The Aroma of Lotus
Not long ago, Chuntao told me he had drawn some paintings featuring lotus and asked me to write something for them. I gladly agreed. There are two reasons that I wouldnt say no to him. Firstly, his painting always presents something new, so I dont need to worry that I may feel speechless. It is more than often that his painting promotes me to reflect on art in-depth, which is good to me. The second reason is because of our long-time friendship.
As expected, the lotuses featured in his painting are indeed refreshing. The sense of grandeur and the profoundness of emotional subtleties revealed in his work even exceed my expectation.
Todays Chinese painting is witnessing an extremely diverse and dazzling stage. But a cool-headed observer is still able to figure out a holistic picture of Chinese painting despite the hundreds years of forwards and backwards it has experienced. Since Lin Fengmian, modern Chinese painting has developed for nearly a century. The past century shows that it is the most successful and energetic move Chinese painting has ever made in order to get rid of the influence of classicalism. Its success lies not only in the emergence of masters such Wu Guanzhong, but also in the fact that it profoundly changes the appearance of Chinese painting and imbues it with modernity. To make continuous advancements in the direction that our pioneers have carved out is an unshirkable mission for todays Chinese painters. To be more specific, it is their responsibility to continue to create Chinese paintings that can feature the zeitgeist, national characteristics, individual diversity and modern forms. It takes constant efforts of numerous artists to fulfill this mission. And without question, Lu Chuntao is among the top of them.
Chuntaos recent series shows exactly the achievements of such efforts.
Similar to Lin Fengmians Water Lily, the use of the laws of perspective is also perceived in Chuntaos lotuses, imbuing the images with a strong sense of depth. It not only influences the visual effect but also has a strong emotional impact. By integrating Chinese imagery with western painting techniques, the senses of subtlety, peacefulness and mystery that are unique to easterners are delineated most vividly, leaving a lingering impression on viewers mind. In terms of the expression of feelings and imagery, on the one hand, what Chuntao presents reminds people of the elegance and poetry of traditional literati painting; on the other hand, it also reveals a modern sense of humanistic sentiments, imbuing modern life with a kind of heavy metal rhythm. But different from Lin Fengmian who used the perspective laws in a highly rational and meticulous way, Chuntao adopts a somewhat imagistic way to deal with the different distances between different objects, giving his paintings a sense of poetic sensibility and passion. The lotus leafs and lotuses in his works, composed of different sizes of seemingly independent ink blocks, color blocks and various lines, are intricately connected in terms of emotional and visual rhythm. Leaving the traditional stylized ways of expression behind, his paintings seem to feature an even stronger sense of poetry and freedom than traditional Chinese painting language and look more integral. Such a modern way to deal with the language of Chinese painting opens up new room for Chuntao to express from a more open-minded perspective and injects modernity into his work on the ideological level. Lotus Pond Series: The Moon Lit Lotus Pond can be deemed as a classic of such artistic expression. Not only has he managed to integrate western laws of perspective with the sense of depth of unique to Chinese painting, but he also brings Chinese paintings characteristic of symbolizing three-dimensional space on a plane into full play. In Lotus Pond Series: Moonlight, an inconspicuous, ingenious and seemingly casual sense of design is embraced in its linear and two-dimensional narrative. Lotus leafs, lotus seedpods, river water and moonlight emotional symbols of different sizes, forms and colors integrate seamlessly together, casting light on both peace and profoundness of the painters mind and the essence of contemporary aesthetic taste. The Lotus Pond Series not only fundamentally transforms the traditional expression forms in Chinese painting, but also makes some bold exploration in terms of techniques. The use of the color of white is the most eye-catching characteristic in Lotus Pond Series. In traditional Chinese painting, therere also objects that are not portrayed in a realistic way, such as black peonies and red bamboos. However, no one has ever tried to use the color of white to represent something that is not white. (The blankness in Chinese painting usually implies that theres nothing there, not referring to something white.) And blankness is most often used as a metaphor of wide expanses of sky or water. In other words, it is used more or less as a tool to loyally depict objective nature. The beauty of such use of blankness lies in the fact that it both represents the objective existence of sky and water, and inspires viewers to imagine of more, perfectly embodying the state of void advocated by Taoism. Certainly, the color of white is used to portray things that are indeed white, i.e. snow and white clothes. But in Chuntaos work, the use of white in Chinese painting is greatly extended. The large pieces of lotus leafs are white, and fields of lotuses, rippling in the breeze, are also white. Though emerald-green is replaced by white, the elegance and vitality of lotuses are not affected at all. Due to the inherent sense of purity of white, the lotuses in his painting are endued with elegance and dignity. Chuntaos innovative use of white successfully extends the boundaries of the language of Chinese painting. Intentional misuse of colors is commonly seen in modern art. Green faces, red hair and blue skin are seen in Matisses work, aiming to shed light on the artists inner world. The seemingly messing up with colors actually effectively helps viewers forget about the unrealness on the surface and be attracted by the power of inner truth Lotus Pond Series does well in this regard.
I feel like I dont need to say more about Chuntaos painting. As a matter of fact, painting emerges at a point when language can no longer meet the needs of expression. Hence, in a sense, the ideal status to read art is to become fully absorbed and forget about language. As a well-known painter, his works have been widely exhibited. Viewers have their own judgment of his art, and its highly possible that theirs is profounder than mine. So what Id like to focus more on is the influence of Chuntaos art on the development of Chinese painting.
Needless to say, art is of vital importance to human beings. Nowadays a consensus has already been reached that diversity is a key element of global cultures, which means that each culture should have its own personality. In the case of Chinese painting, such personality is supposed to embody the spiritual pursuit of the nation and to create a kind of unique way of expression that catches up with the zeitgeist. Personality is fostered by the time. In other words, only with the support of the current time can personality gain its long-lasting momentum. In this regard, the personality of Chinese painting doesnt lie in the maintenance of the traditional format. Sophisticated as they are, traditional skills and techniques cannot be seen as the proof of its artistic value. Neither can the number of nostalgic fans prove that it is an art form attached with the contemporary time. It is merely an outer form meticulously covered by various techniques. Likewise, Chinese painting should by no means live a parasitic existence under other cultures. Each independent culture has a particular outer form that is complementary to its essence. The outer form is a symbolic materialized state, a sign that differentiates it from other cultures. The result of parasitism is to be melted and assimilated so that it loses its distinctive outer form, which leads to the disappearance of personality. Art without personality and inner vitality can only be deemed as pseudo-art. Trendy as it may look like, it is in nature pseudo-modern. If Chinese painting relies heavily on western art schools and theories, its lack of inner cultural logic will make it hard for people to understand and accept. Such dilemma is commonly to be spotted.
After a whole century of cultural exploration, I think grabbism proposed by Lu Xun is still a canon when dealing with other cultures and developing our own culture. In the realm of Chinese painting, practicers of the canon such as Lin Fengmian and Wu Guanzhong pointed a direction for the future development of Chinese painting. Thanks to them, the five-thousand-year old Chinese painting acquires a rebirth during its competition and communication with western culture and manages to maintain and develop a kind of genuinely distinctive art style under the backdrop that global cultures are getting increasingly similar. With distinctive personality, unique outer form and the inner essence that is in line with the zeitgeist, Chinese painting enriches human life, imbuing itself with a kind of universal meaning.
At the present stage, drastic social changes compel us to be confronted with a lot of work that needs to be redone or improved in terms of spiritual pursuit, value orientation, humanistic care, aesthetic judgment and the creation of language. Progress achieved in any of those aspects is of benchmark significance and will be written into history. The emphasis on creativity acknowledges the value of each participating individual and in turn, promotes the development of art, imbuing the practice and exploration with social and historical significance. The open-mindedness lying in the aspiration for revolution lays a foundation for its vitality, pushing every Chinese painter to keep contributing to the creation of the art of the era.
Thanks to his intelligence and passion, Chuntao has made some remarkable contribution to the cause, and the aroma of his Lotus Pond Series is spreading in a wider range.