Ding Yanyong’s artistic foundation was in Western art, and the subject of Flowers in a Urn comes from the tradition of Western still-life paintings, or nature morte, a term pointing to the inanimate natural world. Yet here, Ding Yanyong’s objective was not simply to reproduce an image of reality, but rather to “animate stillness,” bestowing the painting with an exuberant vitality. It is an inversion of the technique used in the portrayals of human figures, in which animate subjects are fixed in a still frame. Ding Yanyong uses a flattened composition, eschewing the depiction of depth and maintaining control over the myriad elements through simplification. The vase of flowers, the table-top, and the wall are combined onto the same plane, the ethereal vase seemingly suspended in air. The arrangement of the scene gives way to the pure expression of colour: reds, yellows, whites, greens colliding uninhibitedly, the blossoming flowers spilling forth, symbolizing a flourishing vitality.
The main symbol in Composition II is composed of lines, each stroke imbued with the aura of Chinese calligraphy. With brushstrokes filled with strength and vigor, Ding Yanyong demonstrates the traditional maxim of “painting and calligraphy rising from the same soil.” Using oil paints rather than ink, he powerfully illustrates in concrete practice his fusion of calligraphic skill and insight with Western painting, observing no distinction between the two. Despite the finite space of the canvas, the unimpeded vigor and force of Ding Yanyong’s brush demonstrates his masterful “one brushstroke” agility. The steady and simple brushwork is completed in a single flourish, sketching out a composition of geometric shapes that invokes the primitive, symbolic designs etched onto ancient pottery, reflecting Ding Yanyong’s deep interest in the study of ancient objects. The lines also resemble the engravings on Chinese seals, such that the entire painting can be seen as the stamp of a seal. Indeed, this is a work rich with surprising and wondrous connotations.
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