Man and nature – pervasive pattern

A sense of life

'A sense of life' in artworks refers to a holistic impression of formal necessity, a feeling that the parts relate to one another with the economy and clarity of a living creature or a natural process. This is a recurrent concern, and its presence is often a signal of both quality and authenticity.

At a primary level, observation and study of nature is undertaken in order to discover means to achieve a sense of vitality. Sometimes this involves representation per se, but more often it involves a distillation of formal elements. Looking at mountains, one searches for the 'dragon veins' that provide a diagram of geological formation and the natural forces that organize water and fauna. One then applies similar lines of force and a logic of growth and transformation to the construction of a painted or calligraphic composition.

In addition to this practical guidance for aesthetics, nature is a source of metaphors and a subject of poetry. This brings nature and artworks together in a network of potential relations and complexity.

In these typical Beijing glass vases, the pattern of flowers swells and ebbs with the form. While gently abstracted, the flowers are clearly identifiable as plum blossoms, associated with the breaking of winter and the re-birth of natural life. Fixed here in the warm yellow glass of the vases, these images offer a promise and a poetic key, even in the cold days before real flowers were brought indoors.

 Pair of flower vases
Beijing glass, 19th century
Private collection