Qiu Shi-hua on the art of painting
Imagine the mind tuned down to a dormant state, degree zero, then the world would look so clear, so vivid. It would be like having taste buds so sensitive that even a glass of water would taste sharp. Start from the beginning, annihilate the worldly self: then the original self will become truly sensitive.
From the viewpoint of a Taoist, the classical painter’s canon, ‘flow of life and rhythm’, is comparable to the rhythm of breath drawn in and let out. In this state one cannot speak of love or hate; neither is it a matter of joy or sadness. Everything is mild. On feels only the stirring of the true heart, like at the break of day.
My previous paintings were mostly concerned with emotions, so they were rich with moods. Now I am more concerned with the ‘origin’, the genesis of experience. When I paint I do not think of structure or theme; what I seek is a certain ‘flavour’ – a rhythm of spirit and energy, so that the soul drifts in the painting, like a shadow of the mind. Everything is flat and calm. ‘Form’ is unimportant. It is like being in meditation, when the entire cosmos looks like a white mist, and one finds oneself in a world of white light. Here, time and space seem to be annihilated. Human passions do not matter.
I strive for visions beyond the visual world, but I also aim to be ‘complete’ in portraying the objective world, and to imbue it with life. If the viewer can ‘enter’ my paintings he will experience their realness; although what he physically ‘sees’ alters with his mood, so that sometimes the paintings appear richer than usual. I believe a good painting, say even of a simple view of a forest, should be rich enough to allow the viewer to explore as deeply as he wishes. The amateur lookis for objects and stories in art, but what makes the art interesting is precisely what lies beyond. Westerners call it ‘spirit’; Taoists call this the ‘primordial spirit’. It is obvious that anything grand or powerful is ‘spirited’, but few realize that ‘non-spirit’ is also an aspect of the ‘primordial spirit’. The ‘non-spirit’ exists before the communion of ying and yang, harmony of spirit and rhythm. Hence a good painting must both have a centre and have not, it must have balance of density and have not. Only then can a painting captivate the viewer.
The aim of Taoist cultivation is ‘eternity’, therefore all Taoist concerns revolve around issues of life and death. I understand that Taoist attitue of ‘non-doing’ to be that state of being neither in the front nor the back, neither advancing nor retreating. Herein lies harmony.
translated and edited by Chang Tsong-Zung