May 16 1982: Returning Boat in the Storm
Huang Yao had a weekly column called Moyuan Suibi in the Nanyang Siang Pao, a newspaper in Malaysia.
Sometimes, when I get bored of painting, I do calligraphy. When I get sick of writing, I would paint some “pictorial words”. If I get even more bored, I start writing articles. I don't write poetry or play chess, because they require too much brain usage. When I am painting, sometimes I do “human figures”, sometimes I paint “landscape”. I go where my heart leads me, and progress “naturally”, with no restrictions, no limits. In the West they say, “When inspiration strikes, you start immediately”. In terms of painting the “landscape”, you do it in the way that you are used to writing calligraphy, establishing the basic “dot, line, shading” of an “ink painting”, and expressing the “likeness” in your “heart”. (To express the “likeness” is to “paint realistically”; works that express ink rhyme brushstrokes “without likeness” are known as “abstract paintings”. Those lie in between “likeness” and “non-likeness”, that are particularly vibrant are known as being “impressionistic”, and can be really interesting. As calligraphy and painting are from the same source, practitioners of calligraphy should go ahead and paint without fear; over time they will cartainly find success.) If in your “heart” there is an “unforgettable” line of poetry, you can use it as your “theme” and paint based on it. In this way you also have the title of your painting.
The paintings of the West have developed to the extent that they are no longer able to express themselves totally, and now they tend towards “abstraction”. In contrast, in the East, from the Tang-Song dynasties to the Yuan-Ming dynasties, no matter whether it is in painting or poetry, they have been particularly daring. As time goes by, people have progressed and have achieved the goal of “daily renewal”. Whatever it may be, in the craving for something that is “interesting and charming”, people's “true nature” have always gravitated towards “beauty”. Who doesn't want to experience “joy”? Or even happy until losing oneself. This comes from the fact that “people and their hearts evolve”, especially young people, who are full of imaginations and constantly changing, resulting in all sorts of “weird, unheard of before” happenings. But this is merely “human nature”. Which old person wasn't young before? Which young person doesn't have “dreams”? This “dream” is a “force” that must not be missing from one's life, and therefore it will never disappear. It is natural for art to become “abstract”, but it won't last for long; the “abstractionism” of the West and the “impressionism” of the East had appeared because of the convergance of the “new” and the “interesting”, and out of these, only the truly outstanding works have been preserved. In the case of the “Three Hundred Tang Poems” - in the time of the Tang Dynasty, there were at least three million or thirty million pieces of work, but only the most valuable “three hundred pieces” have been retained. Therefore, as painters, we should make sure of the quality of every piece of our work.
As the “watercolor paintings” of the West and the “ink paintings” of the East not just differ in the paper and tools they use, they inevitably express themselves in different ways. In reality, watercolor paintings and ink paintings belong to the same family. Nowadays it has become fashionable to create “dry watercolor paintings”, a technique that is indistinguishable from that of the “charred ink” technique. Except that in the East there is calligraphy, which is based on ink, and the quality of a calligraphy work is based on its elegance and the strength or depth of the technique. As for whether the colors are beautiful, that is a secondary question, because “ink” can “split into five colors”, and therefore their value are based on this（calligraphy) alone. In Japan and Korea (as well as Vietnam of the past), they regard calligraphy as a treasure. They have pursued the art relentlessly, but it is a pity that they have been unable to get rid of the “arrogance” of their ethnicity. As for the Chinese, we do not care too much about that (calligraphy). Japan regards “culture” as “cultural wealth”, and uses it as the basic impetus behind their plan to “make their country rich”. They have reaped the rewards of that, but yet why have we not done the same thing? It is indeed baffling.
I once drew a painting entitled “Returning Home in the Storm”, and another entitled “Returning Boat in the Storm”. I cannot find the former, but have found the latter, which we shall talk about now.
When I was creating this painting, I was simply practising, using only the “line”, and very unconsciously the “straight line”. In the painting, beyond the straight lines forming “rain”, the “grass” and the “clothing”, were “dots” created by ink smudges – this resulted in something that looks like shading yet not really formed by shading strokes, and that is the amusing thing about ink painting. If you casually use these sort of long and short lines, you can definitely create other pictures. If you are interested, there is no harm “thinking” first, then on paper (the best would be “Sheng Xuan”), casually drawing straight or diagonal lines on it (as natural as how people like to doodle). As you draw the “likeness” of the “impression” in your head (it's okay even if it's not the “likeness”), the paper will definitely give you an answer. Keep it, add a “date”, and try doing it everyday. This would be your “daily lesson”. Over time, you will find a natural “strength” in your brushmanship (it's best if you do it in the way you usually practise calligraphy). As you look through these “likeness” and “non-likness” paintings, you will find that paintings that express “likeness” are known as “realistic”, while those without likeness are known as “impressionistic”. There is in fact no need for the dichotomy between the “new style” and the “old style”. From research, in your “impression”, if there is any poetry or prose, they could be the reflection of your “inspiration”. Your “work” would have a “title” (it would be superior to and more interesting than the random numerals of the West). “How you do something, depends on the oneness of your heart”.
The theme of “wind and rain” is fairly ordinary when you use it in poetry, but it is something else when you try to present it in a painting. The rain comes after the wind. There is the strong wind and there is the weak wind, and therefore there is the heavy rain and there is the light rain. Mountains and stones cannot be moved, and suggestions of motion depend on grass, branches and people with their sashes. (There is the saying “Wu Dai Dang Feng”, which means the movement of sashes represents wind motion.); it is particularly lively when expressed through a painting. The weather should be modelled on that of dark and heavy clouds, and one can employ the technique of “rendering” (this is when you can show off your artfulness, like using clouds, the waterfall and the morning mist to strengthen the effect, while not forgetting the shading, dot and line. You should not only depend on your artfulness though, as it will cause the calligraphy of the East to deteriorate, and then it will be too late to regret!) If you want to paint with more artfulness, you can try to work on more “wind and rain” themed paintings, and you will be able to give an outstanding performance. Of course, if you are a truly talented person, you can also create an “astounding” piece of work.
There are many poetry verses that revolve around the theme of wind and rain. I cannot remember many, but there are two in my memory, one of them being Wei Yingwu's: “My study has grown cold today/ And I suddenly think of my mountain friend./ Gathering firewood down in the valley / Or boiling white potatoes in his hut.... / I wish I might take him a cup of wine / To cheer him through the evening storm;/ But in fallen leaves that have heaped the bare slopes, / How should I ever find his footprints!” Another one is by Qian Qi: “Although it's at such close vicinity but the storm stands in the way / Mount Lu is impossible to climb / Maybe there are clouds, mist and caves / Or maybe it houses monks who have seen six dynasties.” The paintings of the East focus on the charm in meaning, while the paintings of the West have become increasingly “abstract”. Over time the East has gone on to imitate this style. In recent years, they have been announcing loudly their desire to depict “space” and “imagination”. Thankfully, Laozi once said, “Mystery upon Mystery, is the Door to all Wonders”. It was right of the “wise men” of the world to consider this “mysterious” state of being. Let me ask you, how much foundation in philosophy and literature do you have? Trees without a “root” can never grow; how many buildings have collapsed, simply because they don't have a firm foundation?
Indeed, even at its most extreme, “realism” cannot beat “color photography”, and therefore the work of “realism” can be left to the “original color photography”, but the “spirit” of “impressionistic paintings” cannot be replaced by photography, and can only practised by the really “wise”. If I may ask you: Scientists have already invented “vitamins” to give people nutrition, but do you think they can give us life? Can something “man-made” ever grow in the earth? Therefore we should not give up on ourselves, for simply playing around with artfulness will only result in the lack of “vitality”!