The Modern Ink series features innovative painters starting from “the first Opium War in 1840 and ending with the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966. [The period] was characterized by profound political, economic, and social upheaval as China transformed itself from a feudalistic monarchy to a modern nation.” Art also underwent revolutionary changes, synthesizing old, new, East, West, tradition and individuality. These are my impressions of the third volume of Modern Ink: The Art of Wu Changshi.
“Wu Changshi (1844–1927) was an extraordinary artist and a major force in late-nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Chinese art. A true literatus in a changing cultural landscape, he combined the traditional scholarly arts with popular subject matter in a manner that would revolutionize painting.”
He lived in the most turbulent times of Chinese history, with the overthrow of the 4000-year-old dynastic system, the “deadliest civil war in human history”, disease, starvation, and the opening of China to Western trade, influence, and domination. China was opening to the world, and Wu had access to a wide array of modern and Western images and ideas. To develop his art, Wu turned not to the modern, but to the ancient. Through his deep love and study of stone engravings of ancient Chinese calligraphy, he absorbed its style and techniques, and applied them to his own calligraphy and painting. He led Chinese art through a major evolution rather than a revolution.
This book is aimed at an enthusiast of Chinese art. It is much more enjoyable if the reader has some understanding of Chinese calligraphy and the history of Chinese art. I loved reading this well-researched book. The illustrated catalog of beautiful art is a pleasure just to leaf through. The close-up photos allow the reader to savor the artist’s brushstrokes and ink play. The book has scholarly essays, detailed and insightful analyses of 29 of Wu’s masterpieces, Chinese texts printed in the standard easy-to-read format, translations into English, and additional well researched appendices (chronology of his life, a study of his seal carving, and transliterations/translations of his poems). As a book about an artist, it is like a tasty, beautiful, and nutritious meal.
The catalog of 29 pieces is arranged into three categories: calligraphy, flower/plant paintings, and landscapes. Each category is presented chronologically so we can gauge Wu’s evolution as an artist.
Source: International Examiner