What we are really looking at painting is an illusion – we are actually looking at the brush strokes on canvas; the rest is made up of our cognitive and intellectual processes that give the picture its meaning.
Value of Art
As the world becomes more and more difficult for us to live in, I think that the value of arts become more and more important – Bridget Riley. (Quotes taken from Dialogues in Art with Neil MacGregor, Edited by: Robert Kudielka – the values of arts referred to the purpose of the great collection of Old Master paintings in a modern city).
As a painter, I believed in the existence of this subliminal quality in a painting that has the capacity to improve and enrich one’s soul. The ancient Greeks philosopher said that when one loose that sense of wonderment, or in another word that ‘wow’ factor, then art would cease also. The painted image will never allow this to happen because one still look in wonderment at images created hundreds or thousands years ago example the cave paintings. What is created out of the inner necessity will continue to appeal.
Before I embarked on the journey of fine art, I was attracted to decorative painting. What is decorative painting? Decorative painting is one of the many branches of artistic expression accomplished with paint. Initially it is considered a peasantry craft, when most of the images are painted on the walls, furniture or utensil for decorative purposes. Today some of the superbly executed painted images are collected by museums.
As what Jackie Shaw author of the Big Book of Decorative Painting said: “It is initially a craft, easily taught by a systematic, step-by-step approach, and readily learned…and it is when the painter’s creativity flows from the heart through the hairs of the brush…the craft of decorative painting becomes an art.”
It is interesting to know how messages are embedded in an image. Chinese words are evolved from pictorial representation. And the Chinese language has more words than sounds, so one sound can mean several things (homonym).
It is Chinese custom that one do not talk about one’s gift to another party. Example a congratulatory is embedded in a gift with this images; a monkey on a horseback and bees flying around. The homonym for monkey (猴 = 侯) is marquis or high official; on horseback (马上) means immediate; and bee (蜂=封) means sealed or granted. The deciphered code means马上封侯congratulation on the immediate promotion. With this understanding, one can derived that the purpose of this snuff bottle is meant to be a gift for someone working in imperial court.
Literati painters believed that calligraphy is the basis and extension of painting. They seek simplicity, abandon actual appearance and seeking spiritual resemblance. In their paintings, orchid (兰花) and bamboo (竹) often depict a personality of loftiness; beauty and gentlemen respectively; plum blossom (梅花) and stone (石头) project principles and justice. 梅兰竹菊 were the common subjects in traditional Chinese paintings.
Gift of Nature
Through the hands of the artist the lifeless piece of canvas and tubes of pigments were transformed into a creation that has life with lines and colors. The artist has transmitted the essence of the spirit to the creation “the painting”.
I can enjoy a Beethoven symphony even if I do not understand anything from score and notes. Similarly, though there might be some measure of psychical distance, yet I can feel the fear of Edvard Munch in The Scream and the depressive elements in Rothko Chapels. Painting and music do not need to have names or subject, they just have to be looked at and listened to. Their meaning may not be expressible in words but that does not affect their value. Sometimes, the greater the music or painting, the harder it is to express just why it is so great – because it is just beyond the grasp of human beings, not easily categorized or understood.
It is this inner necessity to create, that produce the paintings. The excellence of technique and the inner necessity to create these painting to enrich one’s life was immeasurable. It is an affirmation of life, and inspires one to aim for the same excellence. That Degas and Monet both continued to paint after they were almost blind; Renoir continued to paint his happy pictures after his hands were so crippled with arthritis that the brush had to be strapped to his wrist to paint. Van Gogh attempted to continue, even though very few were interested in his works, Cezanne, Rembrandt and many others painted in obscurity and sometimes poverty, and painted with so much love and devotion; unselfishly leaving us works, sharing with us their perceptions.
Bridging the Link
Sometime, the essence of the painting is diluted from the painter’s studio to the curator or art dealer; through the ways the painting was interpreted and displayed. Most of the paintings installed in public spaces like galleries had transformed the painting into fragmentary, static product install as a relic for viewing.
Good consideration on the installation of paintings creates an interactive relationship between the viewer and the artist’s work. Installation here refers not to a particular form of art but rather how the painting can be installed in a way which would demand the viewer’s active engagement.
It is necessary to consider the period when the paintings were painted for example, the lightings. What effect will it exudes, if the paintings were viewed under the same lighting as the painter’s studio? We have to note that most of the earlier paintings were painted under the candle-lit studio. A good understanding on how the paintings were created may provide another level of understanding on the differences between studio and open air paintings.
Below is an example of how a painting was installed which may affects the viewer’s engagement. Claude Monet needs no introduction. He gifted his masterpiece Les Decorations des Nympheas to France to celebrate the 1918 victory. These paintings were installed in two oval room specially designed for them.
Harlequin and His Companion
I was reading a 2013 Number 1 issue of the Interior Design and came across this painting by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso who needs no introduction. I decided to pry into this painting.
Harlequin and His Companion, a painting using oil medium on canvas, was among the earliest pieces to bear Picasso’s signature, which he began using that year, around 1901. Picasso’s interest in social outcasts such as street performers or saltimbanques (French word for acrobats); doted from his days as a student in Barcelona. He frequented the café and witnessed the urban poverty brought about by industrialization. Street performers, such as the figure of the harlequin represented for Picasso the dark side of the city and were the subject in his work over the next few years.
Harlequin and His Companion featured two colourful characters which predate Picasso’s iconic Blue Period pieces. Both characters were seated too close for comfort together with contemplative expression. Their closeness exuded a need of solace in each other company. However, the empty space on the harlequin’s left side and the tightness of space for his companion suggested that the harlequin was the one in need of support and companionship. The lady was dressed in her bright orange-gold long-sleeved dress and her facial expression was melancholic staring directly at the viewer; whereas the harlequin was looking at the other side full of apprehension, as suggested by his nail biting.
Most people know or seen Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflower, but how many people knows about Egon Schiele, Gustave Klimt, Anselm Kiefer or Piet Mondrian’s sunflowers? I think it might be interesting to create a gallery of sunflower paintings rendered by different artists.
Lotus Pond Encountering a Stranger
In Lotus Pond Encountering a Stranger, change that happens in a split moment is captured in the painting. It is a form of consciousness of his surrounding during his immersive studies which is often overlooked by people due to the hectic schedules in life.
Chua’s knowledge of life, personal experiences and intuitions merged into his paintings which helped to bring the viewer’s consciousness to what has been overlooked. Chua’s painting was influenced by the concept of xie yi imparted by Fan Chang Tien of the Shanghai School who taught that the inspiration of a painting can have no other purpose (如是而已, 别无他旨) and yet somehow be embedded with ‘ideas’, creating a platform for sharing thoughts between the painter and the viewer.
In Lotus Pond Encountering a Stranger, Chua has personalized the lotus pond as suggested by the use of word ‘encounter’ in the title. The painter ought to become the object to be painted to study the object inwardly with the mind. Su Tung Po’s popular quote “one did not paint the bamboo but became the bamboo”, which is to keep the mind void of all interferences and ceases to be outside of the object but blending with the object.
In a painting, a clue or two may be supplied by the painter but usually, it is the viewers who complete the forms and significances out of their perception and interpretation. If the reflection of being was in Chua’s mind during the execution of Lotus Pond Encountering a Stranger, the ring of void in the painting may reflects the story of an encounter by a Zen master. One day, while meditating in his garden, Basho heard a frog jumping into his little pond. Spontaneously, he uttered the words in a famous haiku:
The old pond;
A frog jumps in:
Sound of Water
Three simple sentences reflect the notion of being, that true enlightenment is not found in any book but in one’s own consciousness; one can only live in the present moment and be conscious of the surrounding as the realities of life are most truly seen in everyday things and little actions.
 Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), a Japanese poet known for his composition of haiku infused with the spirit of Zen Buddhism
 Haiku – Japanese poem of seventeen syllables in three lines, five, seven, and five. It is usually composed by the monks in an instantaneous and intuitive rendition seized directly by the heart.
It is important to have a painting space that is yours alone. It might be just a corner in any part of your house eg kitchen, storeroom, balcony etc. Whatever or wherever it is make the space yours, preferably with no interference. It is a space where you can leave your painting in progress without the need to move or store away. If you must take out your painting materials and arrange it by the time you have set up everything, your flame of creativity may have extinguished.