Creating poetry through artwork

By He Jiaying and Liu Dawei Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/9 16:28:39 Last Updated: 2018/1/11 13:47:13

Artist Zhou Yansheng has spent his whole life contributing to traditional Chinese painting

Artist Zhou Yansheng  Photo: Courtesy of Zhou Yansheng

Artist Zhou Yansheng has been pursuing a beautiful and splendid state of mind, which is different from the ancient artists. What Zhou pursues belongs to the modern era and has modern esthetic sense and significant features of the time. As a result, his works do not appear artificial, but natural, real and filled with personal emotions, which is in line with the spirit of ancient artists to "learn from nature."

Zhou is a professor at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts and is a skilled traditional Chinese painter who rose to fame in the 1970s.

Zhou focuses on flower and bird paintings, especially for his claborate style of using freehand brushwork.

Many of his works have not only been awarded in many important exhibitions but have also become representations of modern classic works creating great influence on the modern flower and bird painting circle.

I have been to an ancient garden club in Japan and saw several old and strong plum blossom trees. Japanese people love following the trends of China's Tang Dynasty (618-907) and Song Dynasty (960-1279).

They have been doing it for hundreds of years and in this way, the ancient style of China has been preserved.

It was winter and the flowers were about to blossom. Several small white plum blossoms were hanging on the strong and seemingly dry and dying branches.

Also, there were sounds of Chinese zither. I suddenly realized the lonely and cold spirit of extremely simple paintings created by ancient scholars.

Like many others, I have seen many plum blossoms in ancient works and until that day, I realized they never painted them from their imagination, but from observation.

Guo Se Tian Xiang (Beauty) Photo: Courtesy of Zhou Yansheng 

Chun Hui Lan Man (In Spring) Photo: Courtesy of Zhou Yansheng

Zi Yan Fei Xia Lü Yun Zhong (Leisure) Photo: Courtesy of Zhou Yansheng

Many modern artists in China paint plum blossom trees inspired by ancient classic works and have never seen these trees in real life.

Therefore, their work lacks a real and emotional connection to nature.

Different from most artists, Zhou has learned a lot from ancient artists, and he knows the most essential point - one must learn from nature.

He allows his feelings and experiences to guide him when creating art. He does not blindly follow the work of the ancients to create new art, but throws himself into nature and is dedicated to careful observation.

By doing this, he can feel what the ancient artists felt and capture the spirit of nature, such as the plum blossom trees, a very common focus of traditional Chinese painting.

Claborate-style paintings with exact delineation and enriched colors were mainstream in the art circles of the Tang and Song dynasties. Especially in the Song Dynasty, the exquisite and lively paintings are so classic that they are still very influential. Since the Yuan and Ming dynasties, freehand brushwork has been popular, and many scholars, who were not full-time artists, began to express their personal feelings with paintings. By the end of the 1800s, professional painters had become mainstream.

After 1949, the bird and flower paintings became more than medium to convey people's personal feelings and emotions, like the ancient scholars did.

Instead, the paintings express more modern ideas exclusive to the time and also show the integration of Chinese and Western culture and esthetic standards.

Beauty is not only expressed in one single aspect because nature gives us a rich and splendid world to draw from. It is artists like Zhou who can extract the elements of beauty and combine them with the methods of traditional Chinese painting.

Zhou's flower and bird paintings are inspired by ancient works but go far beyond their predecessors.

For example, he innovates by creating paintings of the thriving and colorful blossoms of southern China, which was rare in the ancient times.

Zhou's art focuses more on his raw emotions and nature.

In addition to focusing on thriving scenes of nature, he represents the full scope of nature by adding various creatures into the scenery. He includes many elements in his art, which he arranges carefully through consideration and structuring.

Each element integrates with the others to create a systematic and coordinative structure, with the central focus of the painting taking center stage.

Zhou has a unique ability to integrate rich colors and various elements into a simple layout and give the art a fresh element of expression and language.

When noting that Zhou has inherited elements from artists of the Song Dynasty, it speaks to his ability to integrate complicated space relationships in two or three layers.

Qing Xia (Cool summer) Photo: Courtesy of Zhou Yansheng

Ling Yun Bai Chi (Reaching the clouds) Photo: Courtesy of Zhou Yansheng

He is good at changing complicated elements into more simple elements and blending modern things into ancient scholar-style art. He uses color, styling, layering and space to create great works that continue to impress his audience.

Zhou's achievements in art are due to his skills and talent.

Over 30 years of exploration and research, every work he has created has become famous and generated a huge influence on students of art.

Zhou's works are simple and real. He pursues changes from reality. Graceful and noble, his works are like a poem. He focuses on inheritance and innovation and views them as the most basic points of his art.

He can perfectly integrate the features of northern China and southern China and evoke the feelings of a poem from brush skills, color use, structuring and the main focus of a painting.

With the spirit of the time and a strong will to innovate, he gives his paintings characteristics of a literary work, the feeling of a poem and a fresh and simple personal style.

He can represent natural scenes and flower and bird scenes in a modern way.

Zhou pursues natural, graceful and quiet artistic conception.

He has mastered the basic skill of sketching and is also excellent at editing the initial sketch. While preserving simple scenes, a feeling of nature thriving can be felt in his works.

He usually shows the beauty of nature in his works by improving the involvement of lines. He makes the works vivid, allowing people to realize the charm of life.

Zhou is also proficient in his use of color. Even if some colors are dull in certain areas, these allow other areas with bold colors to stand out. With his mastery of color, his works become grand and elegant. The most basic skills and methods of claborate-style painting are the lines. Some people lack perseverance and refuse to practice. Some of them even deride them to be useless with no personal characteristics.

However, they are wrong. As many ancient artists said, careful and well-planned lines drawn by artists need to be created through inner spiritual power.

Only when an artist has enough in his inner world can he or she set up their mind and receive endless inspiration, which makes the drawing smooth and fluent.

With over 60 years of artistic pursuit and practice and decades of study in traditional Chinese painting, Zhou has made great improvements in his brush use, lines, color application, structuring and conception.

He gives traditional bird and flower paintings a new life.

Through the precise description of nature and deep understanding, he has represented life's charm in his paintings. The most outstanding features of his works are integration.

He integrates freehand brushwork and emotions in traditional Chinese paintings; he integrates rich and thriving colors with simple and exquisite ones.

He integrates grace and nobility with elegance and earthiness; he integrates grandness with the style of the scholars, and he integrates delicate and pretty scenes with those that are romantic and poem-like.

Zhou will soon hold an exhibition of his own artworks. Among them are Han Bo Zhao Ying (Shadows on cold river waves), Chun Qu (A song of spring for willows), Guo Se Tian Xiang (national beauty and heavenly fragrance - peony) and Jue Shi Qing Ya (A painting of bamboos).

With skilled painting methods of traditional Chinese painting, Zhou's works are smart, flexible and also graceful, which are in line with his personal characteristics.

I have known Zhou for a long time, and I am very familiar with his characteristics, habits and behaviors, artistic achievements, painting skills and doctrines of life and art.

He is never boastful or talks too much of his own works, and he is not the kind of person who goes to a lot of gatherings and exhibitions to make himself more famous.

He is a low-key artist and has spent all his efforts in art exploration and practice. He also has a deep and penetrating judgment on art.

From these things, we can see his great perseverance in the art field, his drawing talent and his unique style.

Zhou Yansheng    Photo: Courtesy of Zhou Yansheng

Introduction to the artist

Zhou Yansheng was born in Luohe, Henan Province in 1942 and graduated from Henan Art University.

He continued to study in the traditional Chinese painting department of the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts and became a professor there in 1982. He was elected one of the 10 famous modern painters in Guangdong Province in 2002.

Zhou created a peony painting for the Henan hall in the Great Hall of People. Many of his works have been exhibited in many countries and regions in the world.

Some of his works have been collected by the National Art Museum of China.


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