The taste of water

Evocation and rawness

WEN Zhengming 文徵明 (1470-1559) indicates a sweeping landscape with little more than wet smudges of colour. These hover on glistening mica-flecked paper. Slower looking reveals them to be carefully, cautiously laid down. The illusion of depth and volume is striking, emerging from the intervals in the tones of ink. This is a particular and fully imagined place - even if it is not a record of a locality per se. It is also equally felt as ‘mere ink.’ The oscillation between representation and abstract presence appeals to our sense of multiple possibilities, while an economy of means demonstrates the skillful manipulation of imagination.

The painterly devices used here are familiar ones - this is a performance in the manner of the Mi family, artists of several hundred years earlier whose works were associated with literati position, contemplation and Chan (Zen) Buddhism. Developing the un-polished aspect of the scholarly tradition, both MI Fu 米黻 (1051-1107) and his son MI Youren 米友人 (1086-1165) produced elliptical landscape paintings, using loose ink washes and dots to build up and shape mass.

WEN Zhengming 文徵明 (1470-1559)
Landscape and calligraphy (dated 1508)
Handscroll, ink and colour on gold flecked and mica paper
29.8 x 181cm
Private collection

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