Hong Kong﹣It is just after the Dragon Boat Festival. After a visit to her hometown of Chengdu, Peng Wei has returned to her studio in Beijing. Her last trip home was for the filming of a documentary, one about her and her father, the artist Peng Xiancheng. The documentary is titled A Dialogue Between Two Generations of Ink Art (老彭與小彭). The original conceit came from Peng Wei, who hoped to use this project as a way of working out her relationship with her father.
Peng Wei and her father are very close. Ever since childhood, she tagged along after him, following him even to work. She grew up in the housing quarters of the Chengdu Art Academy, the family home unchanged in the three decades that they have lived there, filled to the brim with her father’s various catalogues and sketchbooks. Peng Wei chuckles, “He’s obsessed with drawing!” Every year Mr. Peng goes through a dozen or so sketchbooks, drawing, constantly, wherever he goes. He was Peng Wei’s first teacher, doling instruction to her from a young age, bringing her along in his investigations into the art of painting. “Our bond runs very, very deep,” Peng Wei says.
Her father’s influence on Peng Wei’s work are evident in her early works. In her iconic “Stones” (湖石) series, traces of the brushstroke and technique from her early education can be detected. In the rendering of water and ink color, her father was truly her first influence. When asked what her father thinks of her paintings, Peng Wei says casually, “He quite approves of what I’m doing.” In her eyes, her father is a traditional artist who can nevertheless accept the new.
In 2002, Peng Wei began painting shoes. Her father’s initial response was astonishment. Why shoes? he asked. But it wasn’t a few days before his attitude turned, and he told her that he had grown to like the paintings. As a child, her father would stamp her paintings with a seal of her name, in the same manner that traditional artists would imprint their seals onto calligraphy paintings. One time her father, of his own accord, stamped her seal onto one of her shoe paintings. He didn’t know that Peng Wei had her own ideas, that she had wanted to conceal the authorship of the painting such that the entire painting contained only the shoes. “So I had a crying fit, and he was stunned,” Peng Wei explains. “He realized that a there existed a generational chasm between he and his daughter, and that he should no longer intervene. From then on, my father stopped treating me like he did when I was a child. This event marked a real turn.”
Today, Peng Wei is considered one of the leading representatives of Chinese contemporary ink painting, known for her bright and elegant artistic style. Fusing traditional ink and color techniques with contemporary Western art, Peng Wei has created a style that is distinctly her own. Peng Wei admits, candidly, that whether in distance or in artistic perspective, she and her father have drifted apart. In earlier years, Peng Wei felt conflicted about hosting a joint exhibit with her father, and refused many of his invitations. She explains that at the time she was afraid of being too influenced by him; she wanted her art to be independent. But today, her father is 74, and Peng Wei’s attitude has undergone a transformation.
An Old Picture of Peng Wei and Peng Xiancheng
“When I was young, it was always he who was leading me. Now I feel like it’s I who should look after him,” she says. “My father embraces solitude, and has a defiant attitude toward the market.” In Peng Wei’s eyes, her father is an unpragmatic artist, single-mindedly lusting after drawing and painting, concerned only with how to infuse his subjects with joy and vitality. “All of his ambition lies on this piece of paper.” Fueled by his passion for the last thirty years, Mr. Peng has been a remarkably influential traditional ink art painter and scholar. With a dedicated following in Mainland China, he is celebrated for his mastery of the boneless technique. Inspired by the ancient poetry and traditional picturesque themes, his creations constantly improving, constantly expanding in individual style. “My father’s work is getting better and better. I think more people must see it.”
“To see a painting is to see its painter.” This saying closely applies to both Peng Wei and her father. The father, a classical ink painter, and the daughter, a contemporary ink painter – their styles distinctly different, as are their philosophies – yet both of these artists’ works reveal a loftiness, an aloof distance from worldly affairs, an air of a free and liberated absorption. The reason for this can perhaps be attributed to a passion for ink and color. In his youth, Peng Xiancheng copied graphic novels, and Peng Wei picked up her first brush at the age of two. This ink and color DNA seems to have been coded into father and daughter from the very beginning. Mr. Peng has made drawing and painting a part of his life, and Peng Wei, through her serene creations, has sought joy through her art. While the influence of her father upon her works is gradually receding, the shared genes in every atom remain unchanged.
These two generations of ink painters share one simple belief: focusing on doing what one loves. It is this very attitude that has allowed them to continuously enjoy the pleasures of creating art.
Peng Wei’s first co-exhibition with her father will open in October at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery. Peng Wei is still busy preparing. This act embodies the spirit of her emotions: strong, yet simple. The intuitive essence of art, expressed fully in ink and color; a father-daughter pair, so similar yet so distant, so different yet so close.
Author: Zhang Yihong (張一泓), CCTV（Chinese Central Television) Programming Director, Co-Head of Crafts TV series, including shows Shouchuan Zhuyu (手串珠語) and Rumusanfen (入木三分).
Translated by: Breanna Chia
Hero image:PENG WEI, LETTERS FROM A DISTANCE 2012-2015