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Lessons from ink and water |


Lessons from ink and water

"You must capture the paper’s light against the darkness of the ink," the old Chinese master painter said as he laid a smear of dark ink against the pristine white rice paper. I was watching the visiting Chinese painter who was conducting a workshop to introduce the tradition of Chinese painting. This tradition dates back to the Neolithic Period about 6,000 years ago. It has a lineage strong and noble. Its essence is the all encompassing spirit of the Universe, the Ch’i or life force, the most important concept in the workings of nature’s way or the Dao.

Everything in traditional Chinese painting (shui-mo or ink and water) is the drama of dark against light, heavy stroke against feathered lightness of movement, of applying dry brushstrokes against dry paper, or allowing ink to create its forms within the water puddles or tiny streams of water.

I watched as Chinese painting master lay an ink-laden brush tip on paper, barely touching it. From the brush’s tip, ink smeared to produce a blot, and then a dark blotch until it settled into an interesting amorphous mist. I watched the process almost hypnotically and started to reflect.

Lesson One on Ink ("Mo")
: This is the defining medium in traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy; the material by which the image (bamboos, birds, flowers, mountains and mist) is consciously formed. Challenges, pain and difficulties are like ink. Not everything difficult and dark in life is ugly. Inevitably, through time, we will realize the beauty of all difficult and painful experiences. We can only appreciate the value of the dark night of the soul once we experience the cleansing light of healing and transformation. We need the play of darkness to bring out the luminosity of light.

Lesson Two on Water ("Shui"):
Water that cannot be absorbed into the paper continues to flow until it seeks its own little stream. Flow, everything flows. Life moves on...always. All things shall pass away. Energy that cannot be contained and transformed within one’s self continues to move outwardly and will affect and touch the environment and other people. This goes both for good and negative energy. One must use clean water to paint or the luminosity of color will never be obtained, resulting only in muddy colors. Extend only positive energies to everything and everyone around you...or the negative energies will find its way back to you and your environment.

Lesson Three on Paper:
Pristine white rice paper as backdrop to the painting is like the luminous space of No-Mind, or Nothingness and All-ness. The Empty-Full Oneness of everything. It is the space of eternity against which linear time plays out the drama of human life and existence. Paper must be present as the background on which to paint. Oneness is the goal as the play of duality, sin and redemption, light and dark, rise and fall are experienced.

Lesson Four on Ink and Paper:
This allows the artist’s spirit or emotions to be seen in a painting. Liquid ink, solid paper. Yin the female energy interacts with Yang the male force. Passive against aggressiveness, woman interacts with man. Yin completes Yang and vice-versa. Together they are One. Opposing energies that when tempered and united in harmony, become whole. Wet and Dry...The constant dance of opposites, of the play of duality in its opposition.

Lesson Five on the painting process:
For every effortless brushstroke of the traditional Chinese painter is the challenge of capturing the essence of his/her subject. The artist must infuse his/her own spirit to give the painting "ch’i," the vitality of life itself. The brush works are like heart-prints, emotions on paper. To show this, techniques include the restrictions of space and time in mountain-water landscapes seen through various roving perspectives, the extreme simplifications of birds and flowers, shifting perspectives of still life and scenes, calligraphic lines that express concepts and feelings...all emphasizes the sentiments or spirit through the profound understanding of forms. As we move through our we create heart-prints more than mere accomplishments? How much more do we value our relationship versus the goals and objectives we set out to achieve?

Lesson Six on the image of man against nature:
Mountain-water or nature painting is considered the most noble of all subject matters. Awesome landscapes of mountain and peaks speak of the majesty of Nature. Within such paintings, the human figure is never really shown, or if so, is so tiny in scale. Standing under the night’s canopy of stars, surveying nature in all her grandeur, seeing space from the perspectives of astronauts or NASA can our petty little egos think we are greater than God, the Creator that made Nature?

Lessons Seven on Poetry on Paper:
Chinese traditional painting includes calligraphy alongside painted images. Odes to nature, poetry that exults or makes us aware of the humble ordinary things around are words that throb of Spirit... "In winding valley too tortuous to trace, On crags piled who knows how high, A thousand different grasses weep with dew, and pines hum together in the wind..." (by Han-Shan, 8th or 9th century poet). To see life as poetry; to see that all things have rhyme and reason in all their seasons; to understand that all experiences are beautiful as they unfold in simplicity or within the drama of pain and suffering – all this is appreciating the poetry in life that constitute the masterpiece of our spiritual journey constantly painted by the Creator.

(View some exquisite traditional Chinese paintings in an exhibit entitled "A Brush with China," which runs until the end of October at the Yuchengco Museum. This is one of three exhibits under "Susi: Key to Chinese Art Today." Modern paintings called "Exploration and Discovery" may be viewed at the National Museum and contemporary installation art entitled "Future and Fantasy" is at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila.)

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