Chinese Painter – Personal Retrospective

My Creation of Mental Imagery Ink-color Paintings

by Chai Zu Shun

Appreciating abstract painting calls for knowledge of the painter’s intention and personal experience. Take “Peace” by Picasso, for example.  The pigeons and the deformed women’s bodies are closely related to the real world at that time. Abstract painting is by no means scrawling. It requires the basic training and skills for painting. Each master of art has his unique style and breakthrough in terms of techniques. Hence, an abstract painter is not qualified unless he can be innovative in both “conception” and “techniques.”

I started finger and brush-free painting in the 1980’s, but my efforts were not well received at that time. I compiled a book on the Techniques of Brush-Free Painting together with my son, but it was considered heretic to all the presses in Shanghai, so no one would publish it. Finally, I got an offer from the Beijing Haitian Publishing House, but misfortunes came one after another:  the editor’s fatal traffic accident, the loss of the manuscript of my book, the death of my son and my own car accident. 

In 1988, I consulted President Liu Hai Shu on the techniques of ink-splash and pigment-splash painting.   President Liu was fond of splashing ink and pigments on huge piece of Xuan paper with repeated coloring, so the fragile Xuan paper tore slightly.  Jackson Pollock, the American artist, applied the pigment-dripping technique in his oil paintings, making drippings several times. I took a fancy to the coloring and lines in Pollock’s paintings.

On my journey from traditional Chinese painting to ink-splash and pigment-splashing techniques in landscape paintings, I learned from the strong points of both Chinese and foreign masters.  With the techniques and skills I learned, I worked on “Homeland of Cranes,” “Mountain Drizzle in Wuyi Mountain,” “Cloud-capped Mountains” and “Verdant Scenes of Yangsuo.”

A new type of painting that I created in my later years is ink-color paintings on Nijin Paper (paper coated with glue and powdered gold or other metals).   I was enlightened by the gold-powder ink-wash red lotus technique of Zhang Da Qian.  In particular, I was impressed by his technique of mingling brushwork and sketching in creating “Gold-powder Ink-wash Gold Hook Red Lotus” — an eight-set scroll that I admired so much, but only saw in painting albums. Later I found the “Long Scroll of the Lushan Mountain,” another work by Master Zhang in his senior years, but it wasn’t until 1988 that I had the chance to see the original pigment-splash painting.

After that, by continuing to draw on the merits of modern decorative painting and abstract painting, I worked on fully abstract painting and abstract-concretized mental imagery painting with the combination of oil and water.

After the Cultural Revolution, the original works by Zhao Wu Ji, Zhu De Rong and Pollock were allowed to be displayed in Shanghai. I began to think about mingling the traditional Chinese freehand brushwork with Western abstract painting to turn it into mental imagery painting, which gives the audience a concrete association and an abstract inference, as well.

After my success with “Peaks Bathed in Sunlight” and “Searching Fairies in the Green Field,” I saw hope for gold-powder coating mental imagery painting, and I gradually gained confidence in this new genre. Later, I introduced “The Yangzte River,” and upon my return from my second visit to Putuo Mountain, I worked on “Thoughts in Putuo Mountain,” “Gracious Light of Emei Mountain,” “Auspicious Snow in Jiuhua Mountain” and “Meditating Buddhism in Wutai Mountain,” an eight-set gold-powder coating painting.

Not long after, I focused on “Images of the Five Mountains” and “A Tour to the Five Mountains,” a twelve-set painting album. Immediately following that, I was engrossed in a series of two-meter gold-powder coated paintings, including “Dragon Ridge,” “Red Cliff,” “Verdant Expanse under the Mountain of Flames,” “Dazzling,” “Spring to Snow-Covered Huanglong” and “Red Clouds in the Rising Sun.”  I continued working on mental imagery paintings, hoping that they would gain more popularity.  As exhibitions of paintings by world famous masters repeatedly were held in Shanghai, I was amazed at the works of modernist artists, and I felt an imperative to begin my own modern ink painting.

My mental imagery paintings are imbued with the experiences of my past.  They are the voice from my innermost being, linking to real life.  In terms of technique, I use a large, hard-tipped brush with water, oil and pigments to splash.  With this technique, I am able to achieve repeated, complicated and unique texture effects. This technique breaks through the restraints of traditional brushwork.   I also have discovered that indirect pigment splashing keeps the Xuan paper intact on large paintings, while indirect ink-splashing and pigment-splashing with repeated rubbings creates a textured effect.

In 2004, the People’s Daily published the painting album “Ten Front-Runners in China’s Artistic Circle—Chai Zu Shun,” which collected some of my new works, such as “Auspicious Snow,” “Silk Road,” “Searching Fairies in Verdant Field” and “Peaks Bathed in Sunlight.”  The latter was selected as the cover painting for the album. “Silk Road” was widely publicized in the mass media.

After repeated experiments, today I have transitioned my mental imagery paintings from half abstract to full abstract, and I still keep on exploring.  It seems to me that mental imagery paintings should stimulate the viewers’ feelings at the sight of the pictures. One should take the mental image as the subject in his pursuit of the mental artistic conception. Instead of focusing on the shape and form, I prefer to focus on my first impressions. I am pursuing natural beauty and human nature with my mental imagery landscape paintings.

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