Zhang DA-Qian And Ink Painting Research Paper Example
Zhang Daqian was one of the most accomplished Chinese ink painters in history, the reviver of splash ink-and-color painting, and served as inspiration to a younger generation of ink painters (Onians, 307). Zhang’s contribution to art made him one of the most distinguished Chinese artists in history. He is known for “his power to produce paintings that were often huge in scale and conception and bold in their handling of ink and color” (Sullivan & Murphy, 19). Although Zhang was involved in several forgeries as an art collector, his skill as an artist was unparalleled. He is well respected even today because of his contributions in art, particularly in the use of ink or colored ink and the technique of splashing ink all over the canvas or the paper without relying on the brushes for painting. “Zhang reduced the reliance on brushes and began pouring the ink on the painting surface” (Holding, 13). Zhang restored this art and created many art works to depict splash ink painting. The succeeding discussion focuses on Zhang’s work – style, technique, and philosophy – as an artist and his adoption of splash ink painting.
Zhang was born on May 19, 1899 in Neijiang, Sichuan. Zhang had many colorful experiences as a young man. His family taught Zhang about art and its significance in their lives. Zhang’s brother was an artist himself and he influenced his younger brother to learn art. At one point, Zhang was kidnapped by bandits because of his stature. Zhang grew up in a wealthy family. In 1916, Zhang decided to pursue art by formally attending classes in dyeing textile, textile creation and production, and weaving (Sullivan & Murphy, 19). His involvement in textile production and design later on influenced Zhang’s decision to become an artist. Zhang, a Buddhist artist, worked well and learned from other Chinese artists including Zeng Xi and Li Ruiqing. Li helped Zhang learn calligraphy (Sullivan & Murphy, 19). Zhang spent most of his time socializing with other artists and art collectors. Through his connections, Zhang began working with other artists for collaborations. Zhang’s partnership with Pu Xinyu, a painter from Beijing, let to their team known as ‘South Zhang and North Pu’. Aside from being an artist, Zhang was also an avid art collector (Wen, 109). The artist was even criticized for his forgeries of artist’s notes to collect art pieces he liked. One of the reasons that Zhang collected paintings was because of the growing socio-political unrest in China (Wen, 181).
Throughout the years, Zhang studied many styles and techniques in art. During the 1920s, Zhang went to Shanghai to formally attend a school teaching Chinese art. It was during this period of Chinese art history that many artists studied and created calligraphy and traditional paintings. Nonetheless, Zhang decided to defy norms in Chinese art by introducing new ways to create art. Furthermore, during the 1920s, Zhang collaborated with other artists who learned from him and vice versa (Haoyun). Zhang was also “one of the few artists of modern China who inherited comprehensive skills from mountains-and-waters painters in the Ming and Qing Dynasty” (Chen, Li & Wang, 151). Zhang studied Western art when he visited the United States and other countries such as Japan and France (Sullivan & Murphy, 19). Zhang also studied Eastern traditional art by viewing and analyzing other Chinese art works. In the process, Zhang was able to combine what he learned from the structure of Western and Eastern art and used them to integrate uniqueness in his colored splash ink works. He visited many places as an artist including California. In these places, Zhang explored cultures and art movements. During the 1940s, Zhang worked with other artists to paint the Mogao and Yulin caves as influenced by Buddhist paintings (Haoyun).
In 1977, Zhang moved back to Taipei after living in California for 10 years. His retirement was brought about by problems in his vision. Zhang could not see clearly anymore, which defeated his purpose and craft as an artist. In Taipei, Zhang was treated well because the state considered him as a national treasure. To repay Zhang for the honor he brought to his country, the government built him a house beside a museum. He was also granted the title of the ‘national treasure’ (Sullivan & Murphy, 20). Today, Zhang is considered as one of the greatest influencers of art, particularly in the use of splash ink because he revived this style and introduced the appropriate use of color in creating art and designs.
Zhang Da-qian was a brave artist who always exhibited creativity and boldness that differentiated his works from that of other Chinese artists during his time. He was not afraid to try and experiment new things, which influenced him to pursue different styles and techniques in art and consequently discover new styles, techniques, and mediums. Zhang was known for ‘thinking outside the box’ so to speak, which prompted him to revive splash ink-and-color painting. Furthermore, Zhang redefined painting by refusing to use brushes when creating his masterpieces. Traditional artists relied heavily on brushes to paint. Zhang, on the other hand, merely poured ink to create images on the surface of the canvas or paper (Holding, 14).
Hence, Zhang’s personality, which represents uniqueness, significantly influenced his style as an artist and his ability to discover new styles, techniques, and mediums that differentiated the artist’s works from that of others. Furthermore, unlike other artists, Zhang created and viewed art both as an artist and collector. Other artists viewed art works merely as artists but Zhang did so as both an artist and connoisseur of art. In this way, Zhang understood art from the perspective of the art connoisseur and applied his learnings in his art to make his pieces more appealing to the audience or viewers (Kohara, 67).
Zhang mastered the use of color in art and while looking for other ways to improve his craft, the artist explored splash ink-and-color painting to redefine his art works. When Zhang started ink painting, he only used basic colors of ink to create his works. However, Zhang realized the importance of color in creating art. For this reason, Zhang incorporated colored ink to provide artists with other options when forming images. He wanted to differentiate his work from that of others, which prompted him to revive the splash ink technique. Zhang was heavily inspired by traditional art in China, particularly those adopted in the Tang Dynasty.
Artists in the Tang Dynasty splashed ink on canvas or paper and soaked the material with the ink. Zhang adopted this technique and focused on splashing and pouring ink on paper or canvas. Zhang splashed and poured ink in a random manner, which meant that he did not care much about the shapes or images that will be created in the painting. Consequently, Zhang viewed the image and continued splashing ink to create intended images in the medium. During this time, Zhang competed with other artists that use traditional brushes to paint. Through Zhang’s splash ink technique, he reduced artists’ reliance on brushes (Holding, 13). The splash ink technique involved splashing ink on paper or canvas to create the images. In colored splashed ink technique, the artist uses ink of different colors to create art. The splash ink technique is unique because it does not abide by the forms and structures of art but challenges its boundaries and outlines (Kleiner, 107; Van Briessen, 78). The differences between Zhang’s splash ink and colored splash ink technique are palpable in the movement, position, and appearance of the ink on paper, the use of brush to create art, the presence of accidental effects in the paintings, color and the role of color in creating abstract images, and the presence of visual surprises in the painting (Holding, 14). Aside from reviving the splash ink technique, Zhang was also known for his ability to use color in paintings.
Zhang “painted diverse topics: mountains-and-waters, flowers (mainly lotus), and human figures. There are 91 paintings of his in the database, encompassing all main categories of Chinese paintings” (Chen, Li, & Wang, 151). The artist actively used color and spent years mastering and using different colors in his work (Holding, 13). Two of Zhang’s most colorful masterpieces include the Lotus and Landscape collection or gallery. The colorific beauty of Zhang’s painting defines his work as an artist. In the Lotus collection or gallery, the viewers will see Zhang’s use of color to depict lotus flowers. Zhang’s Lotuses in Five Colors represent the artist’s ability to combine different colors in a painting. Lotuses in Five Colors illustrates flowers of different colors – bright red or red orange, white, green, and blue. The lotus flowers grow from different directions. The white lotus flower on the upper right of the painting appears to grow from a cloud or splash of black or murky water. The white and green lotus flower at the bottom of the painting also appear to grow from a dark colored pod. Zhang’s use of splashed ink is palpable in the way that the water and lotus pods appear to disperse or flow in the image. Zhang’s painting attracts the viewer’s attention and illustrates Zhang’s skill in using and combining color. The contrast in the color of the flower create balance with the light hues of the white and cream flowers and the dark hues of the red orange and dark green flowers. Critique of Zhang’s Lotuses collection also reveal that the painting was in honor of Mao Zedong. Furthermore, critics suggest that the painting was as representation of Zhang as an artist. Zhang is like a lotus in terms of attitude and resilience it was a way for him to renew and elevate his spirit (San).
Aside from Lotuses in Five Colors, Zhang’s most prominent works in color also include a landscape painting that shows a mountain range populated with flowers and plants with orange leaves and petals. The painting shows a mountain that was made attractive due to Zhang’s use of bright and dark hues of blue and green. The splash of blue and green colors appear to be the mist or cloud covering the mountains. Hence, the splash color technique transforms the image into a mystical place. The landscape illustrates Zhang’s ability to use color in order to accentuate details in a painting. Critiques suggest that Zhang used splash ink in his landscapes to create contrast and therefore, dramatic effect in the painting. Zhang used dark and light hues of the same color, which allowed him to depict all forms of nature in the painting such as water and sky (San). Overall, Zhang’s colored splash ink painting represents his work as an artist. He used color to create intensity and his works. Zhang was also known for layering inks to create better colors and appearance in the painting.
Zhang was largely influenced by both Western and traditional Chinese ink painting. The artist’s colored splash ink paint illustrates Zhang’s combination of both influences to create art. At first, Zhang merely used splash ink to produce art. Later on, Zhang used color in creating splash inks. Innovation illustrates the influence of Western art in Zhang’s work. Traditional art in China focused on structure, particularly the use of traditional methods and techniques in art. Nonetheless Zhang learned from others and incorporated the use of color in splash ink technique. His colored splash ink paint is a reflection of how the artist combined Western influence with traditional Chinese ink paint.
Sitting on a Spring Mountain (1970) reflects this idea because Zhang conceived the painting after learning art styles and techniques in the United States, India and France (Holding, 14). Sitting on a Spring Mountain was one of Zhang’s first experiment in using colored splash ink, which is why the colors in the painting seem muted as if the artist is holding back in the use of color (San). Sitting on a Spring Mountain illustrates a low mountain with an image of an old man sitting on top. Below the mountain, a spring flows down to the ground. The image is surrounded by thick foliage, which creates an illusion as if the viewer is peering through the trees to watch the old man. The prominent technique here was Zhang’s use of contrast – dark and light – to highlight focus on the old man. Zhang used dark colors in the surroundings. The splashed ink creates the cloudy image above the mountain. Zhang then used light hues to create a sense of peace where the man is sitting down. In this way, Zhang used the splash ink technique to create a mood or atmosphere in the image. It was during Zhang’s exposure to different cultures and art that he started incorporating color to his works. Zhang visited Paris for a while. While there, Zhang studied Parisian art, which motivated him to paint using color (Holding, 14). Another evidence of Western influences on Zhang’s work was the artist’s imitation of the Dunhuang frescoes. The Dunhuang frescoes were put together during the Tang Dynasty. The frescoes illustrated culture and way of life in the past dynasties. Zhang also found something unique in the Dunhuang frescoes that influenced him to learn more about them and their content or construction.
While conducting research about the Dunhuang frescoes, Zhang discovered that the materials were of opaque colors of blue, green, and white (Holding, 14). In this way, artists such as Zhang could modify their work later on due to the opacity of colors used in art. This principle illustrates Western culture and Chinese traditions of perfection in art (Holding, 14). Fascinated by the Dunhuang frescoes, Zhang studied how artists created the piece. Zhang brought his family to Gansu to see and observe the frescoes inside the Dunhuang caves. While there, Zhang copied “the Buddhist wall-paintings under extremes of heat, cold, and primitive living conditions” (Sullivan & Murphy, 20). During this exercise, Zhang was able to imitate art work inside the caves. For the foregoing reasons, Zhang is the bridge of Eastern and Western art because he was able to combine both styles and techniques in his works.
Zhang influenced the succeeding generation of splash ink painters and took the lead in introducing or teaching this style and technique to others despite conflicts. Some people including Zhang’s fellow artists disliked him because of the artist’s past forgeries (Wen, 109). Zhang collected different art works and for some of them, he claimed that the artists personally gave art to him. Others, however, discovered that Zhang forged the letters from the artists who created the art pieces he collected (Kohara, 67).
Zhang’s colored splash ink painting influenced a great amount of Chinese painters. Years and decades after Zhang’s death and his introduction of splash ink as a technique in painting, many artists both Chinese and non-Chinese create art inspired by this technique. One of the painters that learned from Zhang include Hau Pei Jen (Holding, 15). Even after Zhang’s death, Hau adopted and developed colored splash ink during the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries. This means that younger artists sought to incorporate Zhang’s splash ink painting in contemporary or modern art. Other artists also revere Zhang because of his skill regardless of his shortcomings and flaws in art collecting. Hsu Per-Hung, a famous Chinese painter that focused on horses as subjects, communicated his reverence for Zhang. According to Hsu, Zhang was one of the greatest Chinese painters in the last five centuries.
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Holding, Julie. Hau Pei Jen: Bold horizons in ink and color. New York, NY: 2010.
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Kohara, Hironobu. “Notes on the recent history of Riverbank.” In J. G. Smith and F. Wen’s Issues of Authenticity in Chinese Painting. New York, NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999.
Onians, John. Atlas of World Art. Laurence King Publishing, 2004.
San, Choi. Zhang Daqian’s artistic activities in Macau. <http://www.icm.gov.mo/exhibition/daqian/ActivityE.asp>.
Sullivan, Michael & Murphy, Franklin D. Art and artists of Twentieth-Century China. California: University of California Press, 1996.
Wen, Fong. Between two cultures: Late nineteenth and Twentieth Century Chinese paintings from the Robert H. Ellsworth Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001.
Van Briessen, Fritz. The Way of the Brush: Painting Techniques of China and Japan. New York, NY: Tuttle Publishing, 2011.
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