"In my work, I mainly use mulberry paper and hemp paper. The traditional paper-making process gives a texture that is a little grainy and flawed. I like these kinds of paper. Searching for the right paper is also part of the creative process, as well as finding paper that suits my mood. To find the right feeling and the best match between the paper and the image is not complex and yet it is an essential part of my work. The process might take a long time, as it requires touching, feeling and most importantly observing how the paper reacts to the brushes and ink. Communicating with other artists and getting their advice has also helped.
It took me two to three years searching for the proper medium and tools that corresponded to my work. Now I use mulberry paper (for the thin brushstrokes series) and hemp paper (for the thick ones) as they are close to the nature of my current work. One is smooth and delicate while the other with more fibers gives the feeling of coarseness. There are so many kinds of paper and they involve various production techniques. I would also like to try bamboo paper from Sichuan and traditional Tengchong hand-made paper in the future.
In my artistic exploration, I used to simplify complex things first, compressing and refining them, getting focused without distraction, reigning in previous painting habits and weakening my habitual painting style. While painting, I aim to find other directions, going back to the basics. Over recent years, I have mostly tried to copy the sutras and adjust my breathing rhythm to my brushstrokes. I need to persevere to refine my senses and gain transformative energy.
Brush and ink reflect the heart of the people. People reveal themselves through painting and the ‘right’ work will eventually talk to the one whom it is destined for. The right work also determines that the work can be carried on in an honest way. It requires time to continuously improve one’s cognitive ability and most importantly the perception the viewer has of the painting. I hope the viewer can find a meaningful personal perspective in my paintings and keep thinking forward and feeling inspired.
In the past, working outdoors as a photographer gave me an intuitive understanding of society. With this nurturing experience being me, I needed to return to work in my studio. Having been exposed to first-hand social issues for many years, I felt more grounded. I have always been painting and photographing at the same time, and to me there were no contradictions between them. By developing the habit of observing for a long time, I instinctively knew which elements could be included in my painting.
Things are impermanent; there is a beginning and an end. The world is unpredictable, having a beginning and an end. When I was a child, I saw more of the last moments of one's journey than most people. For a period of time, I did not fully understand life and death, but I naturally accepted the fact of impermanence, and even had a strong fear for death. As the saying goes, ‘risks come from all directions’. I have learned to be grateful for every day, to accept that life is about attachment and separation. The sooner one can understand this, the better. In the current pandemic, some can face it with a peaceful attitude. For this, I would recommend reading the Diamond Sutra.
I am alternately working on two different bodies of work, which feel natural in my own artistic practice. One is representing mostly landscapes painted in thinnest brushstrokes that feel quiet and soft while I use more spontaneous and direct thicker brushes for the other work. It is like converging two kinds of energy in a ballet of movements and stillness combined with emotions, time and distance. All things have various aspects. Sometimes when there is conflict, the contradiction could lead me towards a new direction. A temporary dilemma becomes a new possibility. The interconnected Yin and Yang become a point of balance. What matters is to keep on conveying a message. The alternation of Ying and Yang leads to the combination of different sources of strength. An artist’s work depends on his/her personality. It could convey different styles, as a person is multifaceted. Some artist’s work evolves into radically different styles over a decade, sometimes over 20 or 30 years. Recently I found out the early works of the great artist Liang Kai梁楷 (Song dynasty) were surprisingly different from the works I have known before, but it revealed another facet of his nature and that is a good example.
'Qi' is a fundament in Traditional Chinese culture. 'Qi' is the way that needs to be practiced, while knowledge is the art of it. For instance, the taste of tea that is prepared by people with a clear and focused breath is very different. It is a moment of communion: the tea master needs to control his breathing rhythm and movements keeping his hands agile but freely operating. In my experience, the sophistication of the Tea Ceremony in the oriental culture takes its roots in the 'Qi' that confronts the mind over nature.
In the past few years, I have been regularly copying Sutras in my studio or in temples, seeing them as a form of training to regulate the 'Qi' and calm the mind. Practicing from four to six hours at a time makes my breathing clearer and calmer. It takes a lot of practice to achieve this state. Once you master this practice then you are rewarded in its many benefits and a constantly renewed energy. The buildup of this energy makes me more at ease and in control of the way I paint without the anxiety that comes while creating. In different series of work, I can make use of the force and dynamism that I get from the breathing practice. I feel like all the ink lines coming out of my brushes are contained in my breath.
Life is challenging and I am always following the rules of simplicity. The breathing exercise brings the real calmness that I need to stay open-minded. I wish to surround myself with only good intentions at heart. For many years, painting has been the biggest part of my daily life. The breathing routine helps me to settle down for a good day’s work: painting, copying Buddhist scriptures, tending to the small animals roaming around the neighborhood, eating healthy and not being lazy are all blessings. I do not wish to emphasize the importance of having a studio; eventually I could paint anywhere as long as I am closely connected to life whether in cities, mountains or fields, things manifest themselves to a clear mind when one has found a way to be in and out of the world following the Meanderings of the Heart."
—— Dai Mouyu, Spring 2022