THE OLDER THE NEWER -YAN MING's Technical Reform of Chinese Painting

WANG YONG, Director of Research Institute of Chinese Arts

What is old or new in art creation does not depend on whether the artist who makes it is old or young, especially in the realm of Chinese traditional painting,for some young painters, who do not have much experience of traditional technique, are so confined to a certain brushwork procedure imitated that their paintings look obsolete but some experienced old masters, who never cease searching and renovating, establish certain new things in their paintings by breaking through the old traditional norms. Real renovation in Chinese traditional painting is always seen in the works of some old masters who successed in their "late-year reform" and the older they become the newer their works look. Professor YAN MING of the Fine Art Department,JIANGXI Normal College is such an old master who insists on renovation and reform in Chinese painting (water-ink painting).

Old painter YAN MING is now 88 years old.He was born in NANCHANG,JIANGXI province, the hometown of BADASHANREN (famous ancient master) in 1917.He was a student of the HANGZHOU Public Art College and transferred to SHANGHAI College of Fine Art in 1937. The artistic ideas of combining the Eastern with the Western by LIN FENGMIAN and expressing personality by LIU HAISU have influenced on him in his late years. Mr. YAN has also been under the guidance of famous painters, PAN TIANSHOU, ZHANG HONGWEI,XIE GONGZHAN,WANG SHENYUAN,WU FUZHI and WANG YACHEN, majoring mountains and waters, birds and flowers and also learning watercolour in spare time.He is also fond of music.When he was at college he joined a singing group together with WANG QI (a schoolmate of his then and later married to him. She is a powder colour painter) His early paintings were selected by LIU HAISU, displayed at the "Art-show" held in south Asia in 1938 and "Exhibition of paintings by SHANGHAI Celebrities" held by WANG YACHEN in 1939.All his early works were ruined during the cultural Revolution but one, "watching waterfall"(13), which was highly praised by YUNYIN JUSHI, who inscribed:"The brushwork is so powerful and everything is composed in pictorial norms." YAN MING began to work as a fine art teacher in 1940 and began to teach at the JIANGXI NORMAI College in 1950. In 1960 he was invited to create huge Chinese traditional painting for the JIANGXI Hall of the People's Great Hall in Beijing. During the Cultural Revolution he was criticised as a "reactional academic authority" and he and his family were driven out of the college to settle down in the village and returned to the college in the late 70s when he was near his 60. The old painter revived his youth in the new age and was selected as the vice chairman of the Artists Association of JIANGXI Province, honor director of JIANGXI Watercolor Society and vice director of BADASHANREN Research Society. He has been invited to hold his personal art-show in SHANGHAI, SHENZHEN, GUANGZHOU and TAIPEI. His works are praised at home and abroad as "Modern painting in water and ink, renovation of Chinese traditional painting", "New model of Chinese painting pursuing the new and reform".

YAN MING puts great emphasis on inheriting the traditional while he tries to renovate the established norms and at the same time he pays more attention to the demand of our times. The precondition of renovating the norms is the thorough comprehension of them. If one does not know the norms, how can he renovate them? During the several decades of his fine art teaching and creating, many a time has he imitated the works of BATA, SHITAO, WU CHANGSHUO, QI BAISHI and PAN TIAN SHOU and researched systematically the history and theory of Chinese traditional painting. He can not only skill-fully apply the traditional techniques of Chinese painting but pays great respect to modern spirit of renovation. He has constantly carried out SHITAO's idea: "brushwork should follow the times". It is usually said, "Without tradition there will be no root". While Mr. YAN puts stress on the spirit of times, he says, "without times there will be no root and without ego there will be no style". Even in his old age he himself took his students to LUSHAN mountains, JINGANGSHAN mountains, HUANGSHAN mountains and GUILIN for several times to paint from nature, to collect materials and to feel the atmosphere of the times. It is his instruction that we should "make use of the old for the interest of today and the foreign's for the interest of the Chinese people. This is still the norm that should be abided by. There is no way out to make ours completely the western but if we could not absorb the essentials from the foreign culture and keep up with the change and development of our times, we would cease our pace and decay." The works of the old painter has made a very good demonstration for his students to follow the development and change of our times.

DUFU expressed in his poem:"Quiet I am , I have new language being made in mind. I will never cease searching until I have my language startling." YAN MING's reform in Chinese painting is mainly Shown in the reform of the language applied to Chinese water and ink painting. In a narrow sense, Chinese water and ink painting traditionally means painting mainly in pure water and ink with only a thin wash of colour as comple- mentary. In a more narrow sense, it is advocated applying only water and ink like those literary painting in expressionist style. In this kind of painting, colour applying is considered as worldliness without elegance and water and ink against colour. They will be consistent with each other. Nowadays there are such literates who think of water and ink as brushwork. Although in water and ink painting, emphasis is put on brushwork, it doesn't mean that "water and ink" means brushwork.In NANCHI Dynasty, theorist XIEHE wrote in his book, that brush strokes should be applied as the bones of the objects and colours are applied according to the difference of the objects.This norms were adopted in Chinese painting of GONGBI ZHONGCHAI (a kind of Chinese painting style characterised by elegant brush strokes and heavy colours),which popularised in China much earlier than the literary painting. This indicates that colour applying was empbasized in Chinese painting since its appeared in ancient China. Modern water and ink painting nowadays is ideally suited to the demand of the aesthetic taste of earthiness and popularity. To emphasize the applying of colour and try to decrease the conflict between water-ink and colour, is, in fact, an inheritance of the tradition of Chinese painting in broad sense, including GONGBI ZHONGCHAI,mural painting and folk painting. Great master QI BAISHI, who began his career as a carpenter, renovated the pictorial norms in his late years. Besides his indulgent brush strokes, getting rid of the likeness of the objects, one of his important renovations is his breaking through the issue of applying water-ink and colour harmoniously. QI BAISHI "brought about new idea of his own, applying the norms agilely." and "established himself the school of red flowers with leaves in black ink". His flower painting of "red flowers with black leaves" look bright and fresh. Even in his mountains and waters bright colours were always applied, suiting both refined and popular tastes. QI BAISHI's "renovation in the old age" has a great in fluence on YAN MING, enlightening him on his practice. He said, "since QI BAISHI always painted his flowers in bright colours and simple brush strokes to receive wonderful result, why can't I apply this norm of painting to my painting of mountains and waters in pursuit of the vigorous atmosphere in the concision of brushwork?" YAN MING had introduced the "red flowers with leaves in ink" way of painting to the portrayal of his mountains and waters and so established the unique style of his own characterised by firstly combination of water-ink with colour and secondly the vigorous atmosphere in the concision. In the case of his paintings, "10 Miles Gallery", "The Drunk Mountains","Hometown in the Picture" "The Peak of GUI" and etc, in which there are riot splash of rough strokes in heavy ink and as well the random dyeing of pure and bright colours. What is more is that there is the skillful and natural combination with western pictorial factors, a feeling of dept and solidity with shade. What is so valuable is that this combination of western and eastern pictorial norms is always seen in a single piece of painting. The brushwork is concisely constructed with rich content implied, the contrast of bright colours is seen natural in harmony. All the factors play cooperatively to convey a beautiful and vigorous atmosphere of mountains and waters. In the paintings, "KUANG Mountains after the Rain" "After the Rain" "Fog and Rain on LI River" and "SHANHUA Boatyard" a cool greenish hue dominates the scenery, providing the viewers a fresh and watery feeling like watercolour painting. In "WANGJIANG Pavilion" and "YUPING Pavilion" instead of ink cinnabar is applied to depict the mountains suggesting a rather strange and special and new scene. Different from many paintings seen today imitating the old with huts, hermits or objects of the sort interspersed, what are seen in YAN MING's paintings are modern buildings, buses and figures of today, which shows the artist's pursuit of the feeling of times. YAN MING has more directly inherited QI BAISHI's new traditional spirit of "red flowers with leaves in ink" in his flower and bird paintings, changing BADA's coolness into warmness by applying rough and heavy brush strokes and bright colours. There are excellent works such as "Two Elegant Flowers", "Azalea" "Spring Light", "White Peony" etc. His "Still Life" is a painting of western subject matters painted in water-ink way. In the painting there is a vase painted in simple stroke of thick ink, a glass washed in watery thin ink, the outline of the pear is painted in ink and filled directly with yellow pigment and the grapes heavy purple. The colour is so harmonious and texture feeling so fresh that it brings out a very successful visual result. Everything is found new and fresh in the painting.

YAN MING said in 2000, "Nowadays in the fine art field of JIANGXI Province there are young and middle-age fine art amateurs (including a few professional artists) who imitate the old blindly, in pursuit of the taste of the old. It seems that the more their works look like the old the better. They do not go to paint from life and collect materials from the people. They do not depict the life of our times, far apart from real life, which greatly restrict the development and renovation of the fine arts in JIANGXI province. JIANGXI is the hometown of great master BADA SHANREN. If we didn't awake to the present situation and catch up with the pace of our times, we would feel regret to our predecessor." This hearty advice of the old artist is a meaningful alarm not only for the artists in JIANGXI province but those all over the country.

Director of Research Institute of Chinese Arts