Monday, August 11, 2008
Early Chinese Landscape Painting
I've been a fan of early Chinese landscapes(c. 1000-1200 CE) for a long time, but I have recently been revisiting them. My current work is involving a similar approach to these paintings both compositionally and in the use of ink and washes on paper. Although my work seldom has any obvious reference to landscape, I've been studying the way the compositions are organized. The way the mountains, trees and streams are laid out on the page is strange and very interesting. The negative space is always equally as important as the positive. Areas of intense detail and linework laid next to empty areas or very subtle washy blends. I am enjoying looking at them more as abstract compositions than representational paintings.
"Early Spring" was painted by Guo Xi in 1072 CE It is one of my favorite examples of interesting use of composition, the negative space actually becomes positive space with the mists in front of the mountains. The detail in the linework is amazing, but the choice of placement of those areas of detail is even more amazing.
This one is by Li Cheng from the 10th century called "Solitary Temple Amid Clearing Peaks". It is one of the earliest examples I have. The comparison of the small frailness of humanity amid the vastness of nature is something you see over and over in these paintings. The detail in the architecture here is worth a closer look.
This is a painting that I wasn't familiar with until I started doing some research recently. It is called "Bamboo Painting" by Wen Tong from the 11th century. The leaves are painted very simply: stark black in the foreground and mid-tones in the leaves behind, and then that beautiful aged amber tone in the background. But when you look at the placement of the leaves and stems, you see a level of understanding of the plant that can only come from actual observation. So many bamboo paintings just look like caricatures of bamboo; this painting shows real understanding.
This last painting is one of my all time favorites. "Fisherman's Evening Song", by Hsü Tao-ning from the 11th century. The subtle value changes in the the mountains show a control of the brush that I am truly jealous of. It is a painting that makes me want to keep looking at it; so comfortable and so much to see. The mountains are impossibly vertical (but actually if you look at photographs, you'll realize that the mountains in these paintings are not nearly as stylized as you might assume). By the way, the image at the top of this post is a detail shot if you want a closer look.