In this article, Wang Hui 汪辉 tells us about Chinese Abstract Painting.
Shexian, Huizhou, near Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) in Anhui province has long been recognised as one of the most important centres for Chinese painting, as well as home also to Old Hu Kai Wen Ink workshop and traditional inkstone workshop.
We asked the Shexian painters to tell us about their techniques and materials.
Wang Hui is a representative of the Xin’an school of painting which originated here. He is specialises in painting trees, birds, plants and fish. In this article, he is going to tell us how to appreciate Chinese abstract paintings. Click on the paintings to view/browse.
All these abstract Chinese paintings are done with Chinese raw Xuan paper, and sometimes half-cooked Xuan Paper (see: Chinese Xuan 1,000 Year Old Truth Paper section on paper types.
The essence of Chinese painting is how you use brushes and ink. Practicing calligraphy is also important for doing well at Chinese paintings. Chinese abstract painting pays a lot of attention to the beauty of calligraphy, the usage of ink and lines are the same as in calligraphy. Chinese painting is all about how you feel in your heart and you need to be able to transmit this feeling to the brush.
For instance, in order to depict this cypress, I wrote ‘the tree trunk circumference is 40 meters, and the dark green tree goes up to sky as high as almost 1000 meters’. In fact, in the painting, you do not need to draw all these details to express how big the tree is. Not to mention, you are not able to draw the whole dimensions of such a big tree in one painting. Therefore, the Chinese way is to draw the details of a branch. If a tree’s branch can be so huge, then this branch will lead you to imagine how big the whole tree is.
In fact, there are also paintings about the whole tree. For example, in this painting, I painted a very big tree trunk, with two birds resting in the tree leaves. The theme of this painting is ‘the garden of Eden’. It means this huge tree is paradise for the birds. In fact, this tree is also paradise for human beings, isn’t it?
Chinese painting makes very good use of imagination and space. You have to understand the meanings expressed by the artist. Only if you understand this, can you understand the feelings that the artist wants to transfer through the painting. Otherwise, you would not feel very impressed by the painting. This might not be like traditional western paintings.
Chinese paintings are poetic. This painting is to express the beauty of spring by painting some blossom. Since spring means a lot of colours, painting some purple flowers expressed the spring touch. It is a very poetic expression.
This is abstract painting. From the structure of the painting, very little information is painted. In old Chinese saying, it is ‘ use ink like using gold.’ It means you should only use the ink when it is extremely necessary. Although there is little information drawn in the painting, you could read a lot and could see a lot of changes of the brushes, inks, etc. This kind of painting require very high skills. On the one hand, you have to master the materials, including inks and brushes; on the other hand, which is even more difficult and important, is that the artist should have very deep understanding of arts and life.
Another example would be this painting. It is a painting of bamboos. The different use of inks and brushes have created different images of the bamboo leaves. A small piece of leaf can express so much.
From the whole painting, it seems a bit light and unbalanced. Therefore, I wrote a poem on the bottom of the painting. This makes the whole picture harmonised.