LECTURE & DEMO: Arnold Chang – September 29, 2019


thank you for coming I’m how is that too
loud I’m delighted to see such a good turnout this afternoon especially when
the weather has gone so on us but here we are for the 20th year of the Mildred
Schnitzer lectures in Asian art and I want to give a shout out of thanks to
Mildred’s daughters two of them are with us this afternoon Dori and Susan would
you be kind enough to stand up and be recognized by the audience Mildred three daughters and quite a few
members of the Asian Art Council who were dear friends of Mildred Schnitzer
contributed to establish this fund in 1975 and people have continued to
contribute so this is the oldest funded lecture series at the Art Museum and it
has been a wonderful way for us to bring in esteemed scholars and curators from
all over the country and here on our sort of 20th anniversary it’s only the
second time that we’re bringing in an internationally renowned artist I am so
thrilled and honored to introduce today’s speaker whose disappeared Arnold
where are you somewhere over there Arnold okay whose career I have followed
with great interest for a long time we’ve often been in the same place but
at different times we have many shared friends and in the
times that I have known about him my knowledge of him has evolved from being
a very astute connoisseur of Chinese painting who established the Chinese
painting program at Sotheby’s in New York at a time when there really wasn’t
a market for Chinese painting in North America he was with Sotheby’s for 15
years and then he moved to Chi code which is a private gallery if you’ve
come to New York with me for Asia week you have visited them Keiko doe is I
think quite distinctive in New York for being founded by scholars and so
Arnold’s was with them for 10 years and that’s when I sort of really began to
learn how about but now he has transmogrified into being a full-time
very successful and greatly admired artist let’s see what else did I want to
say hmm oh yes okay you have other information about him in your handouts
and he will tell you more about his life and his he had a very unusual journey to
become a painter crossing paths with the unquestionable luminaries of both
scholarship and painting in this country and now I have an updated list of where
the museums that have his paintings the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
the British Museum the Phoenix Art Museum the Asian Art Museum of San
Francisco LA County Museum Chicago Art Institute and at universities Harvard
Princeton Yale Cornell and UC Berkeley and I hope that you will help me add our
name to that list so Arnold Chang thank you
I’m like okay I’m a my mic can you hear me oh that’s great all right so where’s
my clicker spoiler alert the title of my talk is does the past have a future in
traditional Chinese baby the answer is yes
so this is me I grew up in New York City so that’s me at the age of 10 the tough
guy as most New Yorkers are and it was a year before 1963 that I saw my first
exhibition of Chinese paintings we grew up in New York as I mentioned my father
and mother both came from China my mother was half Scottish and half
Chinese we lived in New York with my Scottish grandmother
so English was our first language and we lived a very kind of what I guess the
hope the point of that generation of immigrants was for us to assimilate so I
wasn’t really steeped in Chinese traditions and culture from a young age
but then I went to this exhibition and of all places of Herschel Adler
galleries in New York City and I saw this work by this man named John yet
here’s a photo of him he’s he’s probably the most famous 20th one of the most
famous 20th century Chinese artists and he lived in South America as well as in
Carmel California and so if you want to learn one
important Chinese artist named for the 20th century that’s one of the ones you
you must know he’s also one of the most popular in terms of the marketplace and
for at least a couple of years the total sales of his work at auction exceeded
Picasso so he’s somebody everybody knows Picasso everybody in China knows Picasso
but nobody not that many people of course you know because you’re in
Friends of Asian art but most people don’t know John
anyway it made such an impact on me that it really changed the course of my
entire life John Bachchan was a remarkable painter
he worked in lots of different styles he could do fine line figures he could do
splashed color landscapes he could do lotus flowers huge lotus flowers with
with broad brushstrokes and as a young 10 year old or nine year old it just
totally blew my circuits because I’d never seen anything quite like it so
this is me in high school as you can see I went to the Bronx High School of
Science so in New York there are specialized high schools that you have
to take a test for so I took the test for for both broad science and for music
and art high school and I made the choice to the sensible choice to go to
Bronx Science because it was it was higher academic you know credentials
were higher and it seemed to be the better place to go but once I got there
well you can see it it wasn’t quite me if you know what I’m saying now had a Oh
most of my friends went to music and art and most of them in fact were musicians
but I decided to go to Bronx Science and do the right thing and hated every
minute of it so well while my my classmates were taking a Astro
geophysics and all this these great electives I was trying to do art and
creative writing and stuff like that anyway while I was in high school I
continued a little bit of my interest in Chinese painting and my father when he
was back in China had actually been a photographer as a young person had had
had taken very good photos and even won some prizes according to what my mom
told me and this is a painting that I did that is based it’s a kind of a copy
of one of my father’s photographs in fact it was the only one that my mother
still had and you know it got the feeling of a
Chinese painting it’s not really a Chinese painting in the sense that it’s
on watercolor it’s with watercolor black and gray watercolors on on watercolor
paper but that was my first attempt at doing something that sort of look like a
Chinese painting because it was based on a photo taken in China and at that point
I asked my father if he could find me a teacher because I was interested in
learning more seriously about Chinese painting the man he found was this guy
named Wang Zhi un he happened to have a studio a little a called at the school
of Chinese brushwork which was actually an apartment which which as fate would
have it was was across the street from our apartment on East 72nd Street so I
went there to learn Chinese painting from him now I didn’t know who he was
you have to bear in mind also that I didn’t speak a word of Chinese growing
up we all spoke English in the household my parents spoke Shanghai dialect with
each other and they both spoke Mandarin but as kids we never learned it and his
English was pretty poor but it turns out I learned this later that back in the
day he had in when he was in China he as a young man he was considered really
forward-looking really avant-garde because he was doing Western art so he
was learning from European and you know Matisse and all these kind of things and
so in in China back when in the 30s and early 40s he was considered like you
know ahead of his time so he emigrated to the United States in in the early 40s
and found out when he got here that what he was doing here was not particularly
popular and he couldn’t really find a niche because he wasn’t all that special
once he got to New York and so he went back to ink painting now he even had
organized an exhibition of modern Chinese paintings in the Metropolitan
Museum of Art in 1943 which nobody nobody knows about and included quite a
few of his own so at one point you know he was pretty
well known but what his whole approach was he was trying to develop a hybrid
style that that used Chinese materials brush and ink but it’s sort of
modernizing it in terms of subject matter in terms of approach so he did
like like a you know a scene of I guess that’s an East River or some new york’s
river scene and he did these kind of apples in the sort of say sign s met
matter you know mode but with traditional Chinese brush and ink and so
that was his approach and I think the approach of a lot of artists of that
generation of trying to modernize what they considered to be a tradition that
was sort of in the in the decline now because my father introduced me to him
he he was a friend of my of Jiang Chen that first artist like I saw I showed
you so so my father thought that this guy will be good and because I have you
know Chinese heritage he decided that it was it was important that I had to do
Chinese calligraphy before I could do Chinese painting so the writing comes
first now that didn’t necessarily take into the account that I didn’t know any
Chinese but I dutifully and I had no idea what this meant I thought okay
we’ll you know he’s had me copying characters so I copied some carries for
will do this for a week or two and then with you know all the other students
were sitting around using brush and ink and and doing you know still lives which
was also kind of weird and looking back and was sort of a weird approach it was
it was doing still lifes but using Chinese materials which which is not you
know which again is a kind of hybrid approach but anyway so he had me doing
these Chinese characters and I was copying them copying goodbye didn’t know
really what I was writing so I went to probably one of the few people who
learned to write before I could either speak or read but the thing about it was
I got into it because I really enjoy the feeling of brush and interacting
with white paper and and I just you know got into it and this was a few years
later but I used to I used to practice for hours at a time and so I figured you
know if I’m gonna do this I should sort of learn Chinese so that’s what I do
that’s what I did I went to the University of Colorado in Boulder
because it was pretty and and I started as a studio art major but those were the
days when the way they taught art was was you know you just have to be
creative do your own thing original and all this nobody taught you
how to draw and nobody taught you how to paint and then they would have us do
these projects and and I would love the idea of going to the studio late at
night and listening to music and doing my doing my my artwork but and but then
they would you know there were basically no guidance from the instructors at all
then they would have a critique and they would just tear you apart rip you to
shreds I’m completely subjective for completely
subjective reasons I sort of couldn’t couldn’t understand I didn’t really
learn too much from from from that experience so I switched to Asian
Studies and Lert started to learn more about Chinese art Chinese culture
history it’s not knowing what I was getting into in that in that manner also
because it’s not so easy so these are some of my turn the first attempt
earlier timpz and i realized that it’s sort of taking my approach of that
teacher Wong gon who is kind of hybridizing who sort of using Chinese
techniques and Chinese materials in you know sort of pseudo Chinese way so that
that’s where I started I began to realize that I really was hoping for
something a little bit more authentic although I didn’t quite know what that
meant and I’m telling you all this background because it’s important to see
where I finally ended up that I started with somebody whose idea was to combine
East and West that are very what turns out to be fairly superficial
way and not really getting getting to the core of what makes Chinese art
Chinese and what makes Western art Western or modern or whatever so that’s
why I started then I went to Taiwan for my junior year where I studied Chinese
intensively and I studied with this man and boy and Chao who’s not famous I
don’t even have a good photo with a very nice man so I was there just I lived in
Taiwan just for one year doing doing uh you know my junior year and they’re
doing lots of Chinese language training and also painting and he painted like
this his his work is very very I’ll use the word traditional very very Orthodox
he was unlike long gu and my first teacher Choi Eun cha what he really
thought you had to do things the old fashioned let’s say he was old fashioned
you had to do it this way landscapes had to be this this way and it was also good
training but I also felt like at the end of the day he you know he wasn’t doing
anything particularly creative but I I respected what he was doing in relation
to the tradition when I first started studying with him he asked us to you
know he would paint a tree or rock simple landscaping or ask us to copy it
you know that give us homework copied the tree so as a westerner my approach
was oh I did watch them see how I did a tree then I would go home and I’d print
a whole bunch of different trees and I would come back the next time and he was
very disappointed because that’s not what you’re supposed to do you’re
supposed to copy what he did and okay so I learned that gradually and so I you
know these are some of the early copies of he would he would give us the works
to to copy you know he had a hold stacks of different subjects and things and and
so I would dutifully copy what he had done and that was that was a very useful
process and and use the you know traditional materials now just a word
tradition the handing down of statements police legend customs information etc
the key here is from generation to generation or number number four
continuing pattern of of culture beliefs or practices so nowadays when people
hear the word tradition they think it means past and in some uses it I guess
that’s that’s acceptable but for me the idea of tradition is something that’s
ongoing so you know tradition exists in the past
and the present and it it anticipates the future so we have our religious
traditions we have our family traditions you know people come come for Easter
come for Christmas whatever it is and you hope that that will be handed down
from generation to generation that’s sort of the whole point of it and that’s
my attitude about traditional Chinese painting and it’s it’s quite
extraordinary that of all the great art traditions in the world Chinese painting
in a way is one of the most clear clearly unbroken tradition for at least
2,000 years and so when when I hear a lot of people when they’re talking about
art Chinese art to say well it’s either traditional or it’s modern or it’s
contemporary cutting you know so they think of contemporary something
cutting-edge right now and traditional is something that happened before but
what what happens when you’re an artist living today a contemporary artist who
is embracing the traditions that you have inherited it’s it puts you in a
little bit of a different position and you know is it possible to be a
tradition be both a traditional artist and a contemporary artist and the answer
of course is yes but it’s not easy how do we do that so as one fond who was the
great professor back back east in Princeton and he was also the curator at
the Metropolitan Statistical pattern seen by Chinese artists was not one of
Prague in which the new replace the old it was
rather an enduring effort on the part of succeeding generations of artists to
gain or restore life and truth to art ancient masters were perceived in a non
historical continuum in which later masters in the chiefing self-realization
through inner responses to both nature and art emerge as their equals rather
than as mere followers they too became become ancestors so the idea here is
this idea of a non historical continuum or it say you know what a trans
historical continuum where where what you as you’d learned what you try to do
is you you absorb what you can of what came before and then you find your own
lineage within the great tradition of Chinese art now of course Chinese
painting is not one singular tradition they’re all there are all kinds of
traditions of Chinese painting there’s Buddhist art there’s there’s you know
folk folk traditions of painting but but the one that gets the most attention and
the one that I’m most interested is something that generally referred to and
we refer to as the literati or literati tradition or winner in tradition which
got its start in the late some dynasty 12th century and really reaches his peak
in the dynasty 14th century so this is Professor James Cahill who some of you
probably knew I know some of you knew and I was going to make a lame attempt
to describe when Fong and KL as the as the equivalent of well it won’t work for
this audience I was going to say Tupac and and the
notorious b.i.g but anyway they’d like to argue a month you know between each
other about different different paintings and about different ideas but
Jim Cahill among mothers was one of the first American scholars to really
grapple with the idea of this literati tradition and I said I’ve written just a
couple of lines about how he explained the difference between so-called
literati painting especially as it as it appears in the 13th 14th century and
what came before so he’s saying the quality of of expression in the picture
is principally determined by the personal qualities of the man who
creates it and the circumstances under which he creates it and secondly the
expressive content of a picture may be partially or wholly independent of its
represent representational content in other words something more a so that the
art is something closer to what we think of a self-expression but using landscape
in particular as a vehicle to express one’s inner feelings rather than
landscape as a picture of a scene or a realistic depiction of an actual place so he points to the 13th late 13th
century into the 14th century as it’s pivotal time and one of the great
artists scholar artists of that period is this man named John moon fool and
this kind of painting a few if you’d know about some dynasty painting it this
is quite quite a difference if you look at the one on the top it’s it’s really
not clearly not photographic he this he the artist has combined two separate
mountains that actually are not anywhere near each other you couldn’t actually
see this vision at all because they’re separated by miles and miles but
he’s reduced it to a kind of semi-abstract almost primitive is image
where the trees and the rocks you know that the the idea of scale and
proportion and just the overall treatment of all the of all the details
are or have a kind of primitive natural quality and that’s what he was going for
now this is 14th century so this is this is not because they didn’t know how to
paint this was a conscious decision to be doing something beyond you know
pictorial representation so that each line and it has a expressive quality in
and of itself in addition to describing a particular form and the lower one you
can see is very simple it’s so it’s a small hands girl but it’s it’s got
almost no details but if you see it in person it just is so amazing so the
painted the content of the painting the meaning of the painting is this sort of
bland not none you know it doesn’t call attention to itself it’s very
internalized it’s it’s a very personal approach to art and personal vision of
nature and this is this is what we call the literati tradition and this was the
lineage that I personally became drawn to so here’s another one of these great
un dynasty paintings by one of the so called foreign masters Wang bong and you
can see the detail in there right well if you look at the overall compositions
clearly this is a is not again not a photo of a particular place it’s built
up it’s a little you can tell that it’s a landscape there are trees these are
rock forms but the rock forms are are not really based on something that is in
front of him it’s it’s so it’s it’s kind of coming up with a way to use the
drawing itself to reconstruct a world where rocks and tree
and waterfalls exist so then the next way the question is so each generation
tries to absorb what came before in whatever way they can and and that that
you know that starts by copying works from earlier painters but eventually if
you’re lucky and if you have the skill and if you have the talent you try to
develop your own your own take on the tradition and one of the ways that
artists develop is is to do works that are in the imitation of a previous match
master so the painting on the left is the 14th century you’re in dynasty
painting by John Bull called King bian mountains and another great artists of
the 17th century named Don Cheech Chong does his version of this same theme
which is now in the Cleveland Museum of Art one of their great masterpieces and
so you can see it’s not a direct copy but it’s what he’s trying to do is
capture the essence of the earlier artist style and then somehow put his
own imprint on it and and so this is one way that the tradition continues and
this this this one Chinese word farm is means creative imitation in other words
it’s not just copying a lot of people think that you know the Chinese
paintings go on and on they just keep copying each other but in order for it
in order for the artists to actually become an important artist you have to
go beyond just copying and get to a point where you’re reinterpreting or
you’re adding something to the original model and that’s called Fong and this is
a concept that Cahill was very good in articulating even in English so so I was
very fortunate to study with James Cahill who was one of the great art
historians and one of the the real pioneers of Chinese painting studies in
America and here you can see some details so
it’s really clearly not a drawing of an actual place but it’s it’s capturing the
essence of landscape forms and an energy Qi and and you know just the interaction
of trees and rocks and it just becomes a very organic kind of an approach where
the most important thing is the quality of the drawing itself the the quality of
the lines and washes and the dots through Cahill I met this man named Cece
Wong who some of you may have heard of also his name was actually one ji Chen
but we everybody knew him as Cece Wong and he was one of the great collectors
connoisseurs and artists who lived in New York
so I was back I was in Berkeley studying with James Cahill and was introduced to
Mr Wong and we all knew him because a lot of the works that we had studied in
the books said you know collection of Cece Wong or formerly collection of Cece
Wong and every that’s how we knew him mostly and even today he’s more
well-known as a collector and a connoisseur than he is as a painter and
I think his painting is really underrated because or I should say he’s
overshadowed by the other work that he did
as a collector scholar I would say dealer but he didn’t like to be called a
dealer but I I think there’s nothing wrong with being a dealer
so I met Cece Wong and he was offering two classes in San Francisco so I took
his classes now of course if you you’ve all had art history classes and then
what Cahill is very good at taking the image like I just showed you and showing
details and explained in the composition and and analysing the style stylistic
analysis so and so forth tying it in with the biography of the artist and and
really giving us a strong background in how to look at a Chinese baby how to
place it within historical context and all that and I’m very
for that I studied with him for only two years got a master’s degree and then I
was going to go into the ph.d program but then I met CC Wong and I thought oh
this guy really knows something I took these two classes and I thought I’d go
back to New York for a while and then come back and get my PhD well I never
never came back but CC Wong gave a class and he also
showed slides but these are the these literally were CC Wong’s likes he only
showed details he never showed though the whole the whole image because what
really interests him is the drawing itself I mean he would hope sorry he
would lost them he would like talk about look look how beautiful this line is
look at the quality of the drawing look he didn’t even talk about the
composition or the space of course he could see it but he was just more
interested in in the textures and the way that the the line was was drawn and
how beautiful and I lost my pointer but anyway so that that was a very different
approach and as I said I ended up studying assisi Wong for like 25 years
until he died never made it back to KL so the thing about CC why I mentioned
when I was studying in in Taiwan with Roy Yun Chao that he would do pay he
would do two simple paintings for us to copy and that’s sort of the standard way
that everybody learns – and he’s painting the thing about Cece Wong is
that he was a great collector and he you know most Chinese painting teachers they
say well this is how you do it you paint like you know this is how I do it tree
this is how I do a rock you copy it you learn my style
see see won’t says no don’t learn my style don’t learn don’t copy my work
learn from their old masters directly and he had works by the old masters
he had paintings for the Sonja and Ming and Qing all of the big name artists and
I would go to his house from warning tonight
and the first thing he’d asked me is John home you know aren’t that’s my
Chinese like what would you like to pay today and he you know have a stack of
girls and it was like a kid in a candy shop
it’s like I one day I would paint hangings girls larger pieces one day I
would paint hands girls or album leaves so you know and I could pick whatever I
wanted it was just extraordinary and you know he would go about his business
selling his real estate and stocks and stuff and then he would come over every
now and then make a few comments sometimes add a few lines so the
painting on the right is a is back back to this boom teach on guy 1555 1636 it’s
it’s one leaf from a remarkable album that was in CC wants a collection at the
time and I got to copy the whole thing he then later sold it to the
nelson-atkins gallery in Kansas City it’s one of their great treasures but I
got to copy it before before it left his handsome to cop my copy on the left is a
close copy so here I’m not doing I’m not doing the creative imitation the farm
I’m doing an actual closed copy but I’m did it’s it was a you know straight off
copy I didn’t do I just you know copied applying for line and pretty good so but
through this process because I was copying don’t chew chunks works in the
style of the old masters not only was i learning film G John’s brush work but I
was also getting a sense of how he was interpreting what came before so I
learned you know very tactile eat this idea of farm creative imitation and what
it meant so here’s a couple of I’m just gonna go through a couple this this is a
painting on the right is a landscape by Baba Sharon one of the famous painters
you probably know him from his birds and fish and things he also late in his life
he did landscape so that’s a great polished and landscape by Josh Stein and
Lansky that was in the cc1 collection on the
left is a cc Wang painting that in some ways relates compositionally to it and
this is this is a a you know late 20th century version of Fong creative
imitation that embraces the tradition fully understands it and then restates
it in a new way here’s another one this is another great album leave on the
right by this 17th century painter sure Tao and ACC Wang painting that is
clearly inspired by this kind of painting that he owned and it’s not a
direct copy he wasn’t looking at that painting when he did it he was he was
just kind of remembering in his mind’s eye that the technique and the brushwork
and the sensibility of the shirttail painting and reinterpreting it into his
own vocabulary so now I’m just going to show you a few of my works on the left
that are in some way relate to I think some early masters it doesn’t matter who
but the one on the right is the 14th century painter named needs an and my
interpretation is a little different I like one of the few needs and imitations
that doesn’t have the little house because I found that superfluous so this
an upper upper left is a great detail of a great dynasty artists font Oni that’s
in the Metropolitan Museum and a painting that I did that has something
of that flavor so it doesn’t mean that even when I did this painting I was
necessarily even thinking of that particular painting or that particular
artist but this is the way you know you do you by copying the older masters and
looking and looking and looking and learning it you it becomes part of you
and then when whatever you paint it will have echoes and so it’s after the fact
that I put these these pairs together this is one guarantee on the left and
and here I have a closer relationship I think in terms of style because I I
really like long in Chi as a painter he said another 8 year
early 18th century painter the one on the right and the Princeton University
Art Museum on the left is a 16th century painter named will bin so it’s not as I
say it’s not a direct one-to-one correlation but but I mean we you know
you have copies like that as well but what we’re really trying to do is absorb
the met the models and kind of get the essence of it and restate it in in your
own way and whether that consciously contemporary or not is really not that
important because as a contemporary person no matter what you do it’s going
to be contemporary it just depends how the audience receives it whether they
think it’s just traditional or whether they understand what’s new about I mean
being contemporary is I think you could also say you’re just trying to find your
own personal interpretation within this long tradition and they’re not just run
by a couple of works now none of these are based on anything in particular so
it’s it’s it’s like an amalgam of looking at hundreds and hundreds of
Chinese paintings and copying lots of them and coming up with things that
resonate with past traditions now 2008 or actually 2010 to 2011 there was an
exhibition the music Museum of Fine Arts in Boston called fresh ink and I was
invited as one of 10 artists to participate in this show and I was the
only American born artist that was invited and the idea was that we would
take we would find a painting or an artwork then the permanent collection of
the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and do a new take on on that work and they
assumed that we would all pick some Song Dynasty painting and then do it do a
riff under said but artists being artists we all had different ideas now I
picked Jackson Pollock not because I’m a great fan of Jackson Pollock
because I’d looked through and saw that the MFA only has to Jackson Pollock
paintings one is an early vertical work and the other one is this horizontal
piece which as soon as I saw it reminded me of the hand scrub so I thought that
this was it would be a good piece for me to choose to have a dialogue with and I
thought it was valid since I’m an American that I had the right to choose
an American artist and turned it into you know and and and relate to it in a
different way now one thing I didn’t want to do was do a an inky dripping I
wanted it to be an actual Chinese painting that somehow had a similar kind
of energy and and I thought about Jackson Pollock you know he worked well
in the studio with what the canvas on the on the the ground and you know what
do we think of in this splashing but he didn’t really splash he really
controlled the the paint that he was putting on so it became online and so he
wasn’t doing this he was he was really drawing in the air and using gravity to
create these lines and then he used paint that that was opaque and and and
you know one layer over the other now what we do we also work flat on the
table which I’m going to show you but the paper is different the materials are
different of absorbed so even though we have layers and layers blend together
but you know there’s a certain similarity of the idea of of working on
a flat surface so when we had this show in Boston which was great they allowed
us to show the Pollock flat which ordinarily they don’t do and you can
walk around oops I turned it off oh okay so I also did this sort of preliminary
you could call a sketch or drawing and what this is you see two images there
but it’s actually the same image turned upside down so I was playing with this
idea that Pollock when he’s actually working on these things he may not know
what the ultimate orientation of how it’s going to be hung on the wall it’s
going to be because he’s walking around and so I tried to do a painting that
would work either way up or down and you know I think it’s pretty successful but
on the other hand I didn’t want to just show this because it’s it seemed a
little gimmicky and people would say oh you did that that’s that’s all there was
to it it’s just so you can turn the drone that’s cool but but I wanted
something beyond that so I actually I actually used this as a kind of
preliminary drawing but it did give me some ideas so I started doing works that
are much more like that where you cannot where there isn’t a clear-cut
orientation you can here’s two works from 2011 you can turn them on the side
and they work equally well and they feel different so that was that was one one
way that for me to expand on the tradition without compromising my basic
integrity of the tradition if you want to call them abstract that’s fine but
you can also see that there are kind of landscape elements in them so if you
want to call it a Chinese landscape I think you’re justified I could I could
describe these paintings in the same way that I describe a 17th century painting
by Tom Cheetham in terms of lot of energy in terms of brushwork in terms of
light dark dry wet in terms of ambiguous spatial quality and all these things it
still applies if you want to just call it an abstract painting that’s fine with
me too but those that’s the way in which this is a more contemporary
interpretation of traditional standard traditional principles as well as
traditional techniques now the one on the right is a painting that I did and
then the one on the left is an aerial photograph and unfortunately I got it
offline and I didn’t I don’t know who actually did it but again I’m not
copying that but I’m certainly influenced by the fact that we
now have aerial photography we have Google Earth we have all of these things
that the ancient masters could not have had although they had the idea they
understood that mountain ranges are connected so but they couldn’t actually
get high enough to see how they’re connected but they intuited that we can
actually see it so yeah I think a lot of my more recent work is again you can
call it abstract some of it has more specific references to trees or whatever
but you know when you look at aerial photographs or sort satellite images you
can’t really tell which way is up because there isn’t really an up or down
and you and when you look at the mountaintops or the valleys you can’t
really tell which is taller and which is shorter so it’s it’s another you know
it’s another point of view but you can still use the paintings the same
techniques to express these qualities of nature and just to show you a few more
I’ve been you know moving in the direction of color and maybe somewhat
more abstract but so I don’t have like you know houses and little figures and
with the staff and all that because I think what happens there is that you’re
you’re you’re defining the time and place and are we the meant to look at
that as a you know an 18th century figure or shall we draw a guy in a in a
you know with Nikes and a you know running soon that makes it a
contemporary I think let’s forget about all that let’s just look at the nature
and and go for something that’s hopefully more timeless in terms of its
beauty I’m working now on a big painting that I’ve been working on for literally
four years that doesn’t mean I work on it every day but but I’ve I’ve worked on
it and put it away and brought it out again this this is about 2 feet by 18
feet or somewhere with that and I’m bound and determined to finish
this soon these are some details so again you know they sort of look like
trees they sort of look like water they sort of look like rocks I don’t know but
it’s Chinese ink painting now I just want to stop here and mention uh I don’t
know and most of you probably some of you know who this is Michael journey
these two works are in the in the collection of the Portland Art Museum
and by the way I love these two and specifically and his whole thing of
course is is he has a great interest in Chinese ink painting and he takes
photographs that that share that aesthetic now some of you may know that
he and I have been doing collaborations since 2009 where he prints the his image
on a sheet of shred paper and then I paint around it this one is actually a
pair it’s called perspectives where he’s printed his photo in a triangular form
and then I painted around it now you might not notice at first but this this
is like exactly the same image turned upside down so you you know I the reason
I did this was you know just because I thought it was would be fun to see
Michael’s reaction cuz he didn’t expect me to turn it upside down but what what
happens is you get a completely different kind of view even though the
real the triangular part is actually a real image of nature and here’s a more
recent pair Perry where this is one of the first times that he’s actually taken
a color image and in the first one I painted around the color imaged just
with ink and then the second one I’ve also used color so this this is also the
same same image ones printed slightly smaller and so we’ve been playing with
this kind of idea and I just wanted to show that you know there
there are way I I have not wanted to do anything gimmicky I haven’t wanted to do
something contemporary for the sake of being contemporary but this is these are
these are ways that that I feel like I am being true to the basic tenets of the
of the tradition as I understand it or following the lineages that I think are
valid and yet coming up with something that is new I was meant to talk about
some other artists and because the you know I was going to mention there others
who are doing different things but because the time is limited I would have
had to you know be very selective and that wouldn’t be fair so I thought I’d
talk about one artist me but mention to you that I don’t know if any of you are
going to San Francisco for Asia week they are Asian week next I guess it’s
next week from the third to whatever they’re there is a show that includes a
lot of contemporary ink painters at the gallery near the airport called nan hai
if anybody’s interested and I urge you all to pay attention to that gallery and
if you’re in the area go have a look at the show so now we’re going to switch to
the GoPro amazing now I don’t know how much how much time
to have huh I’m sorry do you think I should take questions first that’s what I was afraid of I can
actually do both alright so you know this is this is a hard thing to do but
I’m gonna try this is cool so here I by the way if you have time
after have a look I brought two hanging Scrolls that are complete and mounted
and of course in the museum that’s how you see them you know hanging but I
wanted to point out that that you know they’re actually done on paper or silk I
use you know I don’t really paint on silk but I brought if anybody interested
later you know different kinds of paper that you can touch so they you know they
have different absorbency different thickness oh this type of paper usually
you know people say it’s rice paper which is a misnomer because has nothing
to do with rice but handmade papers from made from bamboo fibers or mulberry
fibers different different kinds of baby these these are very thick I tend to
like paper that has more tooth and is less absorbent a lot of artists Chinese
painters working today he was a very smooth absorbent paper and that has to
do with the style that they they like which often is a you know washi er kind
of like you know I don’t like cheap I sure with with broad brushstrokes and
very lots of pink eye as you probably tell from what I showed I like to go for
that dry brush approach and so I just brought for you just to look real
quickly this is cool you can do that a bit let’s not do it this way these are
unfinished things and also just art historians like to talk about an artist
style evolving in a certain direction but I just want to show that that you
know these two paintings are you know done on the same day and it’s it’s it’s
not a problem to sort of go back and forth from one mode to the other I mean
clearly this one is less let’s say traditional which is that
dangerous word but it’s certainly not a conventional kind of landscape but I
think the point that I’m trying to make is that for me they’re not really that
different because what I’m most concerned about is is the line quality
the the the variety of line the texture of the line the flavor of the line is
more important than what I’m actually drawing so whether I’m doing this one
which which looks like you know it’s just random lines or the other one which
is more clearly a landscape structure to me it doesn’t make all that much
difference so now what I’m going to do is just talk real fast about the
materials just a little bit and then I’ll try to try my hand at scribbling
something I’ve already cut some sheets of paper so I used very traditional
techniques and very traditional materials and without getting into the
specifics of it these are more or less the same kind of materials that have
been used in China for literally a couple of thousand years you can find
brushes and ink stones and ink sticks that they way back to the Tang Dynasty
you know ace in any centric tombs or whatever and the structure of the
brushes and everything else is pretty much what we use today and that’s one of
the things frankly that I find appealing is that we we are using the same
materials in the same surface more or less paper or silk and trying to grapple
with some of the same technical issues that artists from all times have
grappled with now very simply these these are my travel versions of an inks
ink stone this is a round one with the cover it’s not a good one it’s just it’s
convenient and an ink stick so this is a block of ink that’s made from
basically burnt it’s essentially charcoal that’s that’s put into a mold
and you make the ink by adding water and grinding it and this is the way it’s
always been done forever the brushes are they are the key now I’m not going to
get into the details people are really into the the tools and you know there
are people who collect the brushes and then make a big deal about basically
there are white ones and there are brown ones the white ones are softer and the
brown ones are stiffer but the real key to the Chinese brush got this light is
hot anyway sorry the real key that the Chinese brush is
that they’re that whether it’s the white one or the brown one there are there’s
the kind of an inner core that is the hairs are shorter and stiffer on the
inside and then outside there are longer softer hairs so what happens is you get
some bounce in in the in the brush and it also serves as kind of a reservoir so
the ink will it will hold your ink in in the inner part and also allow you to to
get some like I would say bounce on it so it it can you know react in a very
sensitive manner so uh Western watercolor brushes sable brushes costs
an arm and a leg but these these brushes are you know a few a few bucks and they
do really great things all right so now the real key what I would like to say
after having done done this kind of painting for you know 50 years or
something the technical side of it is relatively easy there isn’t that much to
the technique of holding the brush and doing landscape paintings what’s
really hard is the perception side of judging what’s good and what’s not good
and you know being able to to control not so much your hand but continue use
your eyes to see what what is a good line and what’s not a good line now I
should say that this is my interpretation has passed down to me in
my lineage so there’s lots of other artists who have a different
interpretation of what good brushwork guess but I can only speak for myself
let’s the other reason I didn’t want to mention any other artists because they
may have other ideas but I found that the simplest way to explain what I’m
talking about the difference between the good line and a bad line okay this is
twine and it’s more or less rounded so but it’s string or twine that’s more or
less rounded no matter how you roll you know make it into a shape like this if
you’re describing the outside of it right you can you you know or even if
you look at the shadow it creates a certain shape but the line itself if you
imagine this as your brush line the line itself is round so no matter how you
twist and turn it and create whatever shape you create the line itself is
round as opposed to a ribbon which is flat by nature so you can do the same
thing and you twist and turn it and you can create the same kind of a shape but
the ribbon itself is flat so for whatever reason and there are kind of
philosophical reasons whatever reason the Chinese literati artist decided that
the round line is what you’re going for and you’re trying to avoid the ribbon
line because that’s flat so the difference between round and
flat and you know so that that’s really the the most important thing that I
learned from Cece Wong it took me you know many years to even understand what
the heck he was talking about so you have the advantage that I can sort of
explain it so also you’ll you’ll read probably if you if people mute if you
read about how paintings how you’re supposed to hold the brush they OS read
that you’re supposed to hold it straight up and work like this and move your
wrist well we don’t do that at all the way that we hope that I was taught
to hold the brush and this is really the secret is like this I have an angle and
the wrist doesn’t move the fingers don’t move although the movement comes from
the shoulder and the energy comes from inside sorry and so this is very this is
very odd because because you probably you know my problem is I draw a varied
light so you may not see anything at all and also what happens is you you start
by with with light ink and you you you know because you can’t go once you put
dark ink down you can’t go over it so the idea generally speaking you start
with light ink and then work work in layers from light to dark also it makes
sense because as you’re grinding league as the as the water evaporates the ink
becomes darker anyway so I’ll stop talking for a little bit and just start
scribbling so this is you know this this is the
beginning maybe of a tree but the same same kind of line the same same kind of
technique you can turn into a rock or anything else or just make random
patterns so for the most part you know there’s
the default let’s put it this way the default position is to hold the brush at
an angle and just use the very tip of the brush and so no matter whether I’m
going this way or this way or up or down really the angle that the brush doesn’t
change much so this is nothing at the moment so I think if anybody wants to ask
questions I can multitask but somebody has to feel the questions while I just
put my my hands on autopilot yeah so how do I come up with the
compositions and I think yeah that’s a good question that’s part of the the
problem with learning this traditional technique is really they’re really the
only hood a hard and fast rule way of learning that tried-and-true method is
to learn by copying and this relates to Chinese calligraphy as well if you think
about it there’s only one way you can learn calligraphy that’s by copying
somebody else’s calligraphy and then you either do it through a reproduction or
by you know an original and and because these so called Chinese literati
painting uses calligraphy in a way as a model that’s how they learned how how to
paint as well so the same idea and in calligraphy you you learn a particular
style a particular script form and then you know you learn different over time
you learn different forms and different styles and then if you have the talent
you eventually merge it into your own personal style and that’s that’s the
attitude that one uses for landscape painting as well now the problem with
landscape painting is if you if you learn by copying you may you may sort of
get a sense of the of the brushwork and so forth but there’s a danger of sort of
it’s difficult to break out of the compositional mode because we pretty
much and I should I should say it’s a that’s a start I’ll start over because
of the nature of the materials you can’t really erase like like charcoal or
pencil even though I liked that charcoal D quality you can’t can’t erase it and
unlike oil painting you can’t just so over it or paint over
it so so because the the paper so absorbent whatever mark you make will be
evident even after you know you finish so so you can go some to some extent you
can go dark over light but what that means is as you’re planning the
composition it means whatever is going to be seen as in front of something else
you have to paint first or you have to leave space for it so for example now
I’m I’m I’m painting a tree because I have to paint the tree or at least block
it out so and then I can I can paint the rock under it and then you can you can paint behind it
if you see what I’m saying so in other words if I’d painted the rock first the
that there would be a line through the tree and sometimes that happens which is
also acceptable but so that’s just something to keep in mind so if you see
a waterfall for example and one of these paintings you have to leave that white
space blank so you paint around the waterfall if you see the the mists and
the clouds you have to paint you’re not actually painting the white because
you’re not using white pigment are actually painting around what will will
be seen as the white clouds so that’s something to keep in mind so what in
answer to your question in terms of composition that’s that’s one of the
biggest obstacles or one of the biggest developments is the difference between
somebody who can copy well and somebody who can create their own compositions so
you know it’s I guess in music not everybody’s a composer so even if you
you you you know you can play the classical compositions doesn’t mean you
can write your own so we try to do a little of each so a lot of all these
so-called innovations so what John got him with the splashing of color
my teacher ceci Wong someone I didn’t explain this to you but he sometimes
would take a piece of paper and roll it up crunch it up and dip it in ink and
stamp onto a blank sheet of paper and use that as a basis of the composition
even my working in conjunction with the collaborations with Michael journey part
of the reason for that is that you’re you’re forcing yourself to develop new
compositional possibilities in other words if he starts me with a photograph
in a way that’s the that’s easier part of one of the hardest things is to
actually start a painting because you have to have some kind of calm
in mind so it works in a mutual way so f after you after cc Wang has done nice
and created sort of new modes of composition then he can take that back
into his head and then then when he does just freeform paintings he’s already
influenced by things he’s learned so when I when I work with Michael journey
and Mork from the photographs I get something out of that that then can
appear in my own compositions if you know what I’m saying and it doesn’t have
to be conscious in fact it’s better if it’s not that’s that’s a really really good
question the question if you couldn’t hear it is if when I’m doing my own
composition so I visualize the IMP you know the image and then and then or do
it do I just improvise and see wordless well clearly that’s what I’m doing now
and that’s that’s basically how I work I and that’s another difference of this
kind of painting I think is that I think even a lot of contemporary painters that
I that I’ve met they they have in their mind a kind of image that they want to
put on paper so there their goal is to figure out a way to get what’s in their
head onto the paper and I don’t do that at all I just let the brush tell me
where it wants to go and I try to follow along and that’s a little bit more I
think like the particular masters that I emulate of the 14th century where where
there’s there’s much more of a equality of improvisation and sometimes they go wrong do so that’s
all right start over any others I said I get
oh okay it’s actually it’s hard to do because
you have to wait till it dries but for example yeah let’s see she was
interested in seeing how how you get this layered effect what and it was
hoping I could do like one detail area and and and sort of demonstrate how you
build it up and layer so so uh can you even see that does that show up at all so that’s you know you sort of have this if anybody has any questions I can run
this microphone to them you just raise your hand and I can run a microphone to
you if you have a question so a lot of things could happen like if
you if you wet the paper first and then you you you know you can do this kind of
stuff what sort of wet and wet
these can be trees or whatever and you can let it dry and go back in later and
so it’s here’s some very light lines but did you ever have science of
civilization or man in your paintings and stopped doing them or did you just
always never do them you said you don’t put sort of people note here you said
you don’t paint people or signs of civilization or houses did you ever do
that or did you never do yeah I kind of decided that I don’t paint people
because I don’t particularly like people and I think the landscape would be a lot
better off if it weren’t for the damn people so that’s my contribution to to
the war and climate change I noticed when you picked up the pieces
of paper and carried him over to the table that they had a little bit of a
rumpled quality and I’m wondering if you can talk about the process of what
happens with the piece of paper it doesn’t get ironed or how does it get
smoothed out when it goes onto the squirrels it looks like in the process
of working it’s okay if the piece of paper gets a little wrinkled or crumpled
yeah could you talk about the processes so what happens is yeah we so naturally
it’s going to get crinkled or wrinkled and so this this is the first phase and
of course most of us aren’t used to seeing paintings in in museums and in
cases either framed or hanging Scrolls or whatever so that’s why I brought a
couple of my mounted work this is kind of nice
good good suggestion to do that whoever said sorry so what what happens next is that you
end up mounting this using a wet mount technique where you lay it face down and
with the light rice paste flattened it out wet and then put a backing sheet on
it and so all the wrinkles disappear some artists like to mount it first but
I don’t I don’t mind at all having the the accidental effects that that creases
or or fibers in the paper create I actually like that but yeah so in the
end when it’s mounted into scroll form so you see on these Scrolls the borders
are actually separately mounted the silk is actually separately backed and then
it’s all pieced together and backed again so the the if you look at it
carefully the painting itself is not touching the silk there’s a it’s like a
matte and they’re backed by a common sheet of paper it’s a very good system
you can roll it up and it doesn’t get exposed to light and you can carry a
bunch of them from New Jersey in one two can you show me how to hold your brush
when you do calligraphy oh you you hope well you know I’m not very good at
calligraphy so I mean that’s my the problem is because I didn’t learn
Chinese till much later I started by writing calligraphy but I I don’t I
don’t think you want to know how I know my limitations and I can write a little
but if you want to learn calligraphy there are a lot better people but yeah
same samway same way okay okay thank you yeah so but so for painting though see
that that’s also another I would say I don’t know if it’s a misconception or we
just have a different approach a lot of people talk about you know because
calligraphy and painting and I talked about this too in terms of philosophy in
terms of aesthetics they have a common root and common materials but it was
actually kind of mine mind-blowing when I when I met ceci Wong and he taught me
how he uses the brush and he also does calligraphy but to realize that that the
technical aspect of painting landscapes and doing calligraphy it’s not the same
so you know that’s interesting and I will say that that what I’ve talked
about about the round brush even right round brush as opposed to flat brush
does hold up if you look go back and you look at the great masters of the past
they you’ll see once you can see this you’ll realize that in fact that’s one
of the criteria that separates the great ones from the not-so-great ones in in
the in our particular way of looking which which which was the the main
orthodoxy from at least the 14th to the 19th century so we should wrap it up
even more quick well I have I have one little question on the calligraphy
compared to the painting in calligraphy or sort of used to seeing the brush
press down and then up and it’s a wider and narrower and so on but it looks like
when you’re right when you’re painting it’s all like seal script you know it’s
all wire and you know flap I think that that’s true and again this isn’t the
only style or the only way of doing it but it explains it explains the
orthodoxy that explains the way that the the scholar painters have always talked
about who was the best and who wasn’t doesn’t mean other things aren’t as good
of course of course I can make lines that are modulated and a lot of people
think that’s good from our snobbish elitist point of view that’s exactly
what you don’t want to do calligraphy not really not really it has to be
centered so anything that’s overly expressive which you know modern people
tend to like there’s there there are other qualities that are more important
like like holding you have to hold back you don’t want to expose it so it’s like
you know tight Tai Chi trend Tai Chi it’s like all soft and internalized as
opposed to karate which the force goes out so what we’re doing here this in
fact that’s more of the philosophical reason about this this rounded brush
technique is that it keeps the energy within the stroke we’ve already hit 320
and that’s all I know so I’m Jan so what I would like to do first I’d like to
thank Arnold for coming today and as I think that you saw in the sides
of his work and that you’ll see in the two finished paintings one of the things
that I have observed about his style even though he says that he does you
know different things in the same day it seems to me that he’s getting ever more
ethereal and magical as time goes by and part of that is his ability to
manipulate this very fine faint line and when we were looking at
it from here I think it might have been hard to see because it’s so faint but
but you can see in the finished paintings what happens with the multiple
layers so I’d like to invite you to come up but be very careful do not lean over
the paintings if you’re wearing a long scarf or a necklace don’t do that either
because we don’t want something landing on the paintings but they will be a good
example of you’re seeing technique turn the lights brighter on the paintings he
asks and then you can also see I think the samples that he has on their desk I
think that would be fun to see so I invite you to come up and take a look
thank you for being here

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