September 10 1944 Zhengyi Bao : A Letter Sent to Brother Yao’s Exhibition
Zhengyibao (Kunming) (10 September 1944), p. 4.
A Letter Sent to Brother Yao’s Exhibition by Xiong Foxi
I hear you have arrived in Kunming and expect that your exhibition has already opened. I still haven’t completed the essay I agreed to write for you, so what is to be done? It’s nearly midnight right now. An essay would be difficult to complete, so all I can do is sketch out some shallow notions as I think of you from afar.
First let me express my admiration for your talent. Being rather a dullard myself, I have always envied the talent of friends. I believe that you were born with uniquely rich ability, and your talent is of the highest caliber. This can be seen from looking at your paintings. However, many think of Niubizi as your most representative work, or they think that your upside-down “mandarin duck calligraphy” stands out the most. I cannot readily agree with these views.
To me your painting excels because it is imbued with a rhythm that others are unable to achieve, a kind of beauty of music and dance most fully expressed in your human figures. Your paintings are alive with freshness and refinement. You are skilled at tastefully applying color. Overall, you possess unparalleled control of pen, ink, and hue. I hope you will continue to strive for improvement, that you will put in even greater efforts. My advice to you is that it will do no harm to temper your skills by studying ancient painting as well as rubbings from stone inscriptions: the legacy of the ancients. This can only be beneficial for your art. Your attainments in Chinese and western painting are high, and you have learned much from inscriptions. But keep at it. Not at all am I urging you to cling stubbornly to the ancients, rather to use this precious legacy to transform and refine yourself, to give full play to your talent, to create your own unique style. You will, I think, admit that there is no new art that has not been born from the principles of old art. Brother Yao, keep striving. If you don’t think I’m talking nonsense, then I hope you can accept what I say. Solid talent like yours is rarely seen on China’s painting scene. I hope that you can open up new territory for Chinese painting. I offer my sincere blessings on your travels!
Xiong Foxi, August 18, 1944
(Translated by John A. Crespi, Henry R. Luce Associate Professor of Chinese, Colgate University)