Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Brush Painting

For years I admired a certain genre of Chinese brush painting, where tall, distant mountains are revealed in the swirling mists. Perhaps with a spare hut nestled amongst ferns and bamboo . Their scenes have such an ephemeral quality, and evoke the tactile -- you can almost feel the cool humidity on your face, smell the foliage.

For my birthday, a friend gave me a big coffee table book of Zen paintings, full of these types of scenes, and I would try to copy certain elements on rice paper.

I had always thought that these paintings must be very highly stylized. Kind of like a Zen cartoon. No mountains could possibly be so tall or picturesque. Surely it's just a case of wanting to squeeze more mountain shapes into yet another vertical scroll-painting. A style that must have developed over the centuries as a kind of spiritual shorthand, not representational. Kind of like Christian iconography developed its own style and shorthand.

Then I actually visited rural China, and was absolutely gob-smacked. And chastened.

The mountains not only looked a lot like those paintings, they looked exactly like those paintings. Incredibly steep and jagged vertical faces, rows of these mountains sitting like monks in a Ch'an monastery. And mist! Every morning heavily shrouded in the (swirling!) mists. And growing on them all the Chinese herbs and ferns and bamboo you could possibly shake a stick at.

Great jumping jehosephat, those guys were no cartoonists, they were the hyper-realists of their day, just paintin' 'em likes they sees them.
Proud mountains, robed in mist ... open our eyes
they look just like that.



  1. I myself was lost in such a painting yesterday- of a Koi, maybe a rock- just pure inspiration. My art supplies arrive Monday!

    And we have that epic mist thing going on here, but our "mountains" are just beautifully lumpy, like one big mat of rolling moss.

    1. Cool. We're not too far from there, I think. Not sure if you're north or south. You remind me I have no rice paper! Will have to remedy that...

      I know you have your own blog but if you ever feel moved, part of the purpose of this one is to host Buddhist art and images by others. Would welcome anything you might wish to share here.