Personal Statement: From Autumn Leaf Roll Back
The name Palace Willows came to my mind even before the painting was done. In fact, this new series of work has been under preparation for a long time, with the poem line “Willows beside the palace wall fill the city with a tinge of spring” lingering in my mind. Lu You, the famous poem of Song Dynasty, wrote this line to express his own feelings and emotions, but what really attracts me is not his emotion but the phrase “willows beside the palace wall”. At first, I simply appreciated its beautiful rhyme. But after a second thought, I gradually began to savor the graceful scene it sketches as well as the rich meanings it represents. Embedded in it is not only time-honored history but also deep emotions. The gratitude and grudge may have been bygones already, but the silent willows and the palace wall still keep the unsaid stories in mind.
I had lived in Nanjing and Beijing, both of which were ancient capitals of China for a long period. During my stay there, I usually wondered whether there was any connection between their palace walls and willows. In Nanjing, there is a place called the Willow Bay. Back in Min Dynasty, when Nanjing was the capital city of China, this place was just beside the palace walls. It was named the Willow Bay because plenty of willows were planted by the Dayang River of the city. In Beijing, it is said that the best place to appreciate willow is the Tongzi River in the Imperial Palace, where a row of willows stand gracefully beside the palace wall. Well, the research above has used up the patience of an artist. Having confirmed the historical connection between palace walls and willows, I can’t wait to move on to the next stage—considering how to depict the image.
As an experienced artist, I have developed my own painting style, methods and language. Now that the theme seems to have appeared faintly, how can we integrate these different elements? Explained with language, it sounds like a serious theoretical reasoning problem. But the actual operation is a natural process. In the process of drawing on canvas, my favorite method is to use specially mixed pigment to imitate the texture of walls on linen. Repeated bottoming resulted in an unexpectedly favorable effect— the texture of the bottom resembled that of the imitation wall in traditional Chinese Mural which I had learned during my postgraduate study, though the materials and methods used were different. On such a special textured bottom, I undoubtedly chose aqueous pigment to glaze the painting over and over, an unconscious adoption of my previous knowledge. When I put my hands to the painting, my prediction-based confidence in the picture effect was only sixty percent, the rest forty percent was left for unknown opportunity and challenge. The content of Willows Beside the Palace Wall matches this method exactly, so its theme and approaches are determined in a spontaneous way.
Among all my painting languages, one of the most frequently used word is “microdot”, a word which delights but at the same time displeases me. What delights me is that this is exactly the painting approach I have been looking for, because it surprises myself with the fruition of gradual accumulation and painstaking efforts. Both my printed paper series and line series are exemplification of this. However, what displeases me is the frequent query on the meaning of painting since there is printing and the fact that this approach has been adopted by other artists from both home and abroad. I used to try to explain. But now, I believe that my constant painting would be the best answer—my works are answers themselves.
Let’s come back to Willows Beside the Palace Wall. Depicting the scene with redbrick walls and green willow branches is certainly too straightforward. Indirect connotation is more appealing than direct description in poetry, so is the case in painting. For example, in the poem Ode to the White Begonia, the whiteness of the flower is compared to “Three parts of whiteness from the pear-tree stolen, one part from plum for scent”. Perhaps even the white begonia itself didn’t realize that its whiteness can be so memorable and can purify the soul of an otherwise common plant. Besides, direct depiction eliminates the necessity and specialness of microdot, which works best with single tone. For the above reasons, I decided to depict the shadow of willows on the wall. Compared with painting with mixed colors, the image effect of repeated glazing is thicker, richer and heavier. Simple as it is, this common knowledge also requires patience and prejudgment. But with the expectation for the ultimate effect, I am willing to make every effort.
An exhibition filled with images of red walls would be quite monotonous. Then it occurred to me the photos of old buildings of the1980s— the green paint on the interior wall peeled off, looking mottled yet appealing. Therefore, the fundamental tone of this exhibition is determined as red and green. But casting the shadow of willows on the green wall is too farfetched since no other plants grow indoors except bonsai. Well, art is unnecessarily the meticulous and reasonable reduction of reality in every way, so it’s acceptable to assume the exterior wall to be green. Bamboo is a favorable subject which has been eulogized by numerous ancient Chinese artists. I thus decided to depict its shadows on the green wall to express my admiration for it. The painting is titled as the Rustling of Bamboo, indicating the swaying branches in the wind. With the title mimicking its sounds and the shadow implying its existence, the actual bamboo is, however, outside the frame.
The slender willow branches and the rustling bamboo are both blessed by the wind. Now that autumn has stepped in with its soft breeze, the leaves are swaying with their unsaid stories.