Murobushi Tetsuro (Art critic)

Mar, 1993

The Tale of a Utopian Paradise

Murobushi Tetsuro

        Wang Wusheng's greatness lies in his ability to exhibit and prove the existence of a 。ーland of the immortals。アto modern society」ョ

        The。ーland of the immortals。アis the Asian paradise where legendary half god, half man wizards live .These immortals possess supernatural powers as they feast on mists and jade. They ride freely through the skies on wisps of cloud and are at once endowed with fairy」ュlike beauty and impeccable address.They never age,they never die as they play in a limitless world.A world hidden in the deep valleys of impenetrable mountains」ョ

        Since ancient times the Chinese have aspired to the paradisiacal and of the immortals that is as one with the spirit of the universe.This mountainous spiritual abode crackles with the mysterious feel of the immortals and their shamanistic Practices that achieve rapport with the cosmos as they attain the ultimate in Daoist mountain mysticism」ョ

        The roots of this world view lie in a spiritualism in rapport with Nature.deeply reflecting the influence of Asian supernatural shamanism with its belief in gods and demons」ョ

        Mists」ャhaze.and white clouds amidst the craggy peaks and towering cliffs.or is it drifting.trailing rain clouds and fog that calmly spring forth on the mysteriously vision-like mountain air」ョ

        Boulders and rocks that cut and jut as they pile up in acute angles,clear natural springs that trickle and fall through ravines and gorges.evergreens that cast forth ominous shadows.And yet, the eve is arrested by stone steps carved into the cliff tops, a one-eave arbor,monasteries,and stone huts, all signs of the commerce of living beings.But are these traces human or immortal?

        Asian ink landscape painting embraces the spiritual in compositions that match the exacting conciseness of Nature's grandeur and minutia.The free use of two traditional brush techniques」ュ」ュpomo,where darker strokes are gradually added to areas already brushed in lighter tones of gray ink to express three dimensional convexities and concavities through thick and thin washes of black ink, and pomo, a wildly extravagant landscape painting technique where changes in ink intensity are accentuated and traditional outline forms of expression are suppressed」ュgives full expression to a sense of shadow-filled three dimensionality and a liveliness redolent with hazy spiritual vastness.These Asian landscape views presume on contacts with the spiritual world」ョ

The World of Northern Song Ink Landscape Painting

。。。。Over the centuries a group of painting methods have been developed which convey the 。ーarmchair traveler。ッs。アenjoyment of landscapes. This fundamental concept lies。。at the heart of Chinese landscape painting ideology」ョSuch landscape painting techniques as those developed by the Northern Song Dynasty」ィ960」ュ1126」ゥartists Li Cheng, Dong Yuan and Ju Ran which express the eternal breadth of mountains on one picture surface」ョthe。ーthree distance method。アdescribed by the genius of the Northern Song imperial Painting Academy, Guo Xi, in his painting treatise, Lin quan gao zhi which advocates 。ーhigh distance。ア。エseeing mountain peaks from the base of the mountain。オ」ャ。ーdeep distance"。エseeing from the front of a mountain to the back of the mountain。オ, and 。ーflat distance。ア」ィseeing distant mountains from the top of a near mountain」ゥ, and the two Painting techniques of the Southern Song artists Ma Yuan and Xia Gui」ョpartial views」ィwhere resounding blank spaces invite nature。舖 expanses to the picture plane」ゥ, and one」ュcorner compositions」ィwhere the elements of a picture are grouped in the lower diagonal half of the picture plane, thereby intensifying。。the effect of the Painting。ッs reverberating poetic sentiment」ゥare all elements of this fundamental vision.These pain」ュting methods have a unique way of transporting us to this spiritually other realm」ョ

        Japan was influenced by the compositional beauty of Chinese landscape paintings as early as the Asuka period」ィ552」ュ645」ゥ, just as indigenous Japanese painting traditions addressed the subject of the landscape.The introduction of ink landscape paintings from China。ッs Song and Yuan dynasties to Japan during the Kamakura period and later eras brought about a flourishing Japanese landscape painting tradition.

        The taste for this type of 。ーarmchair" viewing of painted ink landscapes.where the viewer Seems able to enter and wander through the Picture plane」ョassumed a revered place at the heart of Japanese spiritual culture through the auspices of Zen Buddhism, the Japanese tea ceremony,and literati style painting」ョ

        The Asian ink landscape painting is able to capture and project an expansive view of limitless nature on a small painted surface.Using only the standard Asian medium of black ink to create the full spectrum of a miniature cosmos」ュwhether the mysterious shades of seasonal climatic changes.the infinite variety of clouds」ャmists and fogs that swirl through a sea of clouds, or the ax」ュstroke, which cunningly forms the craggy, Precipitous cliffs and boulders through the sharp」ュedged strokes drawn with a slanted brush」ュall of these paintings represent visualizations of utopian worlds」ョ
The artist Wang Wusheng has long recorded images of the picturesque and spiritually charged


        Mt. Huangshan range located near his hometown of Wuhu, in Anhui Province. The world's art communities have been amazed by these photo-graphs and their living proof that the lofty peaks and Elysian mountain abodes of the immortals found in Asian ink landscape paintings are not simply the 1maginings of gray bearded sages.

        Wang states that he has been fascinated by the inspiring grandeur of Mt. Huangshan since his childhood, and recognizes that his vocation lies in a quest after their beauties Rather than simple photographic reproductions of the demon-ic powers and miraculous fascinations of these famous peaks, the real power of Wang's works lies in their ability to express Wang's own inner spiritual realms through the medium of Mt. Huangshan.

The Beginnings of Asian Landscape Photography

        The scenic beauty of China's justly famous Mt. Huangshan, which covers a massive 154 square kilometers, includes 72 main peaks and huge valleys and is now strung with several ropeways up the famous peaks. And yet Wang's photographs are not simply record photographs of nature, just as they are not simply evocations of the complex relationships between mankind and nature.

        To borrow Wang's own words, it is not that he is fascinated by Mt. Huangshan's famous sites, but rather that, after pat1ently waiting for days and many visits while adjusting the settings on his equipment, he finds the 。ーdefinitive moment" which captures his sought after mixture of clouds, mists and fogs.
Wang, with his deep affinity for Daoism, catches the sudden momentary appearance of the ideal Daoist realm, captured in the sudden shift of clouds and mists. In other words, Wang renders his own image on the enormous canvas of nature, taking as his pretext the momentary form of the mountain's mists and humors. He draws close to the formation of a mysteriously ideal world, as he draws near the Chinese ink landscape painting ideal of 。ーa thousand mile view caught on a square foot," capturing 。ーthe eternal breadth of the nature of mountains and streams on the picture plane."

        Any of these photographs demonstrate this, point. Looking through Wang's works of Mt. Huangshan one almost expects to suddenly catch a glimpse of an immortal wafting through the breezes on a cloud beyond the mists, the fogs and the sea of clouds.

        In fact, l had these thoughts when I first saw Wang's works in his studio. Later when Wang and an editor from Kodansha visited my office and we talked about my views of the works, we found that Wang and I fundamentally agreed on our artistic outlook and cr1tical positions on the genre Wang has dubbed 。ーink landscape photography". We joked that it would be impossible for me to give an objective critique of his work.

        Wang contributed an essay entitled" Experiments in Ink Landscape Photography" to the journal Hikaku kenkyu ?[Comparative Research](vol.36 no.2, March 1990) of Tokyo Women's University's Department of Comparative Cultures. I here quote rather a long passage from that article:

        In European painting, whether the Flemish school began in the 15th century, or in the Impressionists of the late 19th century, Paintings concerned with the image of nature are generally called "Landscape paintings". However, in Asia, particularly in China, depictions of mountains and streams are called "mountain and water pictures", or, shanshuihua. Western landscapes, rendered primarily in oil based pigments, d1ligently record the lights and shadows of nature, and its physicality. Realistic representation is highly valued and an external view is sought.

        But in Chinese mountain and water pictures, the concept of xieyi or depiction of the artist's mental state, is valued, and yijing or artistically defined ground is sought. 。ーImparting deep emotions to the landscape" or 。ーborrowing the landscape to express my deepest feelings" are the highest attainments.
Chinese landscape paintings are images that float up continuously in our minds. Razor-sharp peaks, the vagaries of clouds and mists, withered branches of old pines, watering rushing and bouncing down a waterfall, dim little paths and figures standing on tiny bridges...

        These forms have been dreamt up by Asians, Chinese and Japanese alike, for over a thousand years, depicting utop1an visions that reside in the deep reaches of the soul. indeed, they have formed one type of spiritual authority.

        The emergence and development of Chinese landscape painting is intimately linked to China's Daoist beliefs. Lao Zhuang, representative of China's Daoist philosophers, rejected all things man-made, and emphasized a complete return to nature.

        He advocated removing oneself from the work-a-day world, and retiring to nature amidst the mountains and streams. He believed that one could undergo magical transformations by living in the mountains inhabited by immortals. There one could rid oneself for all eternity of the trials and anguish of this world and seek eternal bliss and longevity. Hence, mountains became a mystical world imbued with religious import.

        Even modern Asians still believe that the ancient Chinese religious sentiments that encompassed mountains cannot be separated from the deepest reaches of feeling achieved when looking at landscape paintings.

        By such early Chinese eras as that of the Kingdom of Wei, the Jin and the Northern and Southern dynasties, literature and painting had already developed a relatively free artistic spirit under the influence of the teachings of Lao Zhuang. People began to appreciate nature as one form of beauty. The first appearance of the term Shan shui or "mountain and water" came in the poem "Welcoming Obscurity" by Zuo Si, literati of the Western Jin Dynasty

       "Not relying on a bamboo flute,
        there is the fresh sound of mountains and waters
        Not wanting any type of chanting,
        there is the plaintive zephyr of the treetops".

Japanese Thoughts and Sentiments About Utopia

       Fundamentally a sense of opposition between mankind and nature lies at the roots of Western culture and civilization, while a sense of the bond between man and nature lies at the heart of Asian culture This is also reflected in the concept of modeling.

        Japan and Korea, and of course China, lie within Wang's Asian frame of reference, and yet there was a time lag of 500 years after the life of the elegant Chinese poet Zuo Si until thoughts of Daoist immortals took root in Japan At the beginning of the 9th century ancient Japan experienced a rare period of peace under the reign of Emperor Saga (786-842) during the Heian Period. Chinese culture (at that time, the culture of the Tang Dynasty) flourished in Japan and the Saga Emperor himself, with Kukai and Tachibana Hayanari, was acknowledged as one of the three acclaimed calligraphers of his day. The emperor composed Chinese style poetry as seen in the work quoted below,(From a modern Japanese transcription published by lwanami Shoten )

        Living in seclusion atop the Eastern Hills
        I sit in meditation facing the wooded peaks.
        Chanting sutras at length in the temple,
        yet, ritual begging for food is hard in the deep mountains.
        Rinsing my mouth at the mountain stream with the monkeys,
        I eat wild grasses with demons,
        Stroking the zither amidst the cloudy peaks
        late spring, the cold still lingers.

        Escaping from the everyday cares of the world to 1ive quietly in seclusion atop Mt. Hiei to the northeast of Kyoto, chanting sutras for hours in the mountain's Enryaku-ji temple, but finding it difficult in the deep mountains to fulfill the monk' s vow to eat only that which he receives from begging.

        Hence, he turned to drinking with the monkeys in the streams that course through the narrow ravines, and foraging for rough, wild food, eating with the demons who live hidden in the hills.

        Amidst the peaks that tower among the clouds, striking the zither made of preclous stones from the craggy hills. cold lingers at the end of spring.
The author of this poem, who lived as Japan's emperor over 1.000 years ago and was thoroughly steeped in the culture of China's Tang Dynasty as one of the intellectuals of his time, lay in wait for a glimpse of the immortals.

        While Japan's earliest recorded referenced to Bao Pu Zi, the title of a book by the esteemed Daoist philosopher Ge Hong is found in the later 9th century during the reign of Emperor Uda, Daoist philosophy had been originally pro-pounded in China durfng the 3rd century BC., over a thousand years earlier.
        Japan had been in contact with China since before the days of the semi-legendary Empress Himiko, and it is not difficult to see how thoughts on the Daoist immortals entered Japan along with the influx of the Buddhist doctrine. This poem with its expression of a deep understanding that surpasses the mortal world, its concern with other-worldly beings and spirit-zephyrs in monasteries amid the cloud-shrouded peaks, and images of freely playing musical instruments made of stones from mystical mountains all speak of a true understanding of Daoism.

        Traces of these ancient thousand-year-old thoughts, remain in the hearts of the Japanese and Chinese even today. This belief in the Ideals of a utopian realm manifests itself in an emphasis on a returning to and harmonizing with nature, and an understanding of a mountainous land filled the pristine gathering of spirits, deep mountain airs and storms, where immortals can ride the winds and enjoy a life of freedom for all eternity.

        These thoughts lying dormant in the hearts of the Asian peoples can be seen in Wang's "Ink landscape" photographs of Mt. Huangshan, Praise for Wang's images acknowledges that these works call forth the actual existance of a traditional Daoist utopia held in reverence and awe by the Asian heart.

        The grand majority of today's people who are shut In a regulated world of technology, particularly Asians, feel an extreme nostalgia for this utopian paradise.

       "Atmospheric Perspective "
       that Speaks of a Refined Sensibility

       During China's Six Dynasties period (3rd-6th centuries AD) utopian landscape paintings that were drawn with religious symbolism were the impetus for Zong Bing's painting theory Shan Shui Wo You, "Armchair Traveler's" enjoyment of landscape discussed above The motif of deep cloud and mist-studded mountains where immor-tals are free to ride the cloudy vapors stands between god (religious symbol) and mankind as it iies at the heart of China's landscape painting tradition.

        During China's next dynasty, the Tang, the landscape paintings of such wildly exuberant artists as Wu Daozi and exquisitely detailed works of Li Sixun were followed by the late 10th century nation-building Northern Song Dynasty, which saw the development of the golden age of Chinese landscape painting.
The Southern Song Dynasty, with its painting methods that use the blank areas of the painting's surface to call forth nature's grandeur, was then followed by the Yuan Dynasty, when the landscape painting styles of scholar-painters grew in prominence These Song and Yuan ink landscape painting styles were then imported to Japan during the Kamakura period and flourished with the sudden rise in interest in Song Dynasty Zen Buddhism during the subsequent Muromachi period. The aesthetics of landscape paintings which symbolized Zen satori and fantasies of the legendary peach blossom paradise of Daoism quickly entered Japan's basic aesthetic These ideals continued from the Muromachi period into the landscape painting and literati painting of the Edo period.
Hence, from Chinese ink landscape painting through Japan's literati landscape painting, artists used the format of the painting to express their inner ideals, whether "infusing the landscape with deep sentiments", or in specialized Asian art history terminology, "building the mountains of the heart"-forming the lofty Peaks and dense valleys of the recluse life in one's heart. All of these concepts demonstrate the Asian emphasis on the particular sensibility that the ancient Chinese call "qi yun sheng dong" or refined and lofty liveliness.

        Japan's equivalent to Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, the Kojien, defines "qi yun sheng dong" as "the sense of pulsing dignity and refinement in a painting or calligraphy," which somehow differs slightly from the Western landscape style of "mind landscapes" This term grew out of the Asian aesthetics which do not fit into definitions of the Western landscape techniques of perspective. chiaroscuro and Leonardo da Vinci's creation of aerial perspective.

        Etymologically speaking, this term was used in the definition of six principles of painting creation and connoisseurship noted in the preface to Gu Hua Pin Lu a work by the Chinese fate 5th century painter and critic, Xie He It was used to emphasize the importance of "Xieyi" or the depiction of an idea.

        Asian artists have long used representations of climatic changes and energies to achieve this sense of a rhythmic liveliness in their landscape paintings Using the previously noted Chinese "three perspectives" methods and thin gauze-like applications of clouds, mists, fogs and other of the myriad constantly changing watery atmospheric effects, artists have rendered the spectrum of the world in subtleties of blacd ink The artist creates "Xieyi" or an image of their thoughts in images of soft-focus perspective effects and the transparently mystical feel of other worlds.

Youhuan and Shenyun

       In his previous photo collection entitled Huangshan Huanyou or the Mysteries of Mt. Huangshan, Wang sent shock waves through the world of modern photography with his images of Mt. Huangshan that bring to life the fantastical and mysterious world of the immortal's utopia, Drawing on the mysticism and nihilism that has its roots in the thoughts of the early Daoists Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi of China's Warring States period (770-221 BC), Wang created an image of the immortals world that expressed a type of romanticism in its expression of a harmonious whole.

        In this photo collection, entitled Huangshan Shenyun or the Spirit Resonance of Mt. Huangshan, Wang has heightend his sense of "Xieyi" or depiction of thought His artistic will creates celestially and ethereally beautiful works that are all the more successful for all the fleetingness and fragility of their expression.

        Turning the pages of this new collection of photographs one gets the literal feeling of the "armchair enjoyment" of sitting and gazing at mountain and water photographs, a chance to play amidst the spiritual mountains of Mt, Huangshan,

        Wang has taken great pains to sort through his thousands of negatives of Mt. Huangshan to select a group that was then further honed by his heightened sense of the traditional concepts of Xieyi and yijing during the photographic printing process,

        And finally, his own self-defined sense of "ink landscape" photographs is all the more apparent in this new group of images.

        For example, just as in an ink landscape painting, the expressive methods of resonating white spaces of clouds, mists and fogs that are critical elements in inviting the movement of "lofty liveliness" to the picture plane are actually based on the forms of the traditional ink landscape painting method "canshan shengshui," or partially depicted landscapes. We can discover his finely honed sensibilities in the subtle balancing of the overall spatial arrangements and the expressive forms of minutely tuned gradations and shadowing.

        The images are awash with a blend of tension and poetic sentiment which can also be traced back to the diagonal forces in the traditional one corner view landscape painting method. We must also applaud Wang on his use of the three perspective methods of flat, distant and deep distance which evoke the reality of mystical beings living amidst hazy immortal valleys through the stormy cloud-filled feeling of Mt. Huangshan.

        The beauty of such traditional landscape painting techniques as the ax-cut stroke, with its ability to express the actual feel of steep cliffs and giant boulders was also recognized by Japan's landscape painters. While I believe that such Japanese painters as Shubun (early 15th century). Sesshu (1420-1506) and Soga Jasoku (later Muromachi period) were the masters of this technique, I also find the mind-landscape defining sensibilities of Xieyi and yijing in the tall pines that stretch up from the feet to Wang's boulders and cliffy peaks.

        Wang and I have frequently discussed his own Daoist thoughts, his poetic sensibilities, and his sense of atmosphere and nature. He has also shared his sense that the 2lst century will be a century not only of technology, but also a vivid era filled with limitless spirituality.

        His internal landscapes, through which he builds just this type of world, are reflected in the forms of the spirit resonance of Mt. Huangshan. The necessity for future mind landscapes are one reason that he has added color views of the utopian peaks to his repertoire.

        As an experiment I showed some of the proofs from this photo collection to my son who is a high school freshman. Given my work as an editor of an arts magazing, my wife and sons have often seen proofs and it is not unusual for me to ask their impressions on these materials.

        While looking through the works, my sixteen year old son pointed out several of the black and white images that he liked, but he got really excited when he came to a high shot of peaks floating in a sea of color clouds.

        "It's great the way you can clearly see the temple on the top of this cliff in this shot. l wouldn't be at all surprised if a real immortal stepped out of this scene."
        In monochrome, to this young boy it didn't matter if it was an ink painting or a black and white photograph, he could not see all the fine details. With the color works, my son finally saw Wang's images as photographs, and finally grasped a real sense of the utopian world captured in those images.

        Wang, an artist of "ink landscape" photography, states "I create a utopian citadel in the depths of my heart," Indeed, he has brought the mountains of our hearts to life.

       This article also appears in Huangshan Shenyun published in 1993 by Kodansha in Japan.