In 1973, Wu Guanzhong was relocated back to Beijing, where he lived in a humble residential compound in the Shichahai district. During his free time, the artist frequently visited the Black Bamboo Park in Beijing’s Xizhimen to sketch from life. A large lotus pond was in full blossom every summer, radiating exuberance and charm. The artist was mesmerized by this pulsating and vivacious energy. Prior to creating the lot on offer, Wu Guanzhong had made numerous draft-like attempts at capturing the lotus pond using watercolour, gouache, and oil. This persistent examination and experimentation with different types of media, composition, and execution reveal the subject matter’s unusual significance for the artist. Using the image of the lotus, Wu Guanzhong imbues the flowers with deep and abstract sentiment, communicating his reflections on the past, and displaying a tender yet staunch resistance against the trials of life.
The Lotus Pond, A Single Drop Amid the Vast Waters of the World
Although Wu Guanzhong’s personal life was in the grip of very difficult circumstances, the subjects animated under his brush exude remarkable strength. The paintings created by Wu Guanzhong during this painful time are a record both of his life’s greatest pains and greatest joys, and within these paintings, one can discern the artist’s own blazing spirit. The tangible living-and-breathing humanity emanating from these paintings is precisely the reason why the artist’s works from the 1970s are a coveted favourite of collectors. Since the time of the ancient scholars, the lotus, with its beautiful and delicate appearance, its refined and elegant aura, has been invoked to symbolize exceptionally noble character. In addition to the flower’s conventional symbolism, Wu Guanzhong’s use of lotuses in his paintings carries another layer of meaning. Previously, the artist had also painted sunflowers and wild mountain flowers, fruit vines and wild chrysanthemums that had sprouted up in hidden corners. Wu Guanzhong had been on a long and tireless search, and it was not until he came upon lotuses that the gates of his heart fully swung open in recognition, freeing him to express his profound and unique meditation on life. He once said:
“In the lotus pond, the entire cycle of life and death is on display. It is a microcosm of the twists and turns of our human existence. Light and heavy, joyful or painful – each possesses its own beauty…What it exhibits is not simply the life cycle of the lotus; no, what it wishes to reveal is helplessness, struggle, disdain; it sings as a replacement for weeping.”
Wu Guanzhong, excerpt from Hetang Chunqiu
With concision, the artist fully expresses both the suffering of his tumultuous life, as well as his unbreakable pride. The presence of Wu Guanzhong’s formidable philosophy toward life, suffused within the image of the lotus pond, leaves the viewer both in awe and in deep reverence. Amid the vast waters of the world, it was this lotus pond that afforded Wu Guanzhong a subject that could contain and express the artist’s long and winding inner journey.
A Celebration of Life, Exquisite Clarity and Purity
Lotus Pond integrates the varying perspectives of low, mid, and high horizon lines. The artist’s observations while sketching from life are animated with imagination, allowing the viewer to appreciate the visual possibilities of one side of the lotus pond from multiple perspectives. This decision makes clear that the painting is not a still life painting from nature in the traditional sense. To compare the lot on offer with Lotus Flowers (I), which was offered at this year’s Spring Sale, one notices that despite its smaller dimensions, Lotus Pond, with its fine details throughout, is not simply a close-up of Lotus Flowers (I). Rather, in Lotus Pond, the elements that make up the vital essence of Lotus Flowers (I) are extracted and condensed. Whether in the main subject of the white lotus, or the numerous lotus buds throughout, each of the essential elements present in Lotus Flowers(I) can be found in Lotus Pond. In the close-up focus of the white lotus, the flower rises toward the sky, proud and at ease, the petals full and forceful, standing in bloom. It continuously emanates a wild and unrestrained vitality. The lotus buds, carefully arranged around the blossoming flowers, reveal hints of pink at their tips, foreshadowing the magnificent landscape of blossoming lotuses about to burst forth. In this way, the painting is suffused with a powerful vitality that is seems to be on the brink of release. The emerald-green stems are thick and sturdy, straight as arrows, creating yet another form of leaping, upward-flowing energy. Although the white lotus is an aquatic plant, its roots are grounded in the earth. The deep sentiments for one’s motherland that flow through the painting as well as the vitality that extends toward the sky, not only serve as Wu Guanzhong’s resounding response to his times and the trials of his own life, but also, they mark the final completion of a lifelong search for a subject capacious enough to hold all of the earth’s “truth, goodness, and beauty” within it.
Among Wu Guanzhong’s paintings that feature lotuses as subjects, some depict verdant lotus leaves and red blossoms, while others are of withering leaves and drooping lotuses. Lotus Pond, however, is truly one of a kind. It is a microcosm of Wu Guanzhong’s art of the 1970s, condensing the beautiful vitality forged from his personal suffering with near perfection, and displaying it across the canvas with exceeding skill. While viewing Lotus Pond, only by engaging one’s own interiority can one truly appreciate the artist’s hard-earned wisdom, his universal spirit, as well as his rigorous and sacred treatment of art that originates from a heart of clarity and purity.
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