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On Brightness and Ink
He Baosen


Chinese painting is applying colorful ink on Xuan paper by using a writing brush with water pigments. Drawing outlines, drying and wet, thick and thin, Yin and Yang supporting or opposing each other, theoretical and practical, and density or spacing, "liubai" are traditional means of expression and formal language. The painting categories are three, i.e., traditional Chinese realistic painting characterized by fine brushwork and close attention to detail, shegu and freehand brushwork in Chinese traditional painting. The pigments are five, i.e.,, besides black color, cyanine, ochre, garcinia, vermilion(zhubiao) ,as well as, mineral pigments, i.e., cinnabar, azurite blue and malachite green. Figure paintings had already reached maturity by time of the Warring States Period (c.1050-221 BC.) In the Sui(AD581-618) and Tang(AD 618-907) Dynasties, paintings of flowers and birds and of landscape paintings appeared and in Five Dynasty(AD907-960) and Two Song Dynasty(AD 960-1279) the paintings became gradually prosperous. Water and ink painting by using pure ink started in Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), accomplished in Song Dynasty (AD960-1279) and flourished in Yuan(AD 1279-1368), Ming(AD1368-1644), and Qing(AD1644-1911) Dynasties. They were tending to realistic, stressing on expressing ideas and free expression with technique of drawing as the lead and reached the effect of "distinguishing five colors" and "shuiyunmozhang." Especially the scholar-painter's painting at the time appeared that praised highly the idea of Zen Buddha, flaunted "morals", refined works". On the face of painting they paid attention to "simple and elegant, limpid and clear" style. Modeling was required succinct and simple. Painters strived for style of drawing instead of likeness in appearance, and finally developed into a unique feature of a comprehensive effect of poem, calligraphy, painting and stamp. The special effects were "calligraphy having common sources", "style of drawing ranked first". One piece of work could be full of postscripts and stamped all over the piece of paper. From stressing on style of drawing to neglecting colors, it developed into "only style of drawing preserved and discarding colors". Although in modern times, we have had Ren Bonian(1840–1896),Wu Chanshuo(1844-1927),and Qi Baishi(1864-1957)laying much stress on the integration of colorfulness and ink wash. However, Chinese painting has been difficult to get rid of the fate of black and white ink wash.

In modern times, the painters represented by Xu Beihong(1895-1953) started with sketch from life and integrated the method of Western sketch modeling with brush and ink of Chinese painting that made the first positive and impressive step though they still remained in the limits of inherent color of black, white and gray contrast. They did not touch layers of environmental color, space color, and bright color. In addition, they intervened the Chinese painting from Western painting directly so they were short of research in traditional brushing and inking method, especially short of techniques of landscape brushing and inking. Thus, the general appearance of the painting is simple, plain and insubstantial, not bold, vigorous and well-developed. The colors of such paintings are not brilliant in response to Western paintings, not strong in contrast of black and white either. Weakness appeared from modeling to space. I, myself, determined to take it seriously that I intended to make up the lesson of lacking the colors in Chinese painting along the steps of the history on art development. " To defy the principle " using Xuan paper, brush, ink and pigments prepared for Chinese paintings, I learned from Western masters of art and had dialogue and exchange with them and thus I finally accomplished the paths of brightness and ink through decades of hard works, frequently, forgetting to eat and sleep while brush becoming bald and paper being painted through.

I used the modeling technique and formality language of Chinese painting, starting with imitating, having dialogue with masters of Western oil painting, sticking to using raw Xuan paper, water ink and traditional pigments, Chinese painting brush and tried in a way as to if I could have the painting effects of Western painters. I brought all means of expression in Chinese painting into play, applied them to appropriate painting objects. In the course of imitating I scrupulously abode by the spirit of original works, preserved and approached the artistic effects of the original works, especially the superiority of light and shade of colors and spatial expression but I had to always explore and summarize the brightness and ink techniques and crafts on Xuan paper. Hence, I named this exercise as "emulating translation" because it was not copying oil painting with oil pointing but emulating oil painting with Chinese painting.

In view of translating spirit of "emulating translation" that required me to do more outdoor light exercises in technique of Western painting I painted large number of sketches from life in oil painting and painting gouache. I also required myself to go deep into the practice of Chinese painting. I imitated the book of calligraphy and did large number of sketch from life in aspects of landscape, figure, bird and flower exercises. I needed to understand thoroughly and grasp skillfully the techniques of using the brush, inking and watering.

Using "Brightness and ink" technique to do the sketch from life was to go deep into the translate emulating and enhance it. I started from still-life picture to landscape in gradual circulation. I started from ink inserting the coloring technique to integrate the blending, overlapping as well as the environmental color, spatial color, bright color of Western oil painting to achieve mastery through a comprehensive study of the subject on Xuan paper with comparison of the cold and warm, thick and sturdy effect. Finally I reached the effects of dazzling bright, thick, sturdy vivid oil painting. This was a vision effect expressed on a piece of raw Xuan paper, not a result of accumulation of fluorescent light pigments and large amount of opaque pigments.

When I was having dialogue with impressionist masters, I further grasped the distinguished essence of impressionism and gradually comprehended the profound mystery of brightness! Without brightness the world cannot exist and there won't be life. Without brightness ten thousands of things of creation won't have colors. The Chinese painting art is the crystallization of the Chinese civilization of national history. Though it is ancient, the art is full of vitality. Chinese painting won't weather away, still less necessarily means zero. The Chinese brush and ink cannot be negated as it is skeleton, blood and flesh. The body of the ancient Chinese art is not short of calcium but short of new vitamin of nutrition -- colors and sense of light. Through I have had my brightness and ink painting practice for almost forty years and explored seriously with hardship ,I understood the true spirit of masters Cezzane and latter Matisse, Picasso, Kandinsky and Miro. Their concerns about the beauty of brightness had been life long and their studies on colors and vision had been serious.

There is only classicism in Chinese painting and the real meaning of modern art has not evolved. It is necessary to make up a missed lesson of idea of art in Chinese painting by way of learning the theory and method about "all spectroscopy and mixing colors". This is an impassable stage of history.

There is difference between classicism and modernism in Western painting and recognition and the application of colors is important divide in technique expression in addition to the factors of philosophy and aesthetics. The view of classical colors is to consider the description and expression of the inherent color of the subject as the main aim whereas the impressionism started to declare the end of method of description and observation used by classicism. The colors of the subjects are not unchangeable. The colors are the results of sunshine, absorption and reflection. The sunshine is not bright and dark but red, orange, yellow, green, verdant and blue. They are colorful. Sunshine is the source of color of the ten thousand of things of creation in this world.

The development and improvement of the Chinese painting didn't mean to overturn and negate the tradition completely. Xie He (500-535) of South(AD 420-589) Dynasty's six principles are still the basis of artistic theory of traditional painting. What the painters need is to change just one word - change "apply the colors according to the category" to "apply the colors according to the bright." Chinese painters should be modest and courteous to walk into Newton's laboratory to comprehend the theory of prism, to walk into Monet's studio to comprehend the distinguished practice of impressionists. They will be able to answer and complete the artistic topics only when they filled the gaps of history by doing their own actions. 



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