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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Classical Chinese Painting Demonstration By A Friend

Today -- a typical Sunday afternoon of Southern California; cloudy but bright though, with occasional beams of sunlight shafting through the clouds. West Hollywood --  Raucous laughter and rounds of merriment overfloweth out onto the streets as we drove by Hamburger Mary's.  Nothing unusual.

We missed our destination.  At Crescent Heights, we made a left turn.  Our first time to Vinadore Studio & Cafe.  We have not been regular WeHo visitors since the night we met up twenty years ago.  Much has changed.  It was a great respite to see this place of tranquility and quietude greeting us as we drove into the parking lot...  Reminding me how the Abbey was once upon a time: a cozy place where meaningful conversations could be carried out over a cup of coffee or a sandwich as lustful eyes gazed into the limpid pools of one's potential trick, mate or whatever...

We came to WeHo from the Long Beach Area to show support for a friend.  He was to demonstrate how traditional Chinese painting is executed.  We were early. We met our friend, the artist, and people we had never seen before.  Pleasantries exchanged and introductions made.  The place was filled with artwork of western painting decorating the walls.  In the forefront were some mounted and framed Chinese artwork adding further elegance to the place.  Another reason, we knew Andre Ting from other social gatherings and also as an artist but not to the extent of his talents.  Today, we are much educated.

The ambience nurtures an air of elegance as wafts of coffee permeate throughout the place. Along with the sight of treats ordered by others tempting our senses to no end.  We were getting hungry but more eager to see Andre demonstrating his talent.

As more had arrived,  it was time to begin.  Andre introduced some rudimentary information on Classical Chinese Painting after he had taken a few moments to clear his mind...  

Andre in comtemplation to clear his mind before demonstrating his talent

The simplicity of his stroke; seemingly a black mark on the paper soon grew fluidly into an elegant curve of an eagle's crest.  Simply amazing.  

Jokes were cracked; surrounding chatter competing with his explanations -- none could take away the steel-like concentration of Andre in maintaining his brushstrokes.

One astute observer remarked that one has to amortize the time spent in training...  True to a certain extent.  But without talent, no matter how much practice there is, a black mark still remains as such.

Without further ado, thanks to modern technology, mere words can do no better justice than these photos of the artist at work.

Someone asked why there is no outline of any sort.

One big difference between Chinese and Western art is that all pre-planning and penciling are done in the mind.  

Only when the artist is ready, will the swift strokes of the hand descend and begin its graceful dance on the paper.  

Practically speaking, the penciling will show up on the paper no matter how much erasing or hiding is done.

Almost done - in less than five minutes!

"Finished" - Almost...

For demonstration purposes, it is considered complete.  In the strictest sense of fulfilling the traditional requirements, it is yet to be.  First, the artist's signature in form of a real seal had to be placed.  Nowadays, signing in English is fine, but loses the Classical Chinese charm.  Finally, an accompanying poem and the date the piece is completed must be present. 

Painting is the child of calligraphy.  In the old days, painting was not taught until the mastery of calligraphy had been achieved.

To many Western art critics, it is considered graffiti in having the many seals of the painting's past owners stamped on it. To the Chinese, not only do they enhance the beauty but a testament to its importance. Many masterpieces were "extended" solely for this purpose.  There are times when the calligraphy is more important than the painting itself! "Study of a Mountain Engraving" (研山銘) is one such example.

Start of another style in eagle drawing.

Chinese paintings are highly symbolic and can be a rebus.  Thus the theme must suit the occassion as a gift, otherwise a heinous social faux pas is unwittingly committed.

For the uninitiated, it is a road laced with landmines.
For example, two butterflies fluttering delicately in the gentle breeze amongst peony tops makes a beautiful subject. However, as a gift to newlyweds; couple in a relationship, etc is highly inappropriate!  A pair of butterflies represent ill-fated lovers from a Chinese Romeo & Juliet story!

Even if are more than two butterflies, it is best to avoid from being misconstrued.

A crouching tiger showing its ferociousness is most appropriate for a military official, a school teaching Kung Fu, and in the modern day, an attorney, a tax accountant or a judge.

For a genteel profession, it is highly ominous as the pronunciation for tiger in Chinese also sounds like the word for hardship!

Demonstration complete but not the entire composition even by Western standards -- the eagle is too lonely.  A finishing touch of a pine tree branch was added to the bottom right to "weigh" down the subject.

However, to the traditionalists, this is not enough.  This will be seen as an eagle flying to nowhere, in other words, no ambition.

The pine tree represents longevity and endurance in the mortal world.  A red sun on the top left shining over distant mountain tops would be very traditional indeed.  The sounds for "red" and "eagle" are similar to that for "hero".  Thus the composition tells the viewer to "leave the vulgarity of the world behind and aspire to the lofty heights of heroism"

The rooster is Andres's final demonstration for the day.  Its proud stance gives a sense of self-assuredness in its strut.  The paper on which it was painted on is of great quality and had to obtained in China as one cannot find it in Los Angeles. If you look closely, the gold flecks in the paper brings out the liveliness of its tail.

This final painting inspired me so much that a classical styled poem was born into my mind. After much revision, I humbly include it here with a  rough translation.

梧桐高枝鳳凰貴,  Noble is the phoenix high on the boughs of the Wutong tree,
地上群立獨我尊.  Of all standing on this earth, I am the most revered.
紅冠一頂朝日召,  With a red cap, the morning sun I summon,
天下萬事就此傳.  Under heaven, all matters henceforth be decreed.

In Chinese mythology, the phoenix is considered to be the queen of birds, thus the empress' imperial insignia. It is said the phoenix will only alight on the boughs of the Firmiana simplex, commonly known as the Chinese parasol tree.

All in all, it was an afternoon very well spent.

14 Mar 2016

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