Home > Criticisms > Text
An Oriental Sentiment in Bai Ming’s Art


Poetic and Zenic:
An Oriental Sentiment in Bai Ming’s Art
Chen Zheng
Part 1
I like Bai Ming’s ceramic art;
I like Bai Ming’s oil paintings;
I like Bai Ming’s ink paintings;
I like Bai Ming’s comprehensive materials;
I like Bai Ming’s concreteness and abstractness;
I like his writings, his thoughts, his micro-blog and even his lifestyle.
Talented men, and women, abound in this world. Some are derogated because they’re unworthy of their name; some are superficial because they follow the herd without thinking; some feel lonely because they are self-important and arrogant; and some fall down and out because they lack enterprising spirit.
Bai Ming — a man with piercing eyes, glossy forehead, red lips and white teeth — while in the middle of his life, he remains as curious as a child, as changeable as a young man, as thoughtful as a middle-aged man and as sagacious as an old man. Like us, he lives in a mediocre era, yet he is able to keep five senses — vision, hearing, touch, smell and taste, all in an activated state. He has long groped in the quiet dark seeking for synaesthesia, an experience of something in a different way, and looking forward to a feeling of excitement which is both familiar and strange to him.
Thus, it doesn’t matter whether he is talented or untalented, whether he is successful or unsuccessful, just like we drink water and it doesn’t matter whether it is cold or hot. Bai Ming and his works, whether they are soft and warm like stringed music or clear and resonant like symphonic music, can convey the elegant style of the literati and reflect the classical feelings of Tang and Song poems.
Ancient classics are stirred by fresh elements, and fresh elements are immersed in ancient classics.
And thus, we need to have a poetic sentiment and a Zenic peaceful state of mind when it comes to appreciating Bai Ming.
Part 2
The Sound of Time , published ten years ago, can well account for Bai Ming’s assiduous seeking for poetic realm and Zenic acme.
The concepts of time and space are human’s philosophical dimension as well as religious dimension.
“Time is the most powerful substance in the world, and its willpower allows no violation. It creates everything and destroys everything. And everything in the universe, including the sun, the moon and the stars, are quietly changing under the impact of time. Human’s life and death, happiness and sorrows, gain and loss, honor and disgrace,all have different connotations with the change of time. Even time itself has different interpretations in different periods of time. Time is the greatest abstract artist and the greatest musician in the universe. It places the whole world in an interlinked and interdependent harmonious situation. Humankind and everything related to humankind are constantly changing colors and musical notes with the passage of time.”
It is guided by such ideas that Bai Ming has created and tempered his works of art.
Ordinary people find it difficult to give a rational judgment when confronting with such titles of the following works:Thinking and Analyzing in Form (comprehensive material), Exploring the False and the Real ,Exploring the Light and the Heavy , and Exploring the Foursquare and the Upright . Yet, in our visual instinct, a mere thought of the famous Thinker by Rodin will lead us into a quiet and cold world before we realize it. The Taoist hallucination, the Buddhist nothingness and the Confucianist  inquiry — all are reflected in these works of art, just like electroencephalograms.
In his works of art Speech of Objects •Another Counterpart , and Speech of Objects •The Sound of Time , it is a kind of philosophical inquiry, inquiry about existence and nothingness, and inquiry about the essence of life.
From New Interpretations of Ceramics Series,Exploring the Far and the Near Reeds in the Wind , and The Dance of Spring , etc, we can see how a ceramic artist or a man of letters thinks about survival in the current situation and feel the meaning of another form of social existence.
What touches me most are Kilns in Ancient Town Series and Landscape and Time Series . These works remind us that life in entirety is art in itself. Also, they remind us of the vicissitudes of life and the quick passage of time, throwing us into a deep sigh and a state of helplessness. Bai Ming is not a devout Zen Buddhist, yet he has always immersed himself consciously in the cultural practice of Zen Buddhism.
Whether it is Practising Meditation •Form and Process , or Defects in Perfection Series , Or Studies of the Han Dynasty •Tortoise Plastron Series — all of them, in my view, come out of Bai Ming’s realization to truth by practising Zenic meditation. Both the form and the process originate in his “innate wisdom”, not attained through self-cultivation, but granted by God. It is difficult to make such an attainment merely by listening; seeing is equally important. Though not a Zen Buddhist, he awakens to the truth of Buddhism. This does not come from his earnest effort, but a spontaneous overflow of his values and aesthetics in the noumenon of life.
Language has pitfalls. Normally, artists pay attention to language in pen and ink, language in material and language in form, yet they often neglect language itself (by language in itself, I mean language in written form, or written language). Oftentimes, this leads to unconscious self-mutilation. Bai Ming is not such an artist. From the titles of his above works, we can acquire a deep understanding of his care and thought. This, indeed, has kept him quite a distance from those artists who do not care about language itself.
Part 3
I have to spare a special page for Bai Ming’s blue-and-white porcelain.
The Yuan Dynasty is one of the short-lived feudal dynasties in China. Because of the conquest all by force and the division of people into four ranks, with the Han people of the south at the lowest rank, being treated like pigs and dogs, the Han intellectuals who had just been transformed from the Song Dynasty despised the Yuan Dynasty.
However, in terms of culture, the Yuan Dynasty contributed an outstanding work: the Yuan blue-and-white porcelain. White glaze and blue-and-white porcelain are presented with blue colors, forceful carvings, bold and vigorous brushwork, and a realist style. And from them, we can feel the
constant beauty of Chinese porcelain.
According to The Secret History of Mongolia , Vol. I, the Mongolian people originate in the copulation of a blue wolf and a white deer. Blue and white correspond respectively to the blue sky and the white cloud, and they are freeze-framed in porcelain. Because blue hue could be sprinkled wantonly on a white porcelain, blue-and-white porcelain got unanimously acclaimed by both imperial court and general public. Its tempting beauty shows the purest and noblest side of nature.
“Bai Ming’s blue-and-white devices are both simple and exquisite in shape. By using dots,lines and surfaces, he gives a full display of the changes in shape and the quality of porcelain materials. Even those small details, such as edges, bottoms and lids or buttons, all embody ingenuity, show a particular, meticulous, implicit, composed, steady forceful beauty, and contain an elegant temperament of the traditional culture,” art historian Mr. Xi Jingzhi said.
In my view, Bai Ming, firstly, improves his formula of materials in his blue-and-white porcelain paintings, making the blue hue more pure blue and the colors more soft and light.
Thus, we see almost no traces of graveness, elegance and gloominess in the Yuan blueand- white porcelain. Secondly, though the decorative patterns are still mostly the veins of plants, they are completely away from the “full-dense-flat” layout of the Yuan blue-and-white porcelain, and also totally different from the patterns of Islamic art; they very wisely retain a geometrical shape, with multiple straight lines and curved lines crisscrossing and combining repetitively. Thirdly,the shape of devices have changed. Bai Ming is very meticulous about devices. He selects a number of well-accepted classical devices from among the traditional devices, staring at them every day and turning them over in his mind time and again until he sees them out of shape and takes a liking for them, and then, he tries lengthening or shortening them dozens and hundreds of times in the practice by using his own criterion. Graceful plum vases, dignified jade flasks, fat pen containers and round tea canisters, all of them have a distinctive style of his own. And the fourth is the change of the painting style. The painting style of the Yuan blue-and-white porcelain is characterized by rough and unrestrained use of colors, and vivid and forceful brushwork. Bai Ming retains the vivid and forceful style, and replaces roughness and unrestraint with delicacy and elegance.
Bai Ming is well-versed in traditional techniques, and on this basis he innovates boldly, making his blue-and-white porcelain a distinctive taste of modern aesthetics. He does not simply transplant the traditional Chinese paintings, nor adopts the traditional decorative patterns. The various images on his devices, which look like grasses, flowers, fruits, lotus leaves, reeds or running water, bring people a bright, open-minded and vigorous artistic feeling.This makes him largely different from the creative models of Jingdezhen. I am bold to say that it is owing to Bai Ming that the age-old blue-and-white porcelain can find an echo in the present-day society.
I have written a few verses in praise of Bai Ming’s blue-and-white porcelain and released them on my micro-blog, which are as follows:
Beautiful clothes fluttering on the horizon, Antique stuff hidden in the heart. Water in the river, mud on the mountain, Picking up a flower and smiling, With kiln fire glowing in misty rain. A handsome young man, traversing a blue-and-white land, a plain wall and dark-blue tiles, And a boat sailing far away.
In the face of the blue-and-white porcelain, in the face of Bai Ming’s blue-and-white porcelain, in the face of the carvings of Oriental culture with an integral structure, texture and lustre, in the face of the elegant and restrained deportment, and in the face of the high-quality style, we cannot but admire and feel excited. How dare we allow any slightest imprudence and blaspheme?
Part 4
Can abstraction be used to express the Oriental sentiments artistically? The answer is “yes”.
Abstraction often comes together with freehand brushwork, because both try to account for feelings, and feelings are essential to art. Generally speaking, abstraction goes farther than freehand brushwork.
Abstraction normally falls into two categories: one is dominated by passion, and the other is more or less controlled.
Bai Ming’s works (except for his earlier figurative works) are obviously a kind of controlled abstraction. We find that he is still dominated by his own feelings and we do not see any definite “meanings”, yet from some particulars such as lines, dots, color lumps and materials, we can completely sense his delicacy, exquisiteness, mildness, lightness, uniqueness and gracefulness. It is the artistic patterns woven from these dots and lines that add a poetic flavor to his paintings.
Dots, lines and color lumps have always been used as tools of artistic creation. The making of porcelain, from mud to baking, requires a series of technological processes, yet for Bai Ming, dots, lines and color lumps have become his expressive objects. This technique has been used by Western artists and has been introduced into China long ago. Unfortunately, however, it has not aroused attraction in the circles of ceramic art. And fortunately, there is a ceramic artist named Bai Ming.
Standing and staring at Bai Ming’s works, you will find the composition of these purecolored and simple-lined paintings might be a decorative effect and will fade out gradually, and yet, an intrinsic serenity and confidence will come to you nearer and nearer.
Bai Ming never doubts the “Oriental sentiment” embodied in his works. The more he travels, displays, teaches and exchanges in the Western world, the more he feels the extensiveness and profoundness of Chinese culture. His love for traditional Chinese culture, his preference for Chinese classical music, plus his regular drinking of tea and sitting in meditation, makes his works all stamped with the brand of his own style.
Bai Ming’s botanical world on the porcelain is a self-determined world as well as a pure world. Take one of his masterpieces, Life in Endless Succession , for example. Here, there are no trees, no birds and no soil; we do not know what kind of vines they are. They are densely distributed, occupying all the places and leaving little space in the tableau. What we can see is only the crisscrossing of blue-and-white lines, the intertwining of life and the surging of passion. At such a moment, a plant is not a plant, and a vine not a vine. It does not serve as the background of others, nor does it need others to act as its own background. While it rejects the real world, it also rejects a sordid imaginary world.
Yes, ultimate art! It wants to create a world we have never seen before. In exploring it, Bai Ming does not forget rhythm and rhyme, and not forget the matching of colors, thus arising the poetic sentiment and Zenic conception, consciously and unconsciously.
Suppose that Mr. Lin Fengmian involved himself in ceramics, what he would do is simply to paint on porcelain or to use porcelain as painting material, drawing on the experiences of both.
Bai Ming, however, can be counted as a very penetrating artist. Looking at Bai Ming’s wonderful ceramic art, we have a refreshing feeling. The clean and clear chinaware, the soft and warm touch on it, the contrast of blue and white, the various changes, the nobleness of pheonix Nirvana... all remain long and fresh in our mind.
Part 5
Some people think that the highest state of mind is abundant in simplicity, that is, the core part of mind is always simple, but it contains abundant feelings, experiences and thoughts.
The mission for a gifted artist is to find the most proper way of expression for his own inner spiritual world and create a truly humanistic form of abstraction.
Bai Ming’s micro-blog exactly opens up his inner spiritual world for us. Next, let us pick a dozen pieces from thousands of remarks in his micro-blog to show what he thinks in his mind...
1. On art
Modern art’s contributions to us are not merely found in our visual sense and art history.Modern art, in effect, is a brief history of thought that we can browse quickly.
A sensitive artist has a unique perception for material’s expressions and language. In some cases, it is the artist who discovers material’s feelings and beauty. In more cases, it is material that touches off the artist’s inspiration and creativity, and at this moment, material has become a prophet of art in the eyes of the artist.
An artistic style does not completely rely on art history, nor does it rely merely on thought for its birth. It germinates and grows out of the artist’s own emotions, self-cultivation, aesthetic appreciation and personality.
Art and culture do not rely on output, not on scale, not on huge-crowd strategy, not on government advocacy, not on discussions at the meetings, not on awards and titles, not on mutual flatteries, not on bundled interests, not to speak of taking a group of photoes with distinguished artists or officials. If you have done such things once or several times, you have cast away the soul of cultural art. Then, the vulgar culture of flattering officials and merchants will run rampant.
2. On self-cultivation
Learn to spend some time every day in observing yourself quietly, which will benefit you very much. Everyone is an exclusive thick book that cannot be borrowed. Many people read books every day, sparing time and energy to verify other people’s thoughts, but few people bother to read themselves, which are alive books that changes every day. Self is the truest matrix from which we can perceive life.
A heart can have thousands of different feelings, a person can have thousands of modalities, and eyes can have thousands of discoveries. All depends on how we use it. If we can feel the differences of each day in our routine life, then it is a real meaningful day for us.
3. On travel
In Paris, I spent my holidays on a river beach in the daytime and did some reading in my hotel room at night. My daughter was listening to some songs on the computer, first, the Legend by Wang Fei, and then,Rolling in the Deep by Adele. Very good songs: one is silvery silk, nice-looking and serene; and the other is beige flax, warm and plain.
At a museum in New Mexico, I was listening quietly to bamboo flute music by a famous Indian musician. The music sounded like a special loneliness in the wilderness, a melodious tune of rise and fall, and a deep love for nature. While listening with my ears, I felt tender in my heart and wet in my eyes.
In America, hotels do not check the room when the guest leaves. At first I thought it was an individual case, but now it seems not. In doing so, the waiting time is reduced for the hotel guests, and more importantly, it shows mutual trust and respect among people.
4. On life
Yesterday I returned to China for the Mid-Autumn Festival which falls on this day. Chinese people are so romantic as to have invented “Mid-Autumn”— a nice and poetical festival. The shift from offering sacrifices to the moon to appreciating the moon is an upgrade of human warmth. We are enjoying the cultural tender love passed down from our ancestors, and every time in celebrating the festival, we increase our respect for nature and feel the warmth in this world.
How difficult and unequal it is to communicate between human beings! Don’t believe that we know each other’s wishes if we use a common language. Don’t believe that our real wishes will be appreciated as a personal favor by listeners. Don’t believe that modernization will be sure to benefit the less developed nations. Don’t believe that a democratic country must have started with democracy. Equality should be a precondition for communication. False equality is found everywhere in this world, making “communication” impossible to go smoothly.
For dozens of years I’ve been fond of light-colored clothes, silk, blue-and-white porcelain, crystal, old devices, amber-like tea soup and yellow rice wine, and in particular fond of “clean eyes”. My friends told me this is mysophobia, overly fastidious about cleanliness. A person with this “disease” is unfit to be an artist. I have experienced such misfit many times, but this old habit cannot be changed.
Weibo is a kind of self-media in the present day. Many people open a micro-blog just for fun, for popularity. Yet, Bai Ming believes micro-blog makes it possible to pour out one’s innermost feelings. This is another aspect he differs himself from others. Micro-blog limits the number of words, but technological progress enables some smart people to build this platform of communication into their “bosom friend”.
The varied thoughts and comments on micro-blog are fragmentary pieces. However, once we actually step in and ponder over them, we’ll find it is a spring garden filled with varied colors of flowers.
Part 6
A man’s life exists both visibly and invisibly. For some people, he is visible, and for others, he is invisible. This is true to everybody, including prominent people, without exception. In the autumn of 2011, upon invitation from Bai Ming’s friend, we arrived at Lanxi, Zhejiang Province, the hometown of the great gifted scholar Li Yu. This is hard evidence for Bai Ming’s visible existence. Some local prominent personages dressed themselves neatly and drove their limousine cars to the toll gate of the expressway to meet us, with a few young girls presenting bouquets.
The most beautiful scenic spots in the town were open to us. A yacht sailed out of the dockyard, blowing its whistle to salute us.
Jie Zi Yuan (the Mustard Seed Garden) was open, delicious food was laid at table, and a song-dance-recitation gala party was specially held for us. After the party, we stepped onto a highland to appreciate the night scene of Lanxi.
Not seeking for high office and great remuneration, and not for money and fame, the Lanxi people know how to judge values. They could contribute so much and go in for such grandiose for an artist, an artist they admire in their heart.
That night, Bai Ming certainly was drunken, and I certainly sleepless. I remembered Li Yu building a pavilion at the hilltop in the Mustard Seed Garden and he named it “Stopover Pavilion”, with a couplet inscribed on it: Fame and money make people busy on the go all the time, People coming and going should stop over at the hill brook for a quiet while.
Why not “stop” for a while? Where there is gain, there is loss; where there is abandonment,
there is obtainment. In the past, Li Yu didn’t enter into politics, so there is one more dramatist, traveller and publisher in this world, and there is the bookJ ieziyuan HuaZhuan (Manual Painting of the Mustard Seed Garden). Today, Bai Ming does not strive for doctorate and professorship, but he contributes to us the Bai’s mugs, Bai’s blue-and-white porcelain, and The Traditional Crafts of Porcelain Making in JingDeZhen City .
The moon rises in the sky, The wind blows on water surface. Few people are supposed to know, The implied meaning of quietness.
Li Yu and Bai Ming both have built a “Stopover Pavilion” for us. Travelling on the road, a man has to hurry on with his journey. Yet, there is a pavilion ahead. Why not take a rest there and calm yourself down? Thus, it is nice to live like Bai Ming, and it is nice to become an artist like Bai Ming.
One more thing, if a life cannot be fully displayed to the public, then there must be misunderstanding and misinterpretation.
About art, in terms of artists’ language, it involves all people who are not artistically prepared. They cannot understand a particular artistic language that an artist wants to speak. Thus, interpreters of artistic language emerge. I am such an interpreter. Certainly, to reach a “hi-fi” realm, it takes more time and needs more understanding, and by then, we’ll be able to feel the poetic sentiment and Zenic conception in the Orient.
(Writer is the president of Jiangxi Fine Arts Publishing House and editor-in-chief)