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戴鹰首页> 资讯>Clash of Landscape . Personal Interpretations

Clash of Landscape . Personal Interpretations

2017-02-16 13:46:10来源: 《山外山:戴鹰山水水墨》作者: 楚桑,陈成,戴鹰

Time:       2:10 pm. Sept. 13, 2016

时间:     2016年9月13日下午2:10

Place:       Borui Metropolis Garden, Chengdu


Recorded and translated by: Cheng Chen, Lijun Yang (1 hour and 50 minutes)

录音整理、翻译:陈成,杨利军 (时长1小时50分)


HeadingClash of Landscape – Personal Interpretations

【标题】激荡山水 – 雾中看 [P1]  

Interviewers: Sang CHU, Cheng CHEN (Hereafter abbreviated as Chu, and Chen.)

访谈者:楚桑,陈成 (以下简称楚、陈)

Interviewee:Ying DAI (Hereafter abbreviated as Dai.)



Abstract】In the nearly two-hour dialogue, Ying DAI, the artist, together with the critics Sang CHU and Cheng CHEN held a series of discussions on his landscapes of recent years. It sketched a contour, in Ying Dai’s painting career, of how he had managed to enhance his skills, and how his style had changed along with his mental journey. Additionally, their dialogue also came respectively down to their own cognition and reflection on the traditional literati paintings and life, and their understanding and reference to the western art, etc. As for his own creative works, Ying DAI admitted that he tried avoiding the traditional landscapes, and devoting his time to more thorough visual presentation, and would continue his exploration there.




My bigger breakthrough is probably in my landscapes.

Chu: Today, we mainly want to raise a few questions. Ying Dai can state your view in response to those questions from us two.Let me ask first. Your previous works largely cover birds-and-flowers, such as bamboo and lotus. Lately,you’ve been focusing on landscapes. Of the two different subject matters, in which, do you think, you’ve made bigger breakthrough?

Dai: My bigger breakthrough is probably in my landscapes, because bamboo, or birds-and-flowers, is relatively a simplex category. From beginning to end, the brushworks and skills presented on such paintings tend to be onefold,and easy to command and control;whereas a landscape needs rather complex brushworks and skills. What’s more, of the much complex brushworks, I set out to avoid on purpose those already used by others. It thus results in that, in terms of fabricating and processing of them, it is more time-consuming and difficult. But once it comes out, I suppose it means greater breakthrough than that in my birds-and-flowers.

Chu: How long does it usually take you to paint a landscape of 8-chi(roughly 1/3 meter)?

Dai: It depends. Generally speaking, it’s about 3 to 4 days’ work, as I also have to wait for it to dry.

Chu: What about bamboo of similar size?

Dai: For bamboo of the same size, it may take a day, depending on the degree of the dryness and depiction.

Chen:That is to say, in terms of different techniques employed to the elaborate composition, landscapes are far more difficult than birds-and-flowers, aren’t they?

Dai:Painting landscapes can be very strenuous. That is to say, after painting some part on the paper, I may have to pause for quite a long time. There’s a landscape, I remember, taking so much of my effort. For nearly 4 months, it stayed on the wall. I painted some rocks first, and then some trees. After that, I kept looking at them on the wall all the time: how would the mountain lay and the water run on the paper? For I can’t take up a pencil to draw a sketch first, or draft on some piece of paper first to refer to, so I look at them from time to time, imagining how it would be arranged on the blank part of the paper. All the time, I kept denying the options until the end, until I thought I got them and finalized it.

Chu: So far, it seems that we haven’t seen any figures in your landscape yet?

Chen: No. At present, his elements are essentially very simple, just mountains, rocks, trees, and water. No figures, nor any traditional pavilions or pagodas, nor any fishing boats, either.

Dai: Before this, discussions were held on the reason why I didn’t add in any figures, or houses in my landscape. I deliberately avoid them all. I try to leave my painting simple and pure. Because, if I, by the creek, paint a little boat, people are likely to comment,oh, you’ve painted“A lonely boat floats across the ferry”, then why don’t you just put it down in the inscription? A stereotyped stuff springs up.

Chen: And if you paint a figure on it, some profound scholar or hermit may seemingly appear. Indeed, stuff like this is far too signifying, and stylized. All literary quotations deeply rooted in our mind.

Dai: If you get a mansion onto it, “Ancient temple dwells in remote mountains” may echo in audience’s mind. Such concept would keep recurring in traditional Chinese paintings, especially in Song paintings. Far too many. Take Travelers amid Mountains and Streams for instance. It paints many people carrying firewood on their back. And in Fan Kuan’s Snow-covered Scene with Cold Forest, houses are drawn. Later, Jiezi Garden Model Painting Book lists boats, houses, and figures to specifically stipulate how they should be drawn. I learned from it before. Pure View of Hills and Streams seems to have offered purer view. Actually, if you look at Wang Ximeng’s The Landscape of a Thousand-li(500 meters) of My Country, at a glance, it is smooth and clean.

Chen: Song paintings are still in the period of constructing such motifs. They are still significant in art history. To later times, its repeating itself on and on makes it meaningless.

Chu: In early Yuan, when Qian Xuan painted landscapes, he didn’t add such stuff. Some less-known artists, whose names could still be found in art history, would keep their paintings unsophiscated when they’re inspired. A landscape is merely a landscape without any adjunction. This might have something to do with Confucianism. That’s why people found later that Chinese landscapes concern Taoism more in effect. After you add in more townsmen’s activities, or the mundane life, the landscape would vary. If you take away these elements, it may well enter into another realm. This was discussed before, although you certainly won’t think this way, to adopt an ideological approach to interpret your paintings. Probably you’re inclined to read it from a visual and aesthetic perspective. This is exactly like what we’ve observed from the western landscapes. Some of them are rather pure.

Dai: I mean to peel some stuff off, to separate itself from stylized concept, and offer the audience some more stuff. Some audience of course may look at my paintings in the mindset: why don’t you add in some birds here in your painting? Oh, my…

Chu: Of course, it can be interpreted this way. While painting landscapes, after you’ve taken the houses, boats, pavilions and figures away, in practice, you have perhaps reserved some space or place. The audience may put themselves into it. They can put in their imagination. Actually it’s rather contemporary practice. If you’ve stuffed up the painting, how can there be any space? The ancients in China also had philosophic response. For example, someone asked Ni Yunlin (Zan), why aren’t there any people in your paintings? Ni Zan answered, “There aren’t people in the world at all.” A bit Buddhist allegorical. He actually expressed a unique landscape philosophy.

Dai: Especially for some artists, to me, there’s no problem with their skills. But when they paint, It’s always full.

Chu: It actually needs blank. This is indeed the interpretation of the blank in Chinese paintings, blank in another sense. Western aesthetics comprehend Chinese paintings in a very special way, but it may sometimes offer profound and thorough insight. Our blank probably comes from Taoist doctrine. Ink can be further divided into five sub-colors. But the west understands it this way. After the blank is set in, it forms a vibrating relation in effect. That is real existence and emptiness form a vibrating relation. If you don’t add in figures, or houses, or townsmen’s activities or the mundane life, it is in fact a vibrating relation. When just depicting the land, a view, hill stones, whether clouds or fog, waterfalls, rocks, or even momentum of mountains, you have in effect left blank in space, and in object as well. In Chinese Rhetoric, blank maybe counted as black. In the paintings, I don’t put in all the physical phenomena that I can see. I also put in what I can’t. This is linked with real and virtual, and Yin and Yang philosophy. Then the audience can place themselves into it. As a matter of fact, you’ve left a vibrating relation in it. Interpretation of Western aesthetics is very interesting. It’s unnecessary to be full.

Dai: This leads us back to birds-and-flowers again. Many traditional patterns are in it. About drawing branches, be it up or down, after the beginning, elaboration, transition and wrapping-up, it’s bound to draw a bird or something somewhere, as if it’s a must. So when I draw birds-and-flowers more, as it would reflect the case with landscapes as well, when I paint bamboos, it can be very simple, just a couple of bamboo poles, or it can be heavy and complicated, after many times of painting, spreading all over, leaving only in the upper corner a little hole for airiness. It’s just a pure relation of composition of bamboo leaves and poles, in ways such as arrangement, variation, and texture, etc. All from what we’ve learned about composition. If I’ve applied enough of those, what’s the meaning or use of adding into it a bird? With landscapes, I can do the same: all rocks. If I can arrange it in a rhythmical manner, there’s no need to add anything else. Or if I’ve got enough of the mountainous momentum, the houses and fishing boats can be taken out. The symbolic stuff in painting is unnecessary. Later, I might make my landscapes even simpler, purer. For instance, rocks can be more daintily and exquisitely minimal. That kind of symbolic stuff isn’t a must.

Chen: Actually leaving blank is not only about arranging the positions in a painting, but also about airiness in composition. In addition, it’s still about, in terms of the content, granting the motif a somewhat ambiguous orientation, something unspoken. It allows different possibilities for different people to interpret.

Chu: Right now you’re painting like this. In the future, would you stuff something into it?

Dai: Not very likely, as it’s out of some inertia. Over 20 years ago, when I was still painting in the school, I quite loathed adding in any birds. Just look at the stuff of Giuseppe Castiglione! Abruptly forcing a western artist to paint our national style painting! Apparently, his skills were completely foreign, but his composition had been definitely restricted. I dislike it. Later, I came across many impactful works from the west. They don’t offer you a lot of additional stuff. Instead, it’s clean and simple stuff, like those of post-impressionists’. Clean and pure. It’s unnecessary to work on complex stuff. For Van Gogh, a stool would work.




To set up many possibilities of creating challenges

Chu: Your turning from birds-and-flowers to landscapes, was it deliberate? Was it from the very beginning that you had planned to make landscapes a phase of creation, and had conceived of them for some time? Or was it after your breakthrough with birds-and-flowers that you felt landscapes could well be another and then you embarked on landscapes?

Dai: From the very beginning, I have been fond of landscapes as well. But the issue is I couldn’t get out of a bottle-neck. How am I going to paint it? In the past, I also painted many landscapes but I tried to avoid a kind of pure landscapes, as this kind of pure landscapes was too stereo-typed. I painted some in 1986, scenery, e.g. The Flavour of Late Autumn.

Chu: I got it.

Dai: That’s the kind. I tried to avoid that kind of traditional landscapes. Then I was out of my wits to find a point. How was I going to enter it?Then on and off I painted many, especially when I was in school. I copied Fu Baoshi’s landscapes, and I also painted lots of other kinds of landscapes. In the end, I figured if I could ever find a point to cut in landscapes, it had to be from trees. So I deliberately made trees extremely big. Or I just selected one part of landscape to elaborate, and that’s my close shot. I only treated trees as my close shot to elaborate. Through this way I got into landscapes, but I still couldn’t get out of the bottleneck all along. Then I painted birds-and-flowers, too. But I didn’t have a specific plan, to deliberately define which phase was for landscapes. I’ve been exploring all the time. After some time of painting, I found, in landscapes, that it had to be cut in from something fundamental, in order to find my own symbols.

Chu: When you say something fundamental, you’re referring to…?

Dai: Elements, for example, stones. For many years, I painted trees. Ever since 1986, I’d started painting that kind of trees. Later, on the works sent to the Grand West National Art Exhibition was also that kind of trees. But I still couldn’t produce the kind of landscapes I wanted. So I went to paint rocks on purpose. I’ve got lots of them on my sketch book. I forgot to bring them with me today.

Chu: It doesn’t matter.

Dai: In early 90’s when I took my students out sketching, I painted rocks, and streams on the locale. From rocks, I started slowly to enter landscapes. As for a landscape, the most important is still its few components, such as trees, rocks… For these, for each component I need some traditions, yet something to break away from them at the same time. Of course, traditions are rooted in us all, for we all started out from the most fundamentally traditional skills. But it really took a very long time for me to find that feeling, to get to my own symbols. So for quite a long time, I painted only rocks. After painting rocks, for a time, I found cloud and fog, stuff like them was hard to treat. However, it’s a very important segment in landscapes. On purpose, for some time, I went to stay in the mountains, to see the ups and downs of clouds. Then, after that, I went to find out about fogs … finally it’s the elaboration, finding something that can hold these elements up together. Up to this moment, the traditional composition patterns once learned started to exert their influence…

ChenThat is to say, you first broke the elements of a landscape down, then depicted each element to the best you could before you thought about reorganizing them into a new outlook?

Chu: You’re actually talking about matters concerning raw materials, or motif. But in the end, when you integrate them into a painting, you definitely need some sort of concept in it, as your landscape needs something to mark itself out. What you mentioned is all about material, technical, some skillful stuff, for example how to depict rocks, how to solve the fog matter, the cloud matter, and tree matter, etc… these are all materialized matter. But when they’re to become your Dai’s landscape, something more important needs to be solved.

Dai: First and foremost, I suppose it’s composition. Landscapes have their composition. The traditional composition is what is advocated by the ancient principle called “Three patterns of Distance”.

Chu: That’s “the Floating Perspectives”.

Dai: “The Floating Perspectives” are well established. In terms of elaboration, I mainly try to avoid the traditional way, yet at the same time still work on the concept within the domain of landscapes.

Chen: So when you come to close shot, when you try to highlight these elements of traditional landscapes, the distant view would fail you in presenting these detailed depictions. You’d have to resort to a close shot or a segment.

Chu: Many artists start out from the Jiezi Garden Model Painting Book, learning about trees, rocks and waters … each every tiny skill training after another. After the training, ultimately he’ll follow a master, or one way of creative pattern before he can develop a system of his own. Seemingly, you didn’t take that path, but actually…well, you still are after the pattern.

Dai: Not quite the concept. Because before that, I once wanted to learn from some master’s skills, such as Fu Baoshi. I was interested in his painting a lot. The wrinkle method he used is what he called Baoshi Wrinkle Method.

Chu: Yes, Baoshi Wrinkle Method.

Dai: A sort of dislocation of the front brush. But his overall composition has his style in creating challenge, and a constitution of surprise. For some time, I was also interested in Huang Binhong’s painting very much. But Huang Binhong’s keen on being profound and moistened in terms of ink. The mountainous momentum of his paintings, at a glance, looks exactly like that of an old painting. He hasn’t any composition, and he doesn’t care either. Apart from that, I was influenced greatly by Pan Tianshou as well. When he painted, he’s keen on seeking balance in surprise. Generally artists are after surprise in balance. He’s on the reverse, seeking balance in surprise, so there’s greater possibility of creating surprise in his painting. In terms of composition, when I paint, I try to set up possibilities for me to create challenge and surprise. How am I to put this? That’s to say, my painting goes against the normal composition. After painting, I’d slowly restrain it , to find something related to gradually wrap it up for a relatively normal look. The concept goes throughout the course of painting. When I paint, in fact, sometimes I painted a grove of trees, in the middle of a painting, I just finished the trees first, and then the rocks below it – this way is not allowed in the beginning, elaboration, variation, and conclusion of traditional landscape composition. Because with traditional landscapes, it starts with the beginning pattern, then elaborates one layer over another, gradually pushes it towards distant mountain, leaves blank, clouds, and then elaborates some more emphatically … I sometimes reverse it around.

Chu: This may be the result of your training in the academy. When you’re in the academy, it had its own basic training system subject to modern education. And you’re familiar with western paintings as well. Just now, the few artists you referred to are all contemporary or modern masters like Huang Binhong, Fu Baoshi, and Pan Tianshou. Well the list can run on. But in fact, I feel you draw very little on them. Perhaps methodologically, yes. But in terms of processing your painting symbols, it’s all yours. It has nothing to do with them.

Chen: It’s not the same approach with copying a certain pattern. Instead, it’s somewhat via perceptive conversion.

Dai: Yes. Take Sichuan landscape artists for example. One that interested me at an initial period is called Qiongjiu Li.

Chu: From the Jiazhou school.

Dai: Before studying in the academy, I was very much into his way of painting. The kind of brush he used was bristle brush -- of course back then I was quite particular on the kind of brushes used – and his overall elaboration. But later on when I analyzed his paintings in detail, it gave me a feeling that…

Chu: It’s incomplete?

Dai: …it’s not very deep, in short of something brilliant that can lead one further into it. No. As for Fu Baoshi, his painting may not be neat enough, but it can lead one further into it. Later, I was interested in Chen Zizhuang, too. I went to study his works. When he’s after something innocent, it’s very casual, and natural. So, in terms of the offhand relaxing and natural feeling, I suppose Chen Zizhuang is better.




“The higher education influenced me mostly through western paintings.”

Chu: Well, let me drop in one more question. You’ve approached these issues, or constructed your creation mainly in the classic system of Chinese National-styled paintings so far. But the truth is, when you paint differently, or when you paint your current landscapes, what interests me is not your following the trail or learning of, or pondering over the masters of modern times, or of ancient masters in Northern and Southern Song. What interests me more is how your years of higher education have influenced you on your present structuring of your landscapes. How you solve your problems in terms of your painting, vision, or your brush and ink? When you dwelled upon brush and ink, it’s mostly the old pattern of mentoring relationship, the one central to the old educational approach of Chinese painting, because then it’s mainly like that except for the court art academy, or one might find his mentor from the model painting books. In fact, your real starting point, or your root is your few years in the university. You cannot possibly bypass it. So what concerns me most is, between your training on campus – be it your hands, brush and ink, concept or knowledge, and your current landscapes, what is the relationship between them?

Dai: I majored in the Chinese National-styled Painting. When I got in the University, it was undergoing some reform.

Chu: Its strengths lie in the National style Chinese Painting.

Dai: We had lots of teachers then. Prof. Su Baozhen taught us birds-and-flowers. He majored in painting grapes. I still remember to this day, he started teaching us to draw one grape after another, then moving on a whole basket. Another teacher of ours is Prof. Fang Fengfu. He’s alive. He also taught us painting grapes. The style and techniques they’ve inherited is Linnan School, the style and techniques of Zhang Shuqi, Gao Jianfu, and Chen Shuren. So technically, they distinguish themselves from the style of birds-and-flowers in Chengdu, Sichuan. They use lots of white powder, dipping the brush in white powder and paint. Years before enrolling at the university, I began to learn birds-and-flowers from Mr. Tianlin Qin. Later, I followed Jieyu Gao to learn western painting. So at the academy, I didn’t quite understand the teaching approach they adopted there. There’s a teacher of figures, Prof. Xie LiangPing -- it’s a shame he passed away -- a great teacher in figures. He influenced me more. He’s quite keen on traditions; meanwhile in terms of creation, he’s relatively free. When we studied at the academy, the subjects we covered were numerous, like birds-and-flowers and so on. Anyway, it had to be done following their requirements. When I first got in there, I began from a better position, so it’s quite easy to get by their requirements. Meanwhile, the greatest academic impact came from an American teacher, Ms. Naihan Guan, of design. Now at Southwest Normal University, the teachers recalled the American teacher from Minnesota. Her course made me very much interested in design, because I felt what she taught me about lines, dots and plane, and their composition, could all be applied to my Chinese painting. Chen Luojia, another teacher of Southwest Normal University also influenced me considerably. She seemed to have passed away, too. She taught us Western Art History. Then I became especially interested in Western Art History, and got to know about a lot of schools of painting. At that time, it was oil painting that I wanted to know more about, for example, the sort of paintings like Modigliani’s. I spent little time on learning Chinese painting, as it’s easy for me to get by their way of teaching. When the homework was due, I’d hand in my homework. During the four years at the University, firstly, it’s the American teacher. And Chen Luojia as well and her Western Art History. These gave me great enlightenment, made me see a lot of paintings, and I started reorganization. Anyhow what I wanted was: to paint differently from them. At that time, some teachers at the academy found me a rebel: why don’t you just follow what you’ve been taught? Starting from this, I went to learn about water colour. The director of the Department was Dingyu Hu. He taught Water Colour, and was especially fond of me. So I learned a lot about water clour from him, and painted landscapes. Therefore, the greatest impact from my academy didn’t come from traditional Chinese Paintings. Instead, it came from western paintings and western fine arts. They have exerted great influence on the composition of my later landscapes. In the national style Chinese painting, for example copying course, either Fu Baoshi’s painting, or Xu Beihong’s would be hung up respectively for everybody to copy. No one delivered lectures systematically. All of us had to try and figure it out after class. That puzzled me greatly even then: why, with western art, lectures can be given systematically, while, with Chinese paintings, there’s no system? With Chinese painting, the pattern went like Prof. Su taught in his way, while Prof. Guo did in his. No system whatsoever. Then there’s also a teacher named Lei Jiutai, teaching landscapes. He only painted in his style. If your copy bore any likeliness, you’d get high marks. That’s it.

Chu: As a matter of fact, the academy turned out to be after the apprentice model.

Dai: True. With Chinese painting, it’s like this. With western painting, it’s different. Those who befriended me, including Gong HE, and Yidan MA, they majored in western art. They’re less rigid and we could have a lot to discuss. Then there was a postgraduate called Ben Li, he painted figure, too. We often gathered together to discuss over issues, and their thoughts were not rigid. With my Chinese painting teachers, I truly had nothing at all to share. After graduation from the academy, I went to teach at a school. I also taught the World Art History at Chengdu University. I was too much into it. When I taught at the school, I also painted my own works, and my thoughts were about making my painting different from others’, different from what I often saw, and different from my teachers’. Anyway it’s the most primary status. I just wanted to paint unconventionally. When I was at the school, just like what I said earlier, take trees for example, I just treated trees as landscapes. I made trees extremely big, and drew some small houses below it,in a very primary way. That’s what I’ve been doing.




We shouldn’t stand still and refuse to make progress.

Chen: I’d resume your earlier topic. Upon seeing your landscapes, my perceptual intuition is that firstly you’ve amplified elements like stones, and woods; secondly, in terms of composition, there’s a rediscovery of close and medium view instead of the traditional panoramic composition dictated by “the Floating Perspectives” as was mentioned earlier. Thus I feel that, when you said “paint differently,” you had assumed two potential objects in contrast. One is rather direct and, by perceptual intuition,concerns traditional Chinese landscapes. Sure, I suppose the so-called tradition can be further divided to pinpoint to a relatively accurate time coordinate and reference object. The other different reference object, as I view it, is the school of what we refer to as the experimental brush and ink. They try to stride far ahead towards the abstract discourse in contrast with the west. Perhaps you’re searching the possibility of a third path, which neither retrogress to the traditional Chinese paintings, nor to emphasize westwardly the pure abstraction of brush and ink?

Dai: After years of observation, I gained an intuition. I don’t know whether it’s right or wrong. Seemingly, we’ve been having changes in form but not in content. Without exceptions, all landscapes have come from that few schools. For example, Rui LONG is after Huang Binhong.

Chen: So Western art historians represented by Max Loehr held that Later Chinese Paintings have been developing more or less in a self-closed loop. All the innovations by representative masters have been conducted under the banner of archaism. All along they’d follow the masters of previous generation in retrospect, to arouse a painting style long ago. In such a cycle, it ends rather than develops a coherent history of style. Surely, the saying is contentious, too.

Dai: Take Guanzhong WU’s for example. In his Chinese paintings, he had grafted more from western skills. He abandoned lots of techniques that were thoroughly and traditionally Chinese. He adopted more of western ones. The scenes in his sketch works are at ease, and very free. However, strictly speaking, the substantial constitution of his landscapes, the one that is more for Chinese to appreciate…

Chu: …is solved by him with lines.

Dai: Right, … more solved with lines. In the past, the experimental ink and wash has undertaken a lot of work. They want nothing more than start something new, to find the most stimulating point. Ultimately, painting is all about visual art. After you hang it up, can it produce any visual stimulation? To focus on a point, to study the dealing with each every detail -- this is far too time-consuming. Guosong LIU from Hong Kong once toured to our university to deliver lectures. He found it very strenuous to paint landscapes. No way. Eventually, he figured out an approach through somewhat inscription rubbing.

Chu: Change of productive approach.

Dai: I saw his picture later. In a pool the size of a room, he poured in colors first, then grabbed a sheet of paper, thick one at that, specially processed, and dumped it in. Then he lifted it up, and brushed here and there, a stroke or two at his convenience. There it went his landscape.

Chen: That’s why I’m unwilling to refer your works to the traditional, very abstract, and so-called pen and ink for the purpose of discussion. I tend to regard it as pointing towards brushwork as it isn’t limited to the traditional wrinkle method. Various kinds of wrinkle methods, when it comes down to later times, they themselves have turned into some abstract and symbolic stuff. On each kind of wrinkle method, we seem to be able to trace their inherited relation, forming a meaningful yet abstract chain in painting history. In your studio, I found your painting tools, paper and materials are chosen all for the purpose of showing the texture of rocks, and the feel. This makes it hard to be taken into what we traditionally refer to as pen and ink – into the solid yet virtual concept of pen and ink, numerous stuff has been added – therefore I’d rather use a more neutral way of putting it as “brushwork”. It tends more to demonstrate some texture. From this point, its path is closer to that of Song paintings in which visual truth is demanded. But the path taken by Song paintings was not favored by the literati paintings after Yuan. It led to another direction. Hence the node is rather important. Having located the node, upon looking at your works, we are likely to find another possibility for landscapes. That reflection is inspiring and perceptually intuitive to me, technically.

Dai: Yes, I’m more with brushwork,because in the past, lots of discussions on pen and ink held that Chinese painting emphasizes lines, pen and ink, and wrinkle method. It results in many landscape artists, however they paint, they aren’t able to break away from their cognition of wrinkle method. Take Fu Baoshi for example. He created a wrinkle method. Actually wrinkle method, in his understanding, is to bring forward the feelings and texture of mountains, and mountains in rain, under the sun, in mist, etc. As long as it does the job, that’s it. There’s no need to label it with certain traditional type of wrinkle method. Now many artists would apply certain sorts of wrinkle methods, such as axe-cutting wrinkle method or something. You’d instantly figure out from whom they’re originated. Finally, it would end in monotony. Wrinkle methods restrain them. No matter how they paint, it’s shading cloud, and painting water after the wrinkling. However smart these skills might be, looking at many paintings resembles looking at one. Take a look at western paintings, their understanding of strokes, brushwork, especially Monet, including Van Gogh, and Gauguin of post impressionism… the compositive relation by strokes in their works, why can’t we borrow from them? If we can give expression to something in the simplest way, why do we still have to paint a rock following a fixed pattern like brushing from three angles and applying wrinkle methods? And then coat it with moss dots? So I try what I can to avoid such stuff.

Chen: So I see you mostly use brushes and other tools unconventional to traditional painting. In your painting, we can’t see which type of wrinkle method it is. Nor does it have many lines. Mostly plane and structures.

Dai: Meanwhile, I’m fonder of the atmosphere in Song Paintings. Its overall atmosphere is put particularly well under control, especially that kind of disposition. The quality of painting is dealt with extremely well. Besides, in terms of composition, like in Fan Kuan’s Travelers amid Mountains and Streams, it’s (the mountains were) arranged in the middle, very risky way of handling it. Take Guo Xi’s Early Spring for example. You can almost walk into it. When it comes to the time of Ma Yuan, and Xia Gui, they displaced the center of mountain gravity all to the side, to pull it open.

Chu: Ma-in-the-corner, while Xia-to-one-side.

Dai: These all concern composition. But the most brilliant part is really the texture of the painting. There’s something both gentle and unsmooth. This is rarely seen in a lot of landscape paintings. In many of today’s landscapes, roughness is absent where you’d expect it, while meekness isn’t where you’re supposed to see it. However, many western paintings just have them. Many of Monet’s strokes are very smooth and gentle, while some hard. This correlates with many aspects of Song Dynasty, and that is the very reason why I particularly take to Song Paintings. Upon painting rocks and trees, I throw more light on the textural contrast between rocks and trees, to make the contrast of smoothness and roughness shown on the paper.

Chen: It appears that you’re after one kind of difference. Can I interpret it this way? As for experimental ink painting, perhaps it aims more at a concept-oriented innovation, to see if it can present a different vision; whereas you hope more to solve the issue of difference with techniques and compositions, on a level more traditional and handcrafted.

Dai: Not really. I suppose it concerns more of people’s thoughts. Some traditional Chinese painting artists are unwilling to deal with western artists.

Chu: Why?

Dai: They probably thought western art was nothing but resemblance. So they think.

Chu:That’s exactly the view of literati painting.

Chen: Su Shih discussed it then.

Dai: “When paintings are concerned, likeness only makes them childish.” He said that. But they don’t get it. What really influenced painting in the world is actually the progress in sciences. Take Monet for instance, the research of light and discovery of refraction allowed him to find all sorts of light, and it thus brought about the leap in colours. But traditional Chinese painting has remained quiet and still on ink and wash for ever and ever, with no intention to innovate. This line has been specified by our ancestors to draw like this, so we have to copy. What for? As a matter of fact, you’ve misinterpreted the ancestral meaning. Meanwhile, neither do they get the most excellent from the West. In fact, it’s about updating ideas. In terms of painting, it’s about learning from the West their cognition on light, on water, and on new ideas, instead of standing still and refusing to make any progress, or having to resort to the Jiezi Garden Model Painting Book for a solution.

Chu: Did you ever paint any literati painting?

Dai: I did. I did paint literati painting, long long ago. Lots of fun, too.

Chu: Did you ever find it not very precise?

Dai: Not really. Literati painting initially engaged my interest through Liang Kai, Mu Xi’s stuff. Their splashed immortals and persimmons struck me grand and splendid.




It comes down to a sheer painting.

Chen: In addition, I noticed you sealed your whole painting with only your name, unlike the many and long inscriptions on our traditional Chinese paintings. Did you or did you not on purpose choose to estrange your painting from the sort of form that points more to its cultural significance via combining painting with calligraphy?

Dai: Speaking of inscriptions, I once liked long and tedious inscriptions, too. Later I found it nothing but a kind of form. It’s more the result of literati painting. They make a statement when they’ve got nothing to do. Consequently, I came to dislike it. With western paintings, they just sign their names. That’s good enough. Besides, look at those inscriptions. I’m OK with some old scholars writing poems to express their thoughts on something. But for some inscription, it’s indescribably piecing together words. So unpleasant … as if traditional Chinese paintings had to be like this in order to be complete. Especially the thing they inscribed was more often diagrammatizing, in caption. I’m fed up with it. Some even exclaim. So unbearable to me.

Chu: It’s the result of blending poems, calligraphy, painting and seals after the rise of literati paintings.

Dai: Well, poems, calligraphy, painting and seals. Take seal for example, in the past, seals were not for playing and appreciation actually. They’re just imprinting symbols, like Han seals. No big deal.

Chu: A mere label.

Dai: True, a mere label. It was since Ch’ing Dynasty, represented by Wu Changshuo, and led by Xiling Society of Seal Arts that they took seals seriously. Later it has become something to judge whether one’s a good Chinese Painting artist or not. Poems, calligraphy, painting and seals become requisite; seemingly all have to carve seals. I try to carve my seals as well, but only for fun. Just imagine, within such limited space, what exactly do you want them to look at? The painting? The seal? Or your calligraphy? With any painting, however well one writes, it instantly draws the audience dashing backwards to the past.

Chu: The artists of elder generation seem to have been aware of that, like Wu Guanzhong. His paintings look quite clean. In fact, you can learn from it their educational background. Those who’ve been exposed to modern art or fine arts education at contemporary institutes are clear-minded on this. He won’t be restricted much by the old literati paintings, or the creative or visual model of poem-calligraphy-painting-and-seal. A painting is merely a painting. When paintings can illustrate well, there’s no need to borrow from calligraphy, nor from seals. At present, this trend is becoming clearer and clearer. But those non-academism continue to accept that model: if my painting isn’t so well-done, my calligraphy is. Then why don’t you focus on calligraphy? Why do you write it on the painting? This is odd. I don’t think it’s the strength of Chinese painting. Rather, a huge drawback.

Dai: It’s the same with the redware teapot. It was first produced in Ming Dynasty. On making it, at Shi Dabin’s times, there weren’t any inscriptions on the teapot. By Qing Dynasty, Chen Mansheng inscribed on his teapots. The introduction of men-of-letters made the teapot valuable together with the inscriptions. But Chen Mansheng, with his scholarly attainments, his excellent calligraphy, his love of tea and teapot, made his inscriptions on the teapot invaluable. I loathe now to inscribe on the redware teapot. Particularly, some of the writing is so ugly. The standard of defining calligraphy is lost. Poems are no more interesting. In the past, inscriptions were done according to the pattern of teapots. It goes with its style. It’s interesting to take your time to appreciate the inscriptions on it. But now, even master like Liu Haisu, inscribed on the teapot “Charm”. Including Gu Jingzhou, Wu Hufan often inscribed on his redware. But, in fact, it was Gu Jingzhou’s teapot that was well-made, instead of Wu Hufan’s inscriptions. What’s the meaning of that? None. So men-of-letters’, represented by Chen Mansheng, their intervention with redware proved to be a faulty stroke.

Chen: There’s an underlying cognition. We have to return to what we referred earlier to the transforming of Song Yuan paintings. Firstly, in terms of traditional viewpoints, calligraphy belongs to an art category above painting, as we say model calligraphy instead of model painting. So category of calligraphy is higher. What’s more, at that turning point, one of the reasons that gave rise to literati painting was to introduce the pen and ink from calligraphy into painting. Actually it was then an innovative factor.

Chu: Introducing calligraphy into painting, integrating calligraphy with painting.

Chen: The premise of their introducing calligraphy into painting was that painting had developed into a bottleneck and thus needed to be innovated on that basis. It sought for new feeling from pen and ink, and introducing some fresh element into painting. However,the present situation is exactly the reverse. Like what you said just now: I’ve written so well that I can cut across to paint a brush or two.

Chu: It has something to do with the literati’s identity in the past. Calligraphy is requisite. The literati in the past were unexceptionally good at calligraphy, a training started from their early childhood. Later after calligraphy became all on its own, it turned into an art to show off. It’s the same with poem writing. A scholar then was able to write both five-character and 7-character poem. So before seals were involved, poem, calligraphy and painting, the three independent art genres were bound to be integrated sooner or later, to be united completely in one vision. That’s a trend, and a symbol of literati’s identity. Without doubt, when seals were involved later, it could be demonstrated at one fold. You academism want to cut them apart. I found it a trend, too. Inevitably. As you don’t have that identity any longer. You neither belong to literati, nor scholar-gentlemen.

Dai: True. Calligraphy in the past was a stepping-stone to success in men’s pursuit of an official career. The high-ranking officials all wrote very well. Su Dongpo, Wang Anshi, and Ouyang Xun, they’re all excellent calligraphers, too. We’d have to admit their calligraphic attainment is excellent. But when people like them also wanted to paint, they added in their calligraphy. It turned their painting to literati painting. Strictly speaking, their painting isn’t authentic painting. In the past, they’re able to read and appreciate it that how well the writing was and why, and its exact impact on painting. They could all appreciate them. However, calligraphy has been marginalized now. Unless one starts tough training since his childhood, no one will write a note with a brush any longer. It’s uncommon already. People have lost their evaluating criteria for calligraphy.

Chu: Your present painting in fact has not much to do with calligraphy. You don’t take it into your visual creation as visual art, do you?

Dai: Under the influence of my teacher, Mr. Qin,I trained myself calligraphy, too. If I were to work on calligraphy, I might deconstruct characters, and relocate the feeling for that. But Wenda GU has done it already, and you won’t call his stuff calligraphy.

Chu: That means however brilliant your calligraphy may be, you won’t incorporate that into your painting. You also object to showing your calligraphy on a 3-D article, don’t you?

Dai: No, I won’t. It can only be superfluous instead of adding brilliance to it. If you have a very keen insight into it, you can add some simple stuff to it. But if you take it as a type of art, it’s really meaningless. I’ve seen many who excel at calligraphy. If they only write, I wouldn’t deny the excellence in their calligraphy. But if they’re to add it into their painting, the painting is outshone. They’re nothing more than three types when they added it to the painting: one is childlike, learning from Zheng Banqiao’s paving-streets-with-rocks,as if the overall structure is quasi-Li Style. Or from Su Dongpo, pave the streets with rocks, filling the painting all over. Or they write long inscriptions, or they write long plaint about themselves. These are all meaningless on the painting. Many artists, they wrote at length. If you read it closely enough, you’d find them irrelevant to the painting. I’d rather not. Instead, just a painting and sign my name. That’s normal, and then a seal of my name. Normal. It’s nothing more than a property of the work. I dislike writing a lot on the painting. Therefore, in this respect, I separate it from my painting.

Chu: If Rodin inscribed his poem on his statue works, would it work? Definitely not, even if he were a great poet.

Dai: Emperor Qianlong is awful. If it were for him, he’d make new arms for the statue of Venus, and then inscribe on them his imperial poem.

Chu: The emperor would have his inscription and seal put on the master pieces. It’s quite the same with the Chinese tourists’ traveling all around to sign their names “XX has been here”. In fact, it’s rather draffy, culturally,a showcase of monopolic power.

Chen: Now they have a new way of looking at a painting. Through computer-based techniques, it can, tracing backward in time, erase all the seals and inscriptions to return the painting its original look to see its history: how it changed initially from a sheer painting to what it is now step by step with added inscriptions and seals after each collection. That’s very interesting.

Dai: Regarding this issue, the French who helped me with my last album also asked me the same question. He particularly couldn’t understand: why did your emperor write so many words on those paintings? He couldn’t get it because that largely spoiled the painting. The collectors in western countries wouldn’t sign many names on their painting by Van Gogh. It’s beyond his understanding. I find the minimal works. The foreigners find poetic paintings especially inaccessible. They simply can’t get into it. The realm depicted by inscriptions of Tang poems and Song iambic verses, quite understandable by Chinese, is beyond the foreigners. I dislike it myself to have labels like this to annotate in my own painting.




“What matters is how you’re going to present it.”

Chen: Just now you mentioned that foreigners found our poetic landscapes especially difficult to understand. I find that when it comes to our evaluation of traditional Chinese paintings, our vocabulary is rather limited. On every occasion, it’s poetic. Then we often say “reading a painting”. Aren’t paintings visual? Reading is actually a sign involving intelligence. It asks us to make use of our background knowledge, and cultural cognition to interpret the painting, even borrowing poems and words as media. It’s not a behavior very intuitive, or purely visual. When I look at your paintings, I find, on the whole, it declines the conventional verbal with an attempt to resume the visual. Putting aside the cultural connotation the painting implies, putting aside the personal feelings added, comparatively speaking, it’s more sensible, more intuitionally visual. Just experience the painting.

Dai: Right. Inscribing a poem on the painting instantly turns it into a poetic painting. This kind of poetic painting reminds one of the kind of drills prevailing at the beginning of the Song Court Painting, such as which leg is to be lifted first when a peacock climbs high, and an ancient temple hidden in deep mountains, etc. These things have some kind of agreement with one another. In the past, we did one thing. We all discussed over the collocation of poem and painting, such as discussing how to paint “on flying down in snowy winter, the bird steals a glance”. Then we took turns to piece it: Its head had to tilt;its eyes had to stare downwards;and there had to be a pile of berries somewhere to justify the birds’ coming down in snowy winter!

Chen: Quite the deed of Song Huizong’s Court Painting Institute.

Dai: I learned from my teacher when I was young. I was naïve and always inscribed many poems. I   couldn’t write any, so I turned to books and copied from them, large chunks of them, feeling I had to put something down on a painting, a literatus painting at that. Literati’s sentiment, graceful or annual articles on display, etc. I did that sort of thing. After seeing western paintings, I found these boring. Then I stopped inscription. My teacher also asked me once: Why just these few words on such a big painting? If you take a look at Song painting, it’s exactly like this. It’s not that we can’t do it. What matters is how you’re gonna represent it. I often imagine, if it were painted by Monet, it might be incomparably splendid. Matisse said it, upon seeing Chinese paintings, he found eastern art the simplest and purest. It tells you immediately what it’s about. His later works showed something extremely simple and pure. It also took Van Gogh a long time to realize that to paint what your heart desires is far more important, instead of restricting it with some sort of framework. In my understanding, it has to be something you love most from your heart, and it has to be what you see with your own eyes. Speaking of this, now a lot of us went out sketch from life. That ended up a kind of routine. What do we paint? That’s taking out a pen, tick and draw, here and there, and then to paint traditional Chinese painting against the scene alive, to sketch, to describe. After returning home, they enlarge it from the draft without any modification. Do you call that works? There’s another pattern of learning from the Nature. After coming back from the trip, the paintings have nothing to do with the nature they’ve sketched. Then what’s the purpose of sketching from life? What’s worse, to copy from a sketch book, to paint a stilted building, or to paint a tree. In that way, sketching from life has lost its essence. If you paint something not seen with your own eyes, or felt by your heart, your painting is bound to be problematic. Especially when you do it with some symbols and tags, however hard you try and paint, it’s hardly acceptable.

Chu: Initially when westerners studied the traditional Chinese paintings, they praise Song paintings highly. As a matter of fact, Song paintings come near to western visual lineage: firstly, it’s realistic, secondly it’s panoramic, and thirdly it has composition. What’s more, it’s not for fun. When it comes down to literati painting, from Yuan, as a major turning point, to Ming and Ch’ing, literati painting dominates. After poems, calligraphy, paintings and seals converged; looking at paintings is turned into reading paintings. Surely when later western historians studied the traditional Chinese paintings, they redeemed people’s cognition of Ming and Ch’ing paintings, maintaining that the belittling of the earlier western experts on literati paintings may have come from their underestimating the value of literati paintings. Well, that can be further discussed some other time. At present, there’s another phenomenon, which is returning to Song paintings. In Song paintings, actually, a lot of modern visual aesthetics, if not contemporary, are imbedded. We’d have to resume the tradition. Literati paintings interrupted it and made paintings not visual any longer. It becomes more about reading, reflecting, collecting, playing and appreciating. So when you return to Song paintings, you may have meant to resume it. And the academism may find Song paintings more accessible, and having more in common. If someone is really determined to take the path of literati paintings, for one thing, it’d not be easy to come out; for another, it’d be hard to return to the visual, return to the painting itself. That is a problem.

Chen: James Cahill, an art historian specialized in traditional Chinese paintings, he had a very interesting viewpoint. He said, we generally assume, since the beginning of literati painting in Yuan, the integration of poems, calligraphy and paintings has empowered literati paintings with more poetic realm. Yet, from their western aesthetic perspective, he actually could not agree. First of all, the picture of the literati paintings might not be thoroughly pertinent to the so-called poem – we might have been guided verbally; after that, in terms of techniques, he held that the Song court paintings without inscriptions might be more thorough in their poetic presentation of the whole picture, as their techniques have allowed them such a height and possibility. It can thus convey various delicate and subtle feelings instead of being constrained by the verbal. Then he had a judgment that, to later period, Japanese artist, represented by Yosa Buson, the poetic quality and flavor in their painting might be more intensive than those in the literati paintings as we generally assume. Literati painting might progress to emptiness as it further developed, for it actually could not accomplish such poetic expressions via an authentically visual and technical approach. Its so-called poetic expressions relied more on the verbal, and the background knowledge we’ve accumulated instead of the techniques.

Dai: Look at the arrangement of Japanese tearoom, meditation room, or Japanese court landscape now. Interestingly, they’re all minimal. If all the elements have spoken loudly enough, why add in meaningless stuff? It just takes a sheer painting sealed with a signature. Dusted an done. I sometimes wonder if I’d sign at the back of it. It’d even be better. Just sign it. No inscription.




“Get to manual work to help experience a sense of flow.”

Chu: The men of letters in the past, when he played with stuff, and appreciated lofty articles on display, teaism, calligraphy, graceful gathering, and seal cutting, etc., he’d feel that they had formed with his painting a resonant relation, one that benefited each in return. However, your painting, with your present pipe life, redware life, and teaism life, bears very little relation. That is to say, on the one hand, you belong to literati. In your daily life, your taste is of a man of letters. On the other, nonetheless, in your paintings, you cut yourself off any connection with literati, and literati painting on purpose. This seems obscure to us.

Dai: As a matter of fact, when I play with them, I mean to experience what lies behind. Through playing with pipes, with redware, even studying them, I want to know about the how, the process, to see if there’s anything I can apply to my paintings. For example, when I make pipes, or observing how the craftsman makes redware teapot, I hope to see for myself the flow, the fluency, and the processing techniques, and how possibly they can be employed in my paintings. I rack my wits to make them converge and clash on my paintings. I enjoy manual work. In fact, through manual work like making pipes, I want to find that sense of flow and fluency. In the course of doing it, the craftsmanship may bring me the status that I need in my painting.

Chu: You just mentioned you play with pipes, teaism, redware teapot. And recently, you’re after something new – What is it called?

Chen: Mending with gold.

Chu: Oh, mending with gold. As a matter of fact, you don’t do it to cultivate your moral character or nature, do you?

Dai: No, not at all. It’s for sometimes when I feel drudging with painting, I’d go and look for that sort of feeling.

Chu: Still the status of crafting, the feelings of a crafstman.

Dai: Yes, the status of crafting. My personal experience is a painting, a good one at that, is usually done in casualness, with ease. It goes like flow, very fluent, and it’s done. After finishing it, on retrospection, I’d find, wow, the painting’s done so well. How did I do it? But when you deliberately think about how to paint beforehand, whoops, you’re so dead. My hand can be so nervous.

Chen: The feelings of hands? Relax. Deliberation makes one nervous.

Chu: Chinese painting, in its pre-cultural period, in effect it still laid stress on craftsmanship. In your painting, you’ve got this. Lately, craftsmanship is on discussion. Actually, this is not a new topic. Before Northern Song, then in Northern Song, even including some period in Southern Song, mainly in the Court painting system, people had stressed craftsmanship. However, the later literati glorified themselves, thought highly of themselves, and looked down on others, including professional painters.

Chen: True. Our cultural traditions belittle such professionalism. You see, when we say something is not so well-done, we say “craftsmanish”. While in Japan, the tradition of craftsmanship is well kept.

Dai: In Japan, there’s a musician good at Chiba (Japanese flute). He even makes the flute himself. He buys bamboo to cut it. Later he’s so much into it that he gives them away to each student who comes to learn flute from him. He said, I make it as I’m interested in it. Besides, through this, I make the flute, I blow it, and send it to my students, and the students blow it. What’s the difference? He sets out on locating such a relation. Like Qi Baishi. He started out as a carpenter, and his painting is very precise.

Chu: His insects are so fine. In early years, he’s known as “Beauty Qi” as he paints elaborately fine brushwork.

Dai: Actually, his beautiful masterpieces are extremely delicate and accurate. If it were not for craftsmanship, it’s impossible.

Chen: It concerns his original identity.

Dai: No carpenters dare to risk accuracy. He definitely harnessed it. And his comparison, is largely related to his mentality as a carpenter, and his handicraft. Many artists miss the link, taking it for granted that one can excel oneself in the area of painting, and be a moron in all the other. The truth is not necessarily the case. Even Su Dongpo stewed meat. I personally think more exposure to all walks of life would help. You’d have to know a lot. Although they may look irrelevant, they may hold something that can light you up with inspiration.

Chu: A couple of years back, I met two artists. They play, too. But their play may differ from your way of craftsman-like play. They play it more like a game. They’re for nourishing their temperament. In effect, it’s all a myth of literati painting, while literati painting that of official scholastic culture, a derivation. If it were not for their official scholastic class and identity, literati painting could not possibly spring up. But now you’re looking back, to return to craftsmanship, to return to a status of crafting. It means to return to Northern Song, to return to the court painting system. Actually it’s the very point you mean to overturn.

Dai: On really getting to painting, I had an order for myself: don’t touch any of them. So in my studio, there’s a division. In my tearoom, and only in that room, I can play with stuff. In the painting section, nothing of the sort is there. Not allowed to play with anything. There’s only one chair. No play. I’m keeping these playthings out of my reach to guarantee the status of painting for me. After the painting’s done, I can then rest my fingers on them.

Chu: That is almost the relation between Qi(energy) and Tao(the way of Nature). Qi is Qi, while Tao is Tao. For literati paintings, it emphasizes getting across from Qi to Tao.

Dai: Also, speaking of nourishing nature, and cultivating temperament, I find tea drinking is only about drinking water. When I paint, I just take a cup for some water. As to appreciating it, or cultivating it, or calming down in the morning by a cup of tea, I don’t feel it that way. Anyway, as soon as I get to the studio, the first thing I do is take a cup of tea in hand, and sit there in daze.

Chen: Without putting on airs. Without attaching any cultural significance to the behaviour. Anyhow, it’s just the behaviour itself.

Chu: Each acts in its own way.

Dai: In my understanding, painting is painting. As for other stuff, they can be one way of playing, and in the course of playing, we can experience something. But I won’t be hooked by it. Take pipes for instance, I can leave it aside after playing with it for a couple of days. In making pipes, I don’t necessarily copy the traditional style. I’d turn


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