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    [郭建超]文化的交叉点:论吴冠中的艺术

      堪称20世纪最显要的中国画家之一的吴冠中,不久前将他绘于1957年至2007年之间的113幅油画及水墨画捐赠于新加坡美术馆。那是他赠于公共博物馆的作品当中数量最大的一批。[1] 就画家50年来油画及水墨画方面的艺术创作而论,这些作品颇具代表性。虽然吴冠中在五十五岁(即1974年)之前尚未着力于水墨绘画,油画和水墨画式的思维却早已在他艺术生涯的最初阶段萌芽。吴冠中也画过水彩画—主要是在20世纪五六十年代的早期阶段。


        的确,吴冠中之所以地位显要,有一大部分在于他交叉及融合了上述两种艺术形式。它们与各自的艺术史及美学背景密不可分,所代表的两极足以在宏观的文化领域中构成塞缪尔·亨廷顿所谓的 “文明冲突”,[2]而站在美学领域 的这个十字路口中央的,正是吴冠中。假如我们把20世纪中国艺术的发展阐述为一面抓稳油画及水墨画、西洋和传统中国艺术的交叉点,或称 “X形交叉”, 一面开展现代性的历程,那站在众道交叉之处的,也还是吴冠中。人们从1919年(也即是吴冠中出生的那一年)五四运动前后的话语出发,在20世纪初期提出的许多文化关怀,都在他那里尽其发展、达到极致。


        “X形交叉”这个词,在生理学上指人脑中神经纤维的交叉,在植物学上指的则是叶子一对对沿着茎部排列成X字形的现象。油画与水墨画之别,不仅在于颜料和绘画工具;两者各自代表一整套的文化内容,各有其哲学观点、审美观、理论及历史。它们在20世纪的交流正如植物类叶子的X形交叉,迸发出在20世纪之前由于文化交流有限而无法产生的、跨文化的光芒四射的崭新气象。然而,人们关于20世纪艺术的论述,至今还未有最后的定论。事实上,采取环球视角的艺术史研究工作不过才刚开始而已。这方面的成果包括:麦克·苏利文的开路之作(1989年的《东西方艺术的交汇》)、[3]近来一些关于多元现代主义的著作(如国际视觉艺术学院所出版的《注解艺术众史》系列),[4]以及新加坡美术馆所参与的 “亚洲立体主义绘画:越界对话”[5] 和 “亚洲现实主义艺术”(2007年)[6]等项目。水墨画与环球现代艺术之间的关系,也是近期中国艺术话语特别关注的课题,比如深圳水墨双年展以及相关的一些水墨画展和著作便是这方面较为重要的一系列表现。[7]


        吴冠中早年在国立杭州艺专于林风眠、潘天寿的指导下初习油画与水墨画(即1938至1942年间;该校于当时的战乱期间从杭州先后迁移到云南的昆明和安江,以及四川的壁山和重庆),后来又在巴黎的国立高等美术学院受教于杜拜(J. Dupas)和苏弗尔皮(Jean-Marie Souverbie)。吴冠中从1950年至1974年间主要是画油画(这段时间早期也画水彩画),到了1974年以后才认真地画起水墨画来。1974年一幅描绘重庆江城城景的墨画,标志了这个两大媒介并行的新阶段的开始。吴冠中后来在这幅画作上题字,表明:“这幅小品是我油画生涯与墨彩生涯联系的港口。”[8] 这个所谓 “港口” 的关键时刻,正好是 “文革” 接近尾声之时(“文革” 结束于1976年),代表了吴冠中艺术生涯中一个重大的启示。


        说到 “港口”,新加坡也曾经因为它作为一个历史、地理及文化的交叉点,被人描述为多种意义上的 “港口”。吴冠中是在1947年首次来到新加坡的。当时他乘船远赴法国,路经此地,于红灯码头登陆。[9] 他虽然一直想到新加坡一游,到亲身来访后,却顿感失望,意兴索然。据吴冠中撰文追忆所言,“新加坡其实只是一个落后的小镇,路边一些小贩卖切开的菠萝,苍蝇乱飞。”[10] 没想到,60多年后,他却将自己最大的一批捐赠画作交给了新加坡。而 “港口” 也象征着文化建设意义上重复系列的 “X形交叉”。  


        掌握油画与水墨画之间的关系,是了解吴冠中作品的一大关键。根据艺术学者的观察,吴冠中在油画中灌注了水墨画的美感,[11] 并又在水墨画中灌注了西方艺术的形式主义。[12]刘骁纯谈到国际上对吴冠中的受纳时指出:吴冠中若不是因为他的墨画,绝不会在环球舞台上赢得广大群众的注意;但他若不是因为自己的油画,也无法创造出吴冠中独家风格的水墨画。[13] 吴冠中确实为许多活跃于西方的中国专家所称誉,其中包括麦克·苏利文、[14]高居翰[15]以及李铸晋。[16] 高居翰在一篇与曹星原合著的文章里就提到吴冠中融合了水墨画里勾勒线条构成的形象和西方画家如马蒂斯、毕加索或米罗那种勾画清晰、扁平、曲折的块面形象,形成吴冠中描画古树所用的独特交叉与重复线条结构。[17]


        我们观赏绘于1960年的《故乡之晨》(1960年,油画,2-81 [即《吴冠中全集》第2册第81页;下文指涉画作均用此类缩略式数字标示],此画属新加坡美术馆典藏 [本文所提及的所有画作,均为2008年吴冠中赠于本馆的作品]),可窥见此中端倪。其画面的空灵与大面积的半透明色块—包括对房屋墙壁的描绘—隐约透出水墨与水彩的情致。后期的油画,如《白云与白墙》(2002年,油画,4-269)更是如此。此外,《故宅》(2001年,油画,4-248)大块的黑色仿佛墨画的色调;《西藏佛壁》(1961年,油画,2-100)中以近距离垂直山形分割的画面,还有《南京长江大桥》(1973年,油画,2-204)中广阔的水面,处处显露出属于山水墨画的构图意向。至于印象主义对吴冠中的影响,则在《五牛图》(1996年,油画,4-139)和《千年构思出文苑》(1996年,油画,4-140)一类作品中较为明显。除此之外,画家还懂得将油画的丰富色彩转而运用于水墨画,比如《夜宴越千年》(1997年,墨画,8-52)在这方面便有绝佳的表现。


        我们对吴冠中几乎所有的作品,都可套用这个 “油画 /水墨画相互关联” 的框架加以讨论,并以水彩画作为两者的接合界面。水彩这一媒介以水和纸张为本,为他提供了极大的创作空间,得以发挥水墨画大片留白的线条特性,以及油画的色彩缤纷和构图安排。这是吴冠中连接油画及水墨画的重要环节;他于两者美学及技法方面的早期探索,有一大部分都是形诸水彩的。


        据吴冠中本人表示,他到了80年代开始以画水墨画为主,却发现积累了40年的油画素养竟是使他事半功倍的垫脚石。于是,油画、水墨画成为他的 “双刃剑”。[18] 这把双刃剑是让我们窥探吴冠中的文化 “X形交叉” 的一个窗口。这里涉及的不仅是媒介和技法而已;我们倘若综观画家的画作与论述文字,结合宏观的美学 / 文化的历史及关怀,当中辉煌的跨文化光彩自必昭然显露。苏利文最近在新加坡举行的一次会议上,论及画笔、文笔俱精而又深思熟虑的画家难得一见,仅仅举二人为例—一位是给弟弟提奥写出经典书信的梵高,另一位则正是评论精到的吴冠中。[19] 我在此将通过与吴冠中的艺术相关的三个概念或主题,尝试阐明这一点。它们提炼自吴冠中经常被人引述的三篇文章—文章分别为:《绘画的形式美》(1979年)、[20]《关于抽象美》(1980年)[21]以及《风筝不断线》(1983年)。[22]吴冠中曾经细读石涛(1642-1707)的《画语录》,提出自己的阐述、诠释与注解;[23] 我在此将略作效颦之举,着眼于三个概念(即:一、形式;二、抽象与具象表现;三、关于受众的问题),探讨它们与吴冠中艺术的关系,并且推而广之,联系关于中国现代艺术的总体性讨论。这三个概念或主题,将构成本文主体三个部分的中心。


        形式


        吴冠中的《绘画的形式美》于1978年发表时,正值后文革时期的初期。画家在文中表明反对已纵横中国三十年之久的、重视艺术实用的社会现实主义思想,在当时引起了不小的轰动。他所反对的思想,起源于毛泽东1942年的《在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话》,其当初的用意是要为宣传艺术设定方向,以利于社会主义改造工作。[24] 中国社会现实主义的理论基础,以蔡仪1947年发表的《新美学》为本。[25] 在从历史唯物主义观点出发的蔡仪看来,“形式” 表示物质存在或唯物主义,美只能是存在于客观的物质性当中,而不是艺术家主观性的情感元素。由于这种论调以物质形式的客观之美为基础,吴冠中张扬艺术的形式表现,从而指向个人主义及独立于物质世界之外的可能性,实为针对蔡仪美学中所坚持的社会现实主义价值观提出了激进的反调。


        吴冠中的《绘画的形式美》谈到画家本人在巴黎留学的经历,指出:他当年的课程内容包含了音乐学院表现中古音乐、古典音乐、浪漫主义音乐及现代音乐的壁画,而教师也训练学生根据抽象的、属于形式性质的音乐节奏思考画面构图的结构安排,以确保每一幅画都体现出韵律的流动。换句话说,绘画并不是非得以画作题材为主要关注的。吴冠中还在80年代写过一篇题为《曲》的散文,这里的“曲”就兼具 “曲折” 与“歌曲” 之义。[26]线条的韵律美与音乐旋律相通—这一点在诸如《野藤明珠》(1997年,墨画,8-88)、《玉龙松》(1997年,墨画,8-103)及《墙上姻亲(二)》(1999年,墨画,8-124)等作品中亦可见一斑。


        在此之上,吴冠中更进一步指出:艺术的风格也必须在个体的感性之中求得。[27] 这一立场意味着画家彻底脱离了40年代中期至70年代中期盛行的社会现实主义价值观,使他被人公认为挑战社会现实主义美学的先驱之一。他的反对,与70年代末现代主义艺术和文学新浪潮的兴起同步发生,实为与朦胧诗和星星画会一气相连的一种发展动态。吴冠中认定形式美是艺术的主要内容,描绘对象仅属次要,是艺术的手段而不是目的。[28] 这种立场使吴冠中俨然是个形式主义者—关于这一点,下文还会作进一步的讨论。


        梅耶 · 夏皮罗在经常被人引述的、1953年关于 “风格” 的一篇文章中,把风格说成是个人及群体艺术中的恒常形式。形式可包括恒常的元素、特性与表达方式。由此可见,对风格的描述诉诸艺术的三个方面—形式元素(或基调)、形式关系,以及特性(表达)。[29] 其实,吴冠中的风格论在很大程度上亦与此相似,也是将形式与表达联系起来的。此外,夏皮罗也指出:内容与风格之间的关系是个复杂得多的议题。据他所言,虽然 “与特定内容相关而产生的风格往往成为一定时期当中人们广为接受的、主导当时所有具体表现的一种模式”,服膺马克思主义的论者却进而尝试提出一套具有概括性的 “冲突论”,否定社会群体的纯一性,将群体的内部冲突视为“发展的动力来源”,剖析这种动态给思想观念带来的影响。[30] 属于 “解构” 型的各种艺术史分析,以及与其同一时期属于20世纪后期所谓 “欧陆批判学派” 的文献(尤其是德里达的著作),其实有一大部分都建立在这种思维之上。[31]


        “解构” 对学者而言或许是研究的对象,但对身为画家的吴冠中而言,却是他文革劫后余生、催生个人解放的呼声。其呼声一发,很快便引起了普遍的共鸣。然而,关于形式的辩论并非在70年代才开始的;事实上,这是诸如蔡元培、鲁迅、宗白华及邓以蜇等20世纪早期中国艺术理论家共同关注的课题。宗白华认为美与美术的特点,是在“形式”、在 “节奏”,而它所表现的是生命的内核,是生命内部最深的动,是生动而又条理的生命情调。[32] 在艺术价值观方面与吴冠中更为近似的,是撰文具体讨论绘画与书法的邓以蜇。[33] 吴、邓二人常用的艺术概念大为相同,其中各项包括:体、形、意(下文将对此详作探讨)、理、生动、神、意境,以及气韵生动。[34] 邓以蜇将艺术视为 “心物交感”, 而这正是对吴冠中的艺术与创作意图非常精当的描述。


        就 “心物交感” 的价值观而言,形式必然是存在于主观性与客观性相互关联的关系之中。它超出画作的物理特性之外,但又不是未经人心/人手作用的、直接属于物质性的形态。与此相近的是印度艺术的 “契似”(sadrsya)这个概念—“契似”并不意味自然主义,而是艺术家欲求就其对象取得真知的一种尝试。这种真知未必能通过实际观察获取,只能依靠在人性层面上开展的一种超越性。[35] 在此意义上,假如“形式主义”指的是艺术当中不延及自身以外任何指涉对象的物理特性或造型(换言之,即 “非客观” 艺术),那吴冠中实际上并不算是一个形式主义者。当然,“形式” 终究是个不无难点的词语,我们有必要将之置于吴冠中艺术实践的宏观思想语境中加以定位。[36] 我们在此不妨借用邓以蜇的话:“形者脱于物质之拘束, 而以物理内容(生命)为描写之对象。”[37]


        抽象与具象表现


        人们常说吴冠中的画作从80年代中期开始便变得比较 “抽象”。综观画家从《再绘高昌(高昌遗址之二)》(1987年,墨画,6-113)、 《伴侣》(1989年,墨画,6-247)、《昼梦》(1991年,墨画,7-74)、《流年》(1992年,墨画,7-104)、《白花》(1993年,油画,4-52)、《张家界》(1997年,墨画,8-52),一直到《红装素裹》(2003年,油画,4-276)这一系列画作的创作进程, 当中确实有一种趋势,显出画家逐渐偏重图案与色彩,经常使其占据主导地位,甚至是凌驾于作品题材之上。我们阅读吴冠中的文章,不难发现:这一“进程”并不表示画家 “离弃” 了具象画法,转而投入所谓的抽象绘画。应该说,这实际上是画家自早年以来一直信持的基本美学原则具体落实的一种表象。吴冠中过去讨论过抽象与具象表现之间的关系,比如他所记录的阅读石涛《画语录》之心得,便有这类论述。石涛画论的第13章谈到:画家在纸上描绘物质世界的高山海洋时,此山此海均存在于画家的主观意识之中,故此绘画中的山和海大可互相替换。山和海在绘画中表现出来的特性既然可以互相替换,也就是表示 “山即海也,海即山也”。吴冠中于此得出的结论是:绘画题材的选择其实全由画家自己决定,其自由甚至到了可以山替海、以海替山的程度。[38]


        鉴于画家如此无须依赖特定题材,并且享有将主观性注入实景之中的自由,吴冠中朝“抽象派”行进的发展路线自然也就显得有理可循了。我们倘若取其前期、后期的一些画作—比如《桂花树》(1977年,墨画,5-63)、《流年》(1992年,墨画,7-104)以及《窗里窗外》(2001年,墨画,8-206)—互相比较,自可窥见此中奥妙。然而,我们在考察中国艺术时用上“抽象派”这个词,不免疑难重重。首先,具象绘画在文艺复兴传统中自有其发展历程,中国艺术史上却没有类似的过程,故此在中国艺术家眼中,所谓抽象与具象表现之间的理念反差比较不鲜明。其次,中国绘画萌芽较早,有大约两千年的历史;在这漫长的岁月中,中国画家对于艺术描摹方面的问题,观点及思考方式均有别于西方。


        “意” 和 “意境” 是人们描述中国艺术与美学之主要特点时常用的词语。然而,对“意”以及现代主义所谓抽象艺术与具象艺术这两大类别进行比较,还是比较有新意的,而吴冠中的艺术可就此为我们激荡出许多精辟的见解。究其语源而论,“意” 指的是 “高层次思维”(我们这里采用乌瑞克·米登多夫考证公元前7世纪《管子》所用“意”字而提出的解释)。 “某些状态于主体内省观照之时,或可以精神专注的、回神敛思的方式产生出意识”—如此即是这里所谓的“高层次”。这类情况的发生,是“获取知识及产生语言的必要条件,而有所自控的行为又是以这两者作为基础”。[39] 在艺术领域中,我们可以把这种高层次思维理解为主观情感与客观物理世界之间的互动, 而且它以艺术家意识当中的反身性为根本。在中国哲学传统中,具象与抽象之间始终不曾划清界限。


        吴冠中的抽象艺术被刘骁纯称为 “自然抽象”。其 “抽象”,不外是从对 “意” 和 “意境” 的捕捉行为中流露出来。在这样的创作过程中,具象与抽象并不形成重要的二元概念,两者之间甚至不形成强烈的对比。鉴于我们已不再有必要将抽象艺术理解为非客观艺术(也就是有 “自主性” 的、不指涉任何物质对象或形态的艺术),刘骁纯据此推导出这样的论点:“风筝不断线” 并不对抽象绘画构成障碍。我们倘若要持吴冠中的绘画与抽象表现主义(比如波洛克之类)进行任何比较,就必须置之于上述语境中予以考量。[40]


        受众


        吴冠中1993年在巴黎塞纽奇博物馆举行个展,并为展览画册撰写了序文,但他不以“序”为题,而是题为 “致观众”。该展览距离他之前在大英博物馆的个展仅一年的时间;画家在文章的开头表示:一年前当一位英国艺评家向他提问,问伦敦是否他欧洲巡回展的第一站时,他内心不禁展开了深刻的反省。吴冠中不无歉意地解释:他对当年能在巴黎学习艺术其实深为感激,对于自己已经过世的法国教授也寄以无限的悼念。画家继而表示:自己从东方来到西方,后来又回到东方,一生都奉献给中西文化的交接。他宣称信赖观众,相信任何尝试融合不同文化之举不管是否具有富有意义的精妙之见与深度,观众都是能看得出来的。他还语带谢意地问道:他阔别巴黎四十年,如今重回旧地,巴黎的观众是否确实能看出他当年留学此地到底学到了什么?画家最后写道:“我永远往返于东西之间,回到东方是归来,再回到西方又是归去,归去来兮!” [41]


        吴冠中在《绘画的形式美》一文中强调:艺术创作是一种形式思考,而形式美是其中的关键环节。艺术家通过创造形式,才得以发展出属于自己的风格,最终自成一家。这无非是长年进行艺术创作、忠于自身感情的自然结果。吴冠中的《风筝不断线》则强调:即使在经过形式抽象化以后,艺术品以及它植根于生活的源头之间仍应当有所联系;唯有风筝不断线,我们才能掌握作品与观众之间的互动。正如画家本人在塞纽奇博物馆展览画册的序文中所揭示,这条 “线” 绝不受单一的文化区所局限。


        吴冠中既然有此开阔的胸襟,对跨文化价值观又深怀敬意,我们看他向新加坡捐出数量最大的一批作品,如此的大手笔也就不太出人意表了。新加坡 从当年 “切开的菠萝” 的时代一路走来,已经走了很远的发展道路,如今已是声名远播的花园城市,因为其清洁水平与高效率而频频获得国际上的肯定。吴冠中曾经说过:“新加坡是我尊敬的一个国家。”并又从他惯常的视角如此加以补充:“在道德品质各个方面,它都是介于中西方之间,与中方相当接近,到西方也很接近。两边的优点,都集合在你们身上。” 不过,画家也不忘提醒我们:新加坡“交通、工业都比较发达 …… 但是文艺 …… 不够重视。”[42] 无论如何,正如新加坡美术馆主席尚达曼夫人恰如其分的回应所言,吴冠中的捐赠是“一份给未来的礼物”。[43] 吴冠中的艺术确实是赠与全人类的一份礼物—它不仅展现了20世纪的文化X形交叉,对于21世纪、甚至是更遥远的未来也大有启示意义。


        Wu Guanzhong, arguably one of the most important Chinese artists of the 20th century, has given the Singapore Art Museum his largest donation to a public museum comprising 113 oil and ink works painted during the years 1957 to 2007.[1] These works are a good representation of Wu’s creative oeuvre encompassing art practices over five decades and in both the oil and ink mediums. Although Wu Guanzhong did not begin to paint in ink in an intense way before 1974, at the age of 55, the thinking in oil and ink started at the very beginning of his artistic career. Wu also painted in watercolour mainly during the early phase of 1950s and 1960s.


        Indeed, a key significance of Wu Guanzhong is the crossing and synthesizing of these two art forms (oil and ink) which must be understood within art historical and aesthetic contexts of their own, representing binaries as far apart as what Samuel Huntington calls the clash of civilizations in the broader cultural spheres[2], and standing right in the middle of these crossroads in the aesthetic realm is Wu Guanzhong. In so far as the story of 20th century Chinese art being one that could be told about a journey in modernity anchored in the intersections of oil and ink, western and traditional Chinese art, Wu Guanzhong again stands right in the middle of the crossings, representing a culmination of many of the cultural concerns raised at the beginning of the century, underpinned by the discourse around the time of the May Fourth Movement in 1919, the very year of Wu Guanzhong’s birth.


        The term “decussation” in physiology refers to the crossing of nerve tracts in the human brain, and in botany refers to leaves arranged along a stem in pairs, forming shapes of X. Oil and ink in art are not just about colour pigments and painting instruments, they represent cultural make-up complete with philosophical outlook, aesthetic value, theory and history the interchanges of which in the course of the 20th century is akin to a stem of laves forming in decussation, creating a new spectacle of intercultural brilliance which could not have happened any earlier than the 20th century due to the limited cross cultural exchanges. However, perspectives on the 20th century art are by no means conclusive; in fact, art historical research work taking on a global perspective has merely just begun. To cite a few examples, we can think of the pioneering work by Michael Sullivan (The Meeting of Eastern and Western Art, 1989)[3], the recent publications on multiple modernisms such as the Annotating Art’s Histories series published by the Institute of International Visual Arts[4], and also Singapore Art Museum’s involvement in projects such as Cubism in Asia: Unbounded Dialogues (2006)[5] and Realism in Asia (2007)[6].  The relations between ink painting and global modern art have been a topic of particular concern in the recent Chinese art discourse, an important series is the Shenzhen Ink Biennale and related exhibition and publication programmes.[7]


        Trained in oil and ink painting first in the China Art Academy (1938 – 42 during the war-torn years the academy shifted from Hangzhou, to Kunming and Anjiang in Yunnang, and to Bishan and Chongqing in Sichuan) under the tutorage of Lin Fengmian and Pan Tianshou, subsequently at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts under the tutorage of J. Dupas and Jean-Marie Souverbie, Wu’s practice from the 1950s to 1974 was primarily in oil (and watercolour in the early part of this period), and painted in ink in a serious manner only after 1974. A 1974 ink painting on the cityscape of Chongqing marked the beginning of this new phase of dual medium, to which painting Wu Guanzhong later added a colophon, “this miniature work was the entrepôt of my journeys in oil and ink.”[8] This moment of “entrepôt,” which happened towards the closure of the Cultural Revolution in 1976 was to be a great revelation in Wu Guanzhong’s artistic career.


        “Entrepôt,” incidentally, is also a word that describes Singapore given its historical, geographical and cultural disposition as a cross road in multiple regards. Wu Guanzhong also first stepped foot on Singapore and landed at the Clifford Pier, a transit point during his sea voyage to France in 1947.[9] Wu was not impressed even though he had always wanted to visit Singapore, which turned out to be a disappointment. Wu wrote that Singapore was “a backward town, with some hawkers selling sliced pineapples, with flies hovering all over.”[10] Some sixty years later, in a further decussation, Wu decided to give his largest donation of artworks to Singapore.  


        A key to understanding Wu Guanzhong’s works is the very relation between oil and ink. Art scholars have observed that Wu Guanzhong had impregnated his oil with ink aesthetics[11] and ink with formalism in western art.[12] On Wu Guanzhong’s global reception, Liu Xiaochun noted that if not for Wu’s ink, he would not have received response of such global scale; similarly, if not for his oil, he would not have created the Wu Guanzhong style ink painting.[13] Wu Guanzhong has been embraced by many western based experts of Chinese art such as Michael Sullivan[14], James Cahill[15] and Chu-Tsing Li.[16] Cahill in an article co-authored with Cao Xingyuan noted that Wu Guanzhong had synthesized the forms rendered through contour outline in traditional Chinese ink painting, and forms delineated through clear, flat and curvilinear lines in western artists like Matisse, Picasso and Miro, to create Wu’s own style of crisscrossing and repetitious lines such as in his painting of old trees. This is an example of Wu’s virtuosity in drawing inspiration from both Chinese and western art.[17]


        We can look at the 1960 work Hometown Morning (1960, oil, 2-81 [referring to The Complete Works of Wu Guanzhong, v. 2, p. 81; short numerical reference used hereafter], Singapore Art Museum Collection [all works mentioned in this essay are part of the 2008 Wu Guanzhong donation to the museum] ), the airiness and large areas of translucent colours, including the treatment of walls of building, suggest ink and watercolour sensibilities. All the more so in later oil works, such as White Cloudes and White Walls (2002, oil, 4-269) while A Former Homestead (2001, oil, 4-248) has large patches of black suggesting colouration in ink. The partitioning of the composition by a near distance vertical mountain in A Tibetan Buddha Wall (1961, oil, 2-100) and the wide expanse of water in The Yangtze River Bridge at Nanjing (1973, oil, 2-204) indicate compositional orientations in ink landscape. The Impressionist influence on Wu, on the other hand, is obvious in the cases of Five Oxen (1996, oil, 4-139) and Thousand of Years of Conception in the Literati Garden (1996, oil, 4-140). The exuberance of oil colours was in turn applied to ink paintings an excellent example of this is A Night Feast Over a Thousand Years (1997, ink, 8-52).


        Practically all of Wu Guanzhong’s works can be discussed within this matrix of interrelations between oil and ink, along with watercolour as an interfacing category. The watercolour was an important medium linking oil and ink, and much of the early explorations of aesthetics and techniques between oil and ink were done so in watercolour as the water and paper based medium offers the opportunities of both the linear quality with large void areas of ink painting and the multiplicity of colours and compositional design of oil painting.


        Wu Guanzhong notes that by the 1980s, he started to paint mostly in ink but the four decades of dexterity in oil turned out to be a stepping stone for ink. Oil and ink had been his “double-edged sword.”[18] This double-edged sword is a window to Wu Guanzhong’s decussation of cultures. They are not merely mediums and techniques, but interfacing the works with the writings of Wu and broader aesthetic and cultural histories and concerns, we can paint of picture of intercultural splendor. My attempt here is to elaborate this through three concepts or themes related to Wu Guanzhong’s art, which have, incidentally, been inspired by three of-cited writings of Wu. Wu is prolific with both the brush and the pen. At a recent conference in Singapore, Michael Sullivan singled out Van Gogh and Wu Guanzhong, exemplified by the former’s letters to his brother Theo, and the latter’s critical writings, as rare examples of artists who are deeply thoughtful and articulate with both the brush and the pen.[19] The three Wu Guanzhong essays are: The Formal Beauty of Painting (1979)[20], Concerning the Beauty of Abstraction (1980)[21], and Unbroken Kite String (1983)[22]. Wu Guanzhong has also transcribed, interpreted and annotated his close reading of Shitao (1642-1707)’s Notes on Painting which I shall cite later.[23] A member of the Ming royal house, Shitao became a monk after the fall of the Ming dynasty. With staunch individualism and creative style, Shitao is revered as one of the most celebrated artists in Chinese history.


        Referencing Wu’s three essay, I am looking at the three concepts of, firstly, form; secondly, abstraction and figuration; and thirdly, the question of the audience, and how they relate to Wu Guanzhong’s art along with broader relevance to general discussions on Chinese modern art. The three concepts or themes will form the remaining sections of this essay.


        Form


        Wu Guanzhong’s Formal Beauty of Painting when it was published in 1978 had caused quite a stir in the immediate post-Cultural Revolution period as the artist annunciated his opposition to the three decades of social realist persuasion in the utilitarian purposes of art, with genesis in Mao Zedong’s Yan’an literary forum in 1942 which set the direction for propagandistic art in the agenda of socialist reconstruction.[24] The theoretical foundation for social realism in China was predicated by Cai Yi in his New Aesthetics published in 1947.[25] With a predication in Historical Materialism, form to Cai Yi indicated physical presence or materialism, and that it is in the objective physicality that beauty may be located, as opposed to the emotive elements in the subjectivity of the artist. Due to the underpinning of the objective beauty of the physical form, Wu Guanzhong’s suggestion that formal expression in art, which pointed to individualism and could be independent of the physical world, was a radical opposition to the steadfast social realist value in Cai Yi’s aesthetics.  


        In The Formal Beauty of Painting, Wu Guanzhong wrote about his training in Paris how murals rendering medieval, classical, romantic and modern music from the music conservatory were part of the syllabus in his Paris artelier, and students were trained to think of structuring pictorial composition based on the abstract and formal terms of musical rhythm, so as to ensure the rhythmic flow in each painting. In other word, the subject matter of the painting did not need to be a predominating concern in painting.  Wu has wrote a prose in the 1980s entitled qu which has the dual meaning of curve as in quzhe and song as in gequ.[26] The rhythmic beauty of lines is consonant to musical tune, as seen in works like Wild Vines with Flowers Like Pearls, (1997, ink, 8-88), Pines Upon the Yulong Mountains, (1997, ink, 8-103), and Marriage Ties on the Wall  (1999, ink, 8-124).


        Wu Guanzhong further noted that style had to be located in the feelings of the individual.[27] The implication of such a position was its radical departure from social realist values in the mid-1940s to mid-1970s. Wu Guanzhong is widely regarded as among the first to challenge the social realist aesthetics, in tandem with the surge of a new wave of modernist art and literature, in parallel developments of genres such as Obscure Poetry and the Star Art Group in the late 1970s.  Wu asserted that the formal beauty was the main content of art, and the object of rendition was secondary, and was a means rather than an end.[28] This position apparently made Wu Guanzhong a formalist, a point to be further discussed.


        In the oft-cited Meyer Schapiro’s article on “style” (1953), he spoke of style as the constant form in the art of an individual or a group. The form could include the constant elements, qualities, and expression. Thus, the description of style referred to three aspects of art – form elements or motive, form relationships, and qualities (expression).[29] Wu Guanzhong has spoken of style also very much in this sense of the correlation of form and expression. Schapiro further noted that the relationship of content and style is a much more complex issue. Acknowledging that while “a style that arises in connection with a particular content often becomes an accepted mode governing all representation of the period,” Schapiro noted that Marxist writers had further attempted a general “theory of conflicts” which did not see a social group as homogenous, but the internal conflicts within the group as “motors of development,” and the impact that these dynamics had on philosophical outlook.[30] This underpinned much of the approaches to art historical analyses under the general rubric of “deconstruction,” along with its concurrent sources in the so-called “continental schools of criticism” especially the writings of Jacques Derrida, in the late-century.[31]


        Whereas “deconstruction” would have been the object of researchers, for Wu Guanzhong as an artist it was his call for a personal liberation in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution that quickly received broad-based resonance. The debate on form, however, did not only begin only in the 1970s. It was, rather, a common concern among early-century Chinese art theorists such as Cai Yuanpei, Lu Xun, Zong Baihua and Deng Yizhe. Zong Baihua regarded beauty and its characteristics as being located in form and rhythm, and what it manifest is the inner core of life and the energy within; it is the lively and yet orderly movement and zest of life.[32] Even closer affiliation between Wu’s values in art is one with Deng Yizhe who zeroed in on painting and calligraphy in his writings.[33] Wu Guanzhong and Deng Yizhe share a same array of frequently used artistic concepts: ti, body (as in physical form and structure); xing, form; yi, (to be discussed); li, order (as in reason); shengdong, vitality; shen, spirit (as in vitality); yijing, realm of yi; and qiyun shengdong, spirit consonance[34] Deng Yizhe regards art to be the interaction of the subjective emotive and the objective physical, which very aptly describes Wu Guanzhong’s art and creative intent.


        In such aesthetic value, form must be located in the co-relation of subjective and objective. It is more than the physical properties of the painting, nor is it directly physical forms unmediated by the human mind and hands. It is akin to the concept of sadrsya in Indian art, which does not imply naturalism, but an attempt at true knowledge of an object, which may not be obtained by empirical observation but by a transcendence undertaken at the human level.[35] In this regard, Wu Guanzhong is not actually a formalist, if by formalism it is meant the physical properties or the plastic form in art which do not subscribe to references beyond themselves, that is, “non-objective” art.Form, of course, ultimately is a difficult word and it is necessary to further locate it within broader philosophical contexts of Wu Guanzhong’s practice.[36] To further quote Deng Yizhe, “form emancipates itself from physical constraint, and turns to the physics (life) as the object of depiction.”[37]


        Abstraction and Figuration


        It is often said that Wu Guanzhong’s paintings became more “abstract” from the mid-1980s onwards. Consider a progression from The Ruin of Gaochang II (1987, ink, 6-113), Company (1989, ink, 6-247), A Dream in the Daytime (1991, ink, 7 – 74), Ongoing Years (1992, ink, 7-104), White Flowers (1993, oil, 4-52), Zhangjiajie (1997, ink, 8-52 to 53), to In Red and White (2003, oil, 4-276), there was indeed a greater emphasis on patterns and colours, often taking centre-stage overpowering even the subject matter of the work. In reading through Wu’s writings, this “progression” did not represent a “break” from figuration to abstraction as such, but were rather the realizations of fundamental aesthetic principles which he held since the early period. Wu discussed the relation of abstraction and figuration through, for instance, his reading of Shitao’s Notes on Painting. In chapter 13 of Treatise on Painting, Shitao wrote about the interchangeability of the mountains and the seas in painting as these physical manifests all existed in the subjectivity of the artist in capturing them on paper.  Since their qualities in painting were interchangeable, “mountains were seas and seas were mountains.” Wu concluded that it was up to the painter to determine the choice of the subject of painting, to the extent of the interchangeability of the mountains and the seas.[38]


        Such non-dependency on subject matter and the artist’s freedom to inject subjectivity into the physical landscape explains Wu Guanzhong’s trajectory towards “abstraction.”  This is seen, for instance, in comparing his paintings of the earlier and later periods, in the series of, say, An Osmanthus (1977, ink, 5-63), Ongoing Years (1992, ink, 7-104), and Within and Without the Window (2001, ink, 8-206). Using the term “abstraction,” however, is tricky when it comes to looking at Chinese art. Not only is the contrasting of notions of abstraction and figuration less pronounced given that Chinese art did not have a parallel history of representational painting in the Renaissance tradition, the problematic of representation was conceived differently since the early beginnings of Chinese painting some two millennia ago.


        Yi and yijing (“realm of yi”) are terms frequently used to describe the key characteristics of Chinese art and aesthetics.However the comparisons between yi and modernist categories of abstract and figurative art are new and the art of Wu Guanzhong can offer much insight into the discussion.Etymologically yi referred to “higher-order thought,” as in the explication provided by Ulrike Middendorf in referring to its usage in Guanzi in the 7th century BCE. This “higher order” refers to “the focused, reflective way in which states can become conscious when subjects introspect them is a necessary condition for knowledge acquisition and language production as the basis for controlled action.”[39] When it comes to art, this higher-order thought can be understood as the interaction of the subjective emotive and the objective physical world, predicated by reflexivity within the consciousness of the artist. The line was never drawn between figuration and abstraction in the Chinese philosophical tradition.


        Liu Xiaochun calls Wu Guanzhong’s abstraction “Natural Abstraction.”  Wu Guanzhong’s “abstraction” flows from the capturing of yi and yijing.  In this creative exercise, figuration and abstraction do not form a significant binary or even contrast. Given that it was no longer compelling to render art in abstraction in the sense of non-objectivity (that art is “autonomous” and makes no reference to any physical object or form), Liu argues that this follows that “unbroken kite string” is not a hindrance to abstraction. Any comparison between Wu with Abstract Expressionism, such as the comparison with Jackson Pollock, must also be seen in this context.[40]


        Audience


        Instead of titling his message in the catalogue of his solo exhibition at the Musée Cernuschi in Paris in 1993 a foreword, Wu Guanzhong entitled it “To the Audience.” This exhibition happened one year after his solo exhibition at the British Museum and Wu commenced the essay by saying that it was a moment of soul searching when asked the year before by a British art critic if London was his first venue for his European exhibition. Wu was apologetic, and went on to explain how grateful he was of his art education in Paris and that he sadly missed his professor who had passed away.  Wu went on to say, that from the east to the west, and back to the east, he had dedicated his life to the interfaces of Chinese and western culture. Wu proclaimed his trust of the audience, and that the audience could tell, if there was any meaningful insight and depth in any attempt at the integration of cultures. In an appreciative tone, Wu asked if the Parisian audience could indeed recognize what he acquired of his Parisian training upon returning to the city after an absence of forty years. Wu wrote that he would journey to and fro the east and the west, only to “return” to the east, just as he also “returns” to the west.[41]


        In The Formal Beauty of Painting, Wu Guanzhong stressed that art creation is a kind of formal thinking, and that formal beauty is a key link in this. It is through formal creation that an artist gets to develop his own style eventually. Such is the natural result of being true to one’s feelings over a long period of artistic practice. In Unbroken Kite String, Wu Guanzhong emphasized that even after formal abstraction, there should still be a connection between the artwork and its source in life; only when the string of the kite remains unbroken may we have a grip on the interaction between the work and its viewers. As the artist’s foreword in the Musée Cernuschi exhibition catalogue indicated, this “string” was by no means one that is confined within a single cultural zone.


        Given Wu Guanzhong’s magnanimity and deep respect for intercultural values, his broad brushstroke gesture of presenting his largest donation to Singapore is not entirely a surprise. Singapore has come a long way from the days of “open sliced pineapples” to be a much celebrated garden city with frequent international accolades for its cleanliness and efficiency. “Singapore is a country I respect,” Wu Guanzhong is his usual perspective way noted, “it is positioned between the east and the west with regards to ethics and quality of life; it is close to China, as it is close to the west; the virtues of both sides are concentrated in you.” Wu Guanzhong then reminded that Singapore has done well in areas such as transport and economy, but has not given enough emphasis on culture and the arts.”[42] As Jane Ittogi, chair of Singapore Art Museum aptly responded, that Wu Guanzhong’s donation is a “Gift for the Future.”[43] Wu Guanzhong’s art is a gift to humanity, from the decussation of cultures in the 20th century, to the future of the 21st and beyond.



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