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.