Chai Zu Shun’s concept of mental imagery painting can be traced back to Plato, who used the metaphor of an “inner artist” painting pictures of what he saw in the soul. That is, retrieving perceptions from long-term memory that provide impressions of things.
In Chai’s own words: “My mental imagery paintings are imbued with my past life. They are the voice from my innermost being, linking to real life. Instead of shape and form, I prefer to focus on first impressions. Mental imagery paintings should stir up the viewers’ feelings at the sight of the pictures. Only a work that stirs emotions is a good piece of art.”
Noting that Chai’s paintings “are imbued with mountain-river implications, Professor Pang Yao Chang from the College of Fine Arts at Shanghai University explains that Chai’s work falls into two categories, one marking the highly conceptualized abstract for numerous objects that refers to “a kind” rather than a specific “one.” According to Pang, “Mr. Chai’s works are created with the conceptualization of his innermost thoughts, somewhere between visual and invisible abstract art…which can be called ‘image.’
“Another category” Pang says, “deals with non-objective and non-figurative abstract art. In Mr. Chai’s paintings, his image comes from his inner vision, something like the fantasy caused by sense and the synesthesia [mixed sensations] induced by a cantus [vocal ensemble].”
In synesthesia, a stimulus in one sensory modality involuntarily elicits a sensation or experience in another modality.
Professor Pang continues to explain Chai Zu-shun’s mental imagery paintings by comparing them to theosophism—the philosophical or religious thought claiming a mystical insight into the divine nature and natural phenomena—or to the painter Wassily Kandisky’s simile of music.
Kandinsky, who is often considered to be the “father of abstract art,” felt that his paintings were visible expressions of music.
Critic Liu Shi Lin concludes that Chai’s mental imagery paintings “dissolve the opposition between ‘perception’ and ‘reason,” and Liu notes that “one cannot help be overwhelmed by…his [Chai’s] passion and his fantastic mental imagery, free from the boundary between classicism and modernism, from the distinction between modern and contemporary art, as well. We enjoy a quite fresh aesthetic experience and style.”