Flowers and Fruits: Western Form with Eastern Spirit
At 137 cm in length, Flowers and Fruits is the only extant color ink painting by Guan Liang at these dimensions, featuring the still life subject of flowers and fruits. The image exudes bounty and brilliance, echoing the iconic style of Qi Baishi’s “red flowers and dark leaves.” Demonstrating the philosophy of “skillful coarseness,” the artist’s brushwork is natural, the lines smooth with no trace of hesitation. The objects appear both simple and vivid, sketched from concise and quick brushstrokes that reveal both virtuosic ease and meticulous attention.
At the same time, Guan Liang demonstrates his deep study of Western painting. Using techniques of light and shadow, he reconstructs the traditional Chinese painting philosophy of space by generating a sense of three-dimensionality using the liubai or “leave blank” technique and a wide range of ink colors. The blooming flowers in the vase are simply sketched with color ink, and not filled in with color, as though the brilliant petals are catching the light. Most of the surroundings and background have also been “left blank,” the skillful and clever use of different light gradations creating a distinction between foreground and background. In his use of color ink, one can detect traces of Guan Liang’s Fauvist influences. With realism as a foundation, Guan Liang generates bold and strong color contrast, even using pure and unmixed color, the interplay of rich colors enlivening the traditional elements and adding vitality to traditional Chinese painting techniques.
Comparing Flowers and Fruits with the artist’s oil painting Flowers in a Vase, sold at Sotheby’s Autumn Evening Sale in 2018, one can see that despite the different choice in medium, they share a unified creative vision. As Guo Moruo once said, describing Guan Liang’s still life paintings, “[The artist uses] the simplicity, concision, substantiality, and rich density of Western technique to express the serenity, naturalness, elegance, and organic quality of traditional Chinese painting.”
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