Transcensions from Traditions Rouse Colors of Zen

by Chang Li-Hao

Written by the great Chinese painter, Zheng Banqiao, “Bamboo Painting Inscribed” narrates the painter’s attitude towards the creation of his acclaimed bamboo painting.

In early mornings of autumnal junctures, my appreciation of bamboos is frequented nearby my riverside residence. The mist, sunlight and shadows dance amongst the sparse branches and the dense leaves. Come the inspiration thus my longing to paint. However, the bamboos which was in my mind from once is no longer the bamboos be forth my sight. Ceasing the preparing of ink and the laying of papers, my brush hurls strokes of genius. In actuality, the painted bamboos are of no resemblance of the bamboos in my heart; the principle of acquiring aforethought concept prior to the commencement of painting is absolute. Howbeit, the delight of painting is not abided to such and is of the miscellaneousness of individuality - the delight of all things goes.

Chinese calligraphy and painting arts have seen shared of revolutions and made multifold transitions in millennia. Thereupon the ending of the Tang and the Song dynasties, various interpretations of the said art forms have intermittently been injected under reigns of imperialism. Progressing into the early Ching Dynasty, “Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou”, led by Zheng Banqiao and Jin Nong, embarked a divergence in the art history. It was a group of eight Chinese painters in Yangzhou, Jiangsu, possessed traits of a cynic, refuse bowed to no plutocracy. They rejected the orthodox ideas about painting, inviting philosophy and literature into their arts; their expressiveness and individualism distinguished them from the dominance of the art disciplines at the time. Henceforth, calligraphy and painting arts were redefined and have transported a potent notion for later generations. In the snippet of the poem above, Zheng Banqiao, famed by his bamboo paintings, revealed his attitude towards arts. He believed the delight of painting is not of literal depictions of objects. Instead, aesthetics ought to be personal, transformative and shall be exerted with valiance and enthusiasm, or they become the cliché, the platitude and not of true arts anywise.

Like an inscribed stone chipped and mottled, a poem was written in the disarray of scattered bamboos and shadows.

Living mundanities in Taiwan, bamboos take a peculiar role of importance in people’s day-to-day life; the edaphology and climate of the island breed a fertile ground for a diverse growth of the plant. Born and raised in rural Changhua, Chen Zheng-Long’s upbringing was surrounded by fences of bamboos. On lightsome days, leaves of bamboos, descried by the young Chen, would dance in between the sunlight. Projected onto the ground, silhouettes of bamboo leaves would oftentimes be as still as paintings but other times, dance to the choreography of the wind. Such scenic view was imprinted in the young mind of Chen’s. As his artistry matured, Chen Zheng-Long has explored and sought his creativity. The fences of bamboos from his childhood merges with a couple stems of bamboos outside his window - it is a mental imagery that prowls in every instance and instinctively, plays a significance in Chen’s creative process.

Whilst reciting Zheng Banqiao’s treatise on painting by heart, Chen has indulged creativity throughout his career and subsequently arrived at a clear corollary. The characteristic of being hardened and unbent is in the possession of bamboos; it’s a sentiment upheld by many in regard to their morality and beliefs. However, in keeping with time, artists should aggrandize traditions and transcend what their predecessors has established in order to succeed a long journey in arts. Unlike some people of former times, appropriated the essence of bamboos, Chen discarded the figurative connotation and paid tributes to the Wise by experimenting various concepts and approaches with different materials and media. Chen attempts finding of the known and the unknown; the probable and the improbable. His will is to uncover new forms of art for appreciation and interaction.

The modesty of black and white and the flamboyance of colors, they are on two polarized ends of the spectrum. From the fuller collection, “Bamboo” to undecided Figurativism/Abstractism of the “Garden” collection, Chen has applied an extensive scope of methods and techniques in the creating of his work. His well-exerted use of colors and objects translates to discoveries of the new. From whence he was aforetime to exhibiting maturity in his artistry, Chen Zheng-Long’s work is not of one lineage without a shadow of a doubt.

Words of Bamboo 2, featured at Ink Global Hong Kong 2017, along with his other work in the collection comprise the simplicity of only black and white. Chen brushed abstract displays in his paintings by blending abundance of ink and rendering it in depths of grays as well as leaving the whites of papers. He rubbed literal bamboo leaves on the surfaces and embellished them with equivocal strokes. His bamboos escape the stereotypes of ink wash painting and announce a new tone of ambiguity. In some of the work, the strokes still follow the spacing, framework and layout of Chinese calligraphy but the structures are scattered by the disarray of bamboo leaves and stems. Chen’s paintings are like chipped inscribed stones and mottled black-and-white films; the content within is no longer identifiable and a stranger beyond perceivable. However, all you need to do is to take a step back and view the individual paintings as a whole, there, they are interpretable and comprehensible once again.

One of Chen’s artwork, Mirrored Moon, a triptych subsuming three pieces of paintings, is intended as a whole but also can be explored upon as three individual work of art; the coherence and incoherence amongst them modulate a complicated love triangle. As an onlooker of the paintings, we are captured by the surficial reflection of obscure moonlight in abstract, a blur of yin/yang surrealism compiled by layers of washed ink, and ghosts of bamboo leave in between the undulated ripples; all to portray a mist of tranquility that finitely hides the transitory radiance of the moon. It’s a work of aspiration but wiggles rooms for imagination.

In the presence of the blossoms of flowers; the prima donnas, colors of dawns and dusks are nothing but comprimario.

Taking a detour from the conventions of Chinese ink wash painting, Chen introduced colors in his Garden collection; it depicts themes from rays of dawns to nights of stars, to blossoms of flowers. Combining calligraphy and painting using rubbing and dripping techniques, it portrays an inadvertence of Abstract Expressionism. The entities and elements in the paintings may have their belonged natural courses but when viewed together, they constitute parallels and inspire conglomerates of interpretations.

The once black and white of ink wash painting now succeeded by colors; Secret Garden, a larger-scale painting of Chen’s, accentuates tints of indigo and blue. Variance of flowers, constructed using Mogu (boneless) technique, compete with one another in their world of a beauty pageant. They are dressed with splattered ink (Automatism) and mindfully paint an ambience of dreams. It’s a feasible reminiscence of “Flowers Scroll” by Xu Wei - blossoms of perennation, uninhibitedly exerted on the papers, invade one another reciprocally. They are effusively arranged in an orderly dishabille and demonstrate the painter’s mastery and commends of objects. Like Chen’s work, it’s not a literal depiction of the reality nor sketching of real-life flowers. Antithetically, it’s a visual contextualization of feelings and visceral emotions. Instead of objectifying individual branches and leaves in paintings, the branch and the leave are the connected objects that connote an impassioned scheme. Paintings are to be revisited and subjectified for an enriched appreciation.

As a free-spirited ranger taking on an inverted exploration of his minds, findings of déjà vu, unexplanatory senses or internalized memories are not to be forced. One may say Chen Zheng-Long is not a dweller of traditions nor an adamant of his own convictions; he expresses Art like the free-spirited ranger. Chen’s paintings embody not of physical objects but the visualization of his world. Like a dance with bamboos and flowers, we are not to pursue the denotations of it. Instead, we free our minds and feel the dance.