By and large, Laozi’s theories are the same principles behind abstract painting. When he says that one stands out by making an impression, he refers to the abstract impressions, rather than those in the conventional sense. He also talks about the “image of no image” and the “image within no image”. In other words, we don’t necessarily have to hold on to such things as image. If its spirit is there, it qualifies as an image-less abstraction. He becomes most clear in another aphorism: “Attain the centre of the ring, beyond image.” We first work within this ring, and then we just jump out of it. That is abstraction.
In this painting, Zhang Daqian splashed ink and water repeatedly onto the five-feet tall patterned paper and no trace of the brush is visible. The effect captures not only the sublime landscape, but also the amorphous cloudscape oscillating between black and white, solid and void. It is in pure abstract paintings such as this one that witness the artist’s liberation from conventional understanding of ink. By rendering a traditional landscape using a revolutionary technique which is exceptionally abstract and formless, the artist has positioned “Majestic Mountains in Cloudy Mist” to be one of the most important splashed-ink works in his artistic career.
The seal, which reads “1965, 54th (year of Republican Era)”, was specially designed by Zhang himself for paintings intended for the international art world, hence the use of the Arabic numerals. The other rare seal reading “Image of no image” alludes to the Daoist concept of “formlessness” embodied in the artist’s abstract ink works. The two seals together can therefore be understood as proof of Zhang’s endeavour toward abstraction during this time.