteriously a few years later. His only surviving work, famous for both its grandeur and details, is among the top national treasures at the Palace Museum in Beijing.

To me, Chinese landscape painting is an essential step to learn the basic techniques of ink brushing.

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