A Sublimation of Sino-Western Integration
WANG ZIWU Portrait of Qi Baishi
Devotion to Broadness and Effort on Delicacy
On the way to explore Sino-western integration, Jiang Zhaohe and Xu Beihong have made great contributions, while Wang Ziwu achieves further on such notion. Painting figures realistically, drawn from Western influences, through the brushstrokes and ink wash of traditional Chinese paintings is constantly explored and practiced by modern painters of the time. Wang Ziwu is seen as a pioneer in such field. Wang is deeply influenced by Jiang Zhaohe and his academic education, from which he seeks to express sketch-like realism through ink and brush. Wang Ziwu is particularly skillful in combining techniques of realism paintings of the west with the traditional Chinese medium of ink and brush, that he became prominent among his peers as early as the 1980's for his figurative paintings. What is less known about Wang Ziwu is his excellent skills in painting other subject matters such as the flower-and-birds, and landscapes. One can mark the 1980's as a milestone of Wang's artistic achievements, his works before the period are mostly realistic, as seen in his figurative paintings, as opposed to his later works which were mostly xieyi (expressive) drawings, dominant in the subject of flower-and-bird. The Portrait of Qi Baishi is one of his master pieces of Chinese realistic figurative paintings, which reflects Wang's solid skill of sketching and profound knowledge of Chinese painting. As Jiang Zhaohe, the pioneer of Chinese ink figurative paintings, marks his admiration for Wang: 'Go to Wang Ziwu for Chinese figure paintings, he has gone beyond me.'
Painting Follows Time
In the 1950's and 60's of the 20th century, Jiang Zhaohe continued to practise Xu Beihong's artistic assertion to integrate the techniques of line-drawing in Chinese figurative paintings and the notion of sketching in western paintings, on which a teaching system of modern Chinese ink painting was established. Wang was deeply influenced by such system and went on further in developing Xu and Jiang's notion of balancing and integrating ink and form, rather than focusing merely on the creation of realistic forms. Wang learned his skills of traditional Chinese ink paintings from the great modern master, Qi Baishi, thus in this painting The Portrait of Qi Baishi, one sees intense emotion of the artist, combined with his fine drawing techniques. Wang successfully creates an image of a knowledgeable and noble man through the eyes gleaming with radiating vigor and the flowing beard. Although Qi Baishi was in his later age, he still looked as if in high spirit. With a strong contrast created by the ink-illustrated hat and the detailed lines of his facial features, the painting is well-balanced with a vivid depiction of the great master. The old man's eyes seem to express his deep insight into the world, the slightly opened mouth holds an appreciation towards life, while the beard and wrinkles curved in the face, suggesting the old master's rich life experience. In comparison to the subtleness in the oil painting Portrait of Qi Baishi by Wu Zuoren, Wang Ziwu's work in ink expresses a sophistication that transcends freedom and vividness.