“Ah, linger on, thou art so fair!”

1. Sound of the Flute

I felt a sense of familiarity and nostalgia when I looked at Hometown
Scenery, a painting by the then 14-year-old Huang Tieshan. When I was
that age, I had also painted scenes from my hometown. Remarkably, the
scenes are almost identical: an arched stone bridge rests across a
stream. The tall building at one end of the bridge is the Wen-Chang
Pavilion or the Temple of the Dragon King. The other end is the pier and
on the pier are stilt houses often seen in southwestern Hunan. The
backdrop is the mountain. I could almost see the teenager Huang TieShan
walk out of the painting with a bamboo flute strapped to his waist. He
walked out of the town of Shanmeng, walked out of DongKou County, and
walked out of the Xue-Feng Mountain. The melody of the flute played on
as each note morphed into colors of the rainbow. He walked along the
Xiang River and continued on to the Yangtze River. The sound of the
flute remained as the teenager turned into a young man. He continued to
walk and walked all over Hunan, all over China, until he reached the
whole world. The young man reached his prime and time carried him into
his seasoned years. The sound of the flute persisted and remained clear.
In my impression, watercolor painting is very similar to the sound of
the flute. Oil painting is the piano and Chinese water-ink painting is
the zither. A piano is characterized by its overwhelming power that
comes along only with a reining sovereign. A zither, however, is more
like a hermit indulging in the beauty of mountains and brooks. What
about the sound of the flute? The sound of the flute comes from the
pastoral ballad played by the shepherd. The shepherd is a born aesthete.
Who can love and appreciate beauty more than the shepherd? His pasture
abounds with picturesque scenes. The grass is green, the dew is thick,
the mountain is lush, and the stream flows by. Birds can be heard
chirping cheerfully from the trees and in the distance the chimney smoke
floats carelessly on the wind. I love the carefree shepherd who
leisurely watches the clouds drift and effortlessly blows his flute.
When you look at Huang Tieshans watercolor paintings, you become a
shepherd. Inside every scene resides the sound of the flute, which
lingers in the landscape and echoes in your heart. At this time, I
really want to cry out Ah, linger on, thou art so fair!

2. Serenity

Ah, linger on, thou art so fair! Dr. Faust also blurted out and loud in
18th century Europe. Mentally fatigued by the mysticism of the Middle
Ages and the painstaking reasoning at his study, Dr. Faust had a brief
stay at the pristine valleys and was inevitably captivated by the beauty
of nature. Where to find deeper beauty and greater harmony than those of
nature? Isnt the ultimate mission of an artist to exquisitely preserve
the elapsing beauty through verses, musical notes and colors?
Nevertheless, people tend to ignore a simple truth like this. Man
remains enraptured in the hallucinations produced by his mind and
presumptuously desires to produce more profound images than those by
nature. To challenge the harmony and beauty represented by the order of
nature, man concocted mythical characters and far fetched power, which
he considers intense but lead to his own delusion.

Therefore, when I walked into the Southwest Hall of the National Art
Gallery of China and caught sight of works of Huang Tieshan, like when
Dr. Faust rambled into the vale strewn with wild flowers, I could not
help but cry out: Ah, linger on, thou art so fair! It has been so long
since I witnessed such beauty and purity.

“Ah, linger on, thou art so fair!”。What is captured by a photographer is a decisive instant. An instant of
one 500th of a second can change a persons outlook of the world.

What is captured by the watercolor paintings of Huang Tieshan is a
poetic space, not necessarily striking the viewers with its grandeur,
distance or depth, but overflowing with poetic sentiment. It is as if
every ray of sunshine, every reflection in the water, every rock, and
even every quivering branch of a tree under the sky was immersed with
the fluid texture of a verse, reaching the viewers heart through
osmosis, where a pure, clear and nurturing territory of poetry was
reclaimed. I strolled by Huang Tieshans paintings, which were quietly
hanging on the whitewashed wall, as if I was opening one beautiful
window after another. Images mirroring the superb state of mind of great
Chinese poets were presented to my eyes in their vividness, which have
brought solace to the spirit and soul of our nation for over a thousand
years. I was touched by the excitement of Xie Lingyun when caught in a
surprise by the sprouting grass in the pond; I sympathized with Li Bais
affection for the autumn moon over Mount E-Mei; I sensed Du Fus
refreshed mind at the sight of the sunrise at the Kuimen Gorge; I felt
Meng Haorans melancholy at the sound of the raindrops and falling
petals; I perceived the serenity surrounding Wan Wei when listening to
birds chirping in a secluded mountain; I admired Liu Yuxis solitude when
beholding a lonely stork in the cloudless sky. It is in such beautiful
and pure poetic state of mind that our nation has opened her heart to
nature, allowing our spirit and soul to be restored with clarity and
sensitivity. All rivers on the earth mirror the same moon, all clouds
over the earth float under the same sky. A discerning heart discovers
the natural and unspeakable beauty everywhere and is apt to trigger
compassions through its own sensitivity. Comparable to the wideness of
the sky, the big heart of an artist is willing to embrace all creations
in nature.

www.402.com,When I first met Huang Tieshan and chatted with him, I was most
impressed by his serenity. The art represented and produced by a man of
serenity radiates peace, which is the sublime state of mind for an
artist.

3. Watercolor

Watercolor has been the first love of every young artist embarking on
painting. When beginners start showing strong interest in colors and
objects, their parents will probably purchase for them a watercolor
paint set, a palette in the shape of a chrysanthemum and sheets of white
paper. Then, like a trained artist, the learners will pour clear water
into a cup and dip the soft brush into the water. After mixing the paint
in the wells of the palette, several casual brushes will form a colorful
image on the white sheet, which in most cases give both starters and
their parents a shock: What a genius!

Yes, almost all masters began with this first attempt. A master and an
amateur differed little when they chose watercolor as a medium into
painting.

However, for many artists, water color would become their first love. As
they grew and matured, the artists developed passions for other medium,
such as oil painting, printmaking, traditional Chinese water-ink
painting, and sculpture with which to produce their masterpieces,
possibly bringing fame.

Very few artists were able to sustain their first love like Huang
Tieshan did. There can be many explanations for his life long bond with
watercolor. But I think the best reason is Huang Tieshans perfect
communion with watercolor.

For most watercolorists, building such a communion is difficult. After
all, watercolor is bound by limitations of its own vocabulary and
therefore may lack the depth in depiction and expression.

It seems predestined that watercolor retains its characteristic bud-like
delicacy and water-like clarity. If an artists heart becomes old with
age and experience, he will no longer remain satisfied with the purity
and tenderness of watercolor. He has two options; to give watercolor a
seasoned look or to develop a passion for a different mode of painting.
A seasoned look will ruin watercolor. An interest in something else will
force the artist to bid farewell to watercolor. Eventually, artists may
develop a bias against watercolor: neither an elderly nor middle aged
artist should choose watercolor.

Why? It is because water and pigments make up the principal part of
watercolor painting.

With pigments and oil as its principal ingredients, oil painting is
characterized by the thickness and the sculpturability that come along
with the covering power of its material. With knives and brushes, an oil
painter may scrape off or build up the paint, which allows increased
depth in depiction. Using pigments of superior saturation and stability,
oil painting surpasses watercolor and renders more intensity of artistic
representation.

The principal components of Chinese water-ink painting are water and
ink. As vehicles for painting, ink produces a more abstract,
sedimentary, subjective, and intellectual touch than pigments. With
lines and profiles of Chinese calligraphy, the combination of water and
ink allowed the Chinese water-ink painting to stand out as a medium for
expressing the artists spontaneous thoughts. In expressing personality
and character, it is hard for watercolor to compete with Chinese
water-ink painting.

Consequently, many middle aged Chinese artists have fallen in love with
oil painting and many elderly Chinese artists have become attached to
water-ink painting.

There are other factors that make watercolor less popular than oil
painting and water-ink painting.

Unlike Chinese water-ink painting, watercolor does not demand the
character of brushstrokes. In general, watercolor brushes are made of
soft hair that lacks flexibility, which allows only light strokes and
touches, restricting variations or diversities. Without demonstrating a
variety of brushstrokes, spontaneous and constrained, dark and bright,
heavy and light, fast and slow, watercolor does not produce brushstrokes
of Chinese water-ink painting that allow the artists soul to sing and
dance.

A watercolorist paints with light and simple touches. In contrast, the
sedimentary quality of the ink and the special texture of the Xuan Paper
used for Chinese painting allow the ink to build up in layers and give
Chinese water-ink paintings a rich and substantial look, which is
impossible for a watercolorist to achieve. Nor is it possible for a
watercolorist to create the sculptured look that an oil painter produces
through the build-up of paint and the repetition of brushstrokes.

Is watercolor bound to be a lesser medium?

A modest and prudent watercolorist like Huang Tieshan is fully aware
that to maintain the purity and simplicity of watercolor there is no
point for him to emulate masters of oil and water-ink painting. Huang
Tieshan knows that through his unique language he can explore and claim
his own territory. Absorbing some of the vocabulary of Chinese and oil
painting, he has expanded his horizon in artistic creation and enriched
the style of his watercolor works.

It is essential for watercolor to retain its pure and simple style. The
sunshine is transparent, so is the air, sky, and water. Watercolor has
its own advantages in depicting transparent objects and phenomena. What
factors generate the most miraculous impact on colors? Sunshine and air!
If you can make sunshine dance in your painting at different times of
the day, if you can fill every inch of space in your painting with air
of different humidity, you will become a hunter of souls. An atmosphere
that determines the mood and sentiments of the picture has been built
for you.

The watercolor works created by Huang Tieshan have sustained the
scorching sunshine from different latitudes and altitudes on earth. His
works are immersed with the air of different humidity. The ultra-violet
rays of the Tibetan plateau, the dazzling sunshine of the Mediterranean,
the clear and bright air of Western Europe and North America, the
drizzle and mist along the Yangtze River of South China, and the gloomy
sky of Russia. The same sun produces different kinds of sunshine, so
does the same sky embrace different kinds of air, which lead to
different melodies and different moods. Following the magic touch of
Huang Tieshan, we are bathed in different kinds of sunshine, breathing
different kinds of air and experiencing different moods.

Talented in capturing moments of time, a prominent painter detects not
only the geographical and spatial variations of sunshine and air but
also their changes at different times. This talent is exactly the magic
wand with which Huang Tieshan has struck us:. the sunrise over Dongting
Lake, the dazzling sun at noon over the Qiang Village, the sunset in
Brest, the twilight over Sahara, the moonlight over the Xiang River and
lights along the Danube. Over 24 hours, from sunrise to sunset, the suns
rays slip by the tip of tree branches, fly by castles, light up a
cathedral, spread over the plateau at a tilted angle, rendering an
emotional image of the departing sun at the corner of the sky. In the
same fashion, the new crescent moon, the lonely lights of fishing boats
and shadows of the frightened swans that broke the nights silence turn
us around abruptly, when we only see footprints of time among dimmed
lights. Time, in Huang Tieshans works, is no longer an abstract concept
recorded by numbers. It brings different brightness to our sight,
different temperatures to our skin. Ultimately, light has endowed time
with life and time starts singing and dancing.

Light and air have allowed landscapes and objects to be viewed with
tones and perspectives, which even wobble slightly. This probably
explains why the landscapes on the earth vary so much from those on the
moon. With his profound awareness of the magic played by light and air,
Huang Tieshan has painted his landscapes in a seemingly realistic
approach which, however, at the same time exhibit strokes characterizing
impressionistic techniques. Huang Tieshan has employed the Wet Brush
Painting technique to represent the skyline formed by the ridge of
mountains and the edge of forests, where light interacts with shadows.
To separate the roof from the sky, leaves from the trunk, Huang Tieshan
has painted white either with heavier ink and pressure at a slower speed
or less ink at faster speed, with streaks of white formed by the
separated hair of the dryer brush. To represent fog and clouds in the
sky, Huang Tieshan has creatively inherited the Broken Ink and Splashed
Ink methods from the Chinese water-ink painting. Borrowing techniques of
Chinese cursive calligraphy, Huang Tieshan has rendered the ripples and
waves in the river with fast strokes. Of course, Huang Tieshan is also
adept at Dry Brush techniques, which he employed in delineating the skin
of the elderly and the texture of rocks. The Dry Brush strokes are also
present in the scattered sunshine in the forest, which has been created
through the incomplete interface between the brush and the paper, when a
dryer brush skimmed the granular surface of the paper swiftly. Huang
Tieshans intimate knowledge of rules of color and his mastery of both
the Western and Chinese painting techniques have enabled him to
re-produce the thickness of the land, the density of the forest and the
depth of the water mass through his light and simple touches. He did not
surrender to oil or water-ink painting. Instead, he borrowed a few
techniques from each. He refused to pursue scale and grandeur at the
expense of the clarity and innocence of watercolor. Under Huang Tieshans
brushes, watercolor has preserved the delicacy and purity of a girl in
her first love. Under his cultivation, this girls character has quietly
radiated a noble grace and an elegant poise. I believe this is why Huang
Tieshan has maintained a life long communion with watercolor.

I am proud that my native province of Hunan has produced such a
prominent master in watercolor painting.