Click on photos to enlarge.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Fu Baoshi

Fu Baoshi Memorial Hall, Xinyu, China
Fu Baoshi
When I write, I like to think I know something of what I'm "talking" about. By necessity that means I seldom write about oriental art or artists from any era. First of all, the culture is, to me at least, so...inscrutable...and the art, in fact the entire aesthetic behind it, so completely foreign and enigmatic as to force me WAAY out of my comfort zone. On top of that, there's the mysteries of the Chinese languages (all three of them). Be that as it may, today I came upon the work of the Chinese painter, Fu Baoshi (remember, the last name comes first in Chinese). Actually I first came upon his impressive looking museum (above) which spurred me on to check him out. I mean, any artist honored with his own museum is worth a second look. Right?

Illustrations for a book of poems by Mao Zedong, Fu Baoshi
I fully expected the usual delicate, calligraphic, nearly monochromatic watercolor and ink images stereotypically associated with Chinese art. There was, of course, some of that in Fu Baoshi's work. He was Chinese, after all. But he was also something of what we'd call in the Western vernacular, a "mover and shaker" in the long tradition of Chinese painting. In short, the more I looked, the more I liked--not everything, but suffice to say, half or more of the man's life's work. About this time two years ago (winter of 2012) the Met in New York introduced Fu Baoshi's work to Americans in a show titled: "Chinese Art in an Age of Revolution." That pretty well sums up the story of the man, the times in which he lived, and his impact on traditional Chinese painting.

Pink and Green, (after 1945), Fu Baoshi.
Fu Baoshi was born in 1904 in Jiangxi Province (East-Central China). Unlike most Chinese artists, Fu Baoshi studied both in China and Japan (1933), developing cultural skills sufficient to translate books between the two languages.  He also translated paintings from one Oriental culture to another, adding various Japanese influences to his work. Though he painted figures from time to time, it was his landscapes which gained him public acclaim. He was also a writer and researcher, at an early age becoming an expert on the history of Chinese art. He published his first thesis at the age of twenty-five.

Power Lines, 1954, Fu Baoshi
When the Japanese invaded China in 1939, Fu Baoshi retreated with his family back to his hometown of Xinyu to sit out the war, studying and copying famous works of art. After the war, with the advent of Communist rule in 1949, Fu Baoshi moved back to Nanchang where he stepped into various academic leadership positions and began promoting the so-called "New Chinese Painting Movement" aimed at updating ancient, traditional painting styles and traditions, adding new, more modern content, a greater use of color (which remained fairly restrained, by Western standards), and a movement away from the emphasis on calligraphy, all of which can be seen in his post-war work. During the 1950s and 60s, Fu Baoshi's prestige in the academic art world of China enabled him to travel with a foreign exchange groups to Czechoslovakia and other Communist countries where he added to his repertoire Power Lines (above), factories, freeways, coal mines (below), and other scenes of 20th century industrialization (rare in China at the time). Thus he began creating watercolor landscapes that, while appearing to be Chinese in style, seemed anything but in terms of subject matter.

A Glimpse of the Coal Capital, 1961, Fu Baoshi
Fu Baoshi's most impressive work came over a three-year-period, 1959-62, in which he and Guan Shanyue collaborated on a giant watercolor painting for Beijing's Great Hall of the People. Normally when we encounter Chinese art it's in the form of extremely horizontal scroll-like formats. At the vary least, it's restrained by the limitations imposed by the manufacture of watercolor paper. Until the advent of Communist propaganda, murals simply didn't exist in Chinese art (if you can call such work art). After a series of four preliminary drawings over a period of more than a year, Fu Baoshi and Guan Shanyue put together thirty sheets of paper (nearly 550 square feet). This they mounted inside a frame measuring roughly 19 feet by 28 feet to create their epic work, Red Sun Rising (below). Chairman Mao personally added to the top of the painting the words: "This Land So Rich in Beauty" (seen at bottom). Fu Baoshi died in 1965. Guan Shanyue lived until 2000 at the age of eighty-eight.

Red Sun Rising, 1962, Great Hall of the People, Fu Baoshi and Guan Shanyue,
though often referred to by the title affixed by Mao, "This Land so Rich in Beauty."

Red Son Rising, 1962, Fu Baoshi and Guan Shanyue.


No comments:

Post a Comment