Tag Archives: mountains

X-Guo Xi – Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

Perhaps, I should wait until the morning to launch into writing to Guo Xi and focusing on one of his most famous works Early Spring, dated 1072. It’s well after midnight and you know how it is when you’re having a great time and you find someone you really connect with…you don’t want to leave. Indeed, I don’t feel I’ll ever quite leave Andrew Wyeth and Christina’s World behind me. We are one.

Yet, one of the hurdles inherent in this challenge, is to move on. Not to get bogged down at one station along the way. Rather, the train needs to keep moving. Well, I wonder if I can take all my other artists with me, and create something of an Arty Party, not unlike the Elvis Train called The Blue Suede Express which heads out to the Parkes Elvis Festival, in far West NSW. I don’t know who we’d put in charge of designing and painting the outside of the train. Indeed, we’d probably have to pick names out of a hat. There might be a bit of competition, not to a mention stylistic debate. I couldn’t imagine Jackson Pollock and Norman Lindsay sharing a seat, let painting the same carriage. I need to consult my seating app and see who is sitting where. Of course, they’d have to sit in alphabetical order, although I could see some tricksters mixing up the place tags. They always do.

Anyway, without further ado, we’re moving onto Guo Xi (郭熙, ca.1020–1090), a Chinese landscape painter from Wenxian in Henan province who lived during the Northern Song dynasty. Just to put that into perspective, he died 928 years ago and I think he’s our second oldest artist, if you can think about it like that. Inspired by his Snow Mountain, Xi will be accompanied by Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King.

Guo Xi served as a court painter under Emperor Shenzong (reigned 1068–1085). Early in his career as an artist, Guo Xi painted large screens and walls for major palaces and halls in the capital that had caught the emperor’s attention. Guo was later promoted to the highest position of Painter-in-Attendance in the court Hanlin Academy of Painting. He produced many monumental landscape paintings, and specialized in painting large pine trees and scenery enveloped in mist and clouds. He employed “curled cloud” texture strokes (卷雲皴) for mountain slopes, while he did trees in “crab claw (蟹爪)” forms to create a style of his own. Being a court professional, he developed an incredibly detailed system of idiomatic brushstrokes which became important for later painters. His most famous work is Early Spring, dated 1072. The work demonstrates his innovative techniques for producing multiple perspectives which he called “the angle of totality.”-China Online Museum

 

Guo Xi was often referred to as a “Northern Song master” when it came to painting. His work inspired many later artists and he even had landscapes dedicated to him. His lesser-known “Deep Valley” scroll painting depicted a serene mountain valley covered with snow and several trees struggling to survive on precipitous cliffs. The ink washes and amorphous brush strokes are employed to model surfaces that suggest the veiling effects of the atmosphere. One of Guo Xi’s techniques was to layer ink washes to build up forms and his “Deep Valley” is a masterpiece of the use of light ink and magnificent composition. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guo_Xi

One of his most famous works is Early Spring, dated 1072. The work demonstrates his innovative techniques for producing multiple perspectives which he called “the angle of totality.” This type of visual representation is also called “Floating Perspective”, a technique which displaces the static eye of the viewer and highlights the differences between Chinese and Western modes of spatial representation.Xi developed an innovative technique, called “Floating Perspective” or “Angle of the Totality”, with which the artist was able to represent multiple perspectives within a single painting. This is an exceptional advance that did not appear in Western painting until many centuries later. Moreover, it’s also interesting when you compare it to the efforts of Renaissance artists like Da Vinci towards linear perspective. As I mentioned before, I can barely park my car in a straight line, so linear perspective is not my thing. I’ll just have to count on the wisdom of others.

guo-xi_snow-mountains-664x1024-500x900

Guo Xi – Snow Mountain, ShanghHai Museum This piece shows a scene of deep and serene mountain valley covered with snow and several old trees struggling to survive on precipitous cliffs. It is a masterpiece of Guo Xi by using light ink and magnificent composition to express his open and high artistic conception.

His son later described how Guo Xi approached his work: “On days when he was going to paint, he would seat himself at a clean table, by a bright window, burning incense to right and left. He would choose the finest brushes, the most exquisite ink; wash his hands, and clean the ink-stone, as though he were expecting a visitor of rank. He waited until his mind was calm and undisturbed, and then began.”2.

Gao Xi clearly had an incredible eye and appreciation for the details of the landscape, including how it transitioned from season to season. In his “Treatise on Mountains and Waters (山水訓)”, he wrote:

The clouds and the vapors of real landscapes are not the same in the four seasons. In spring they are light and diffused, in summer rich and dense, in autumn scattered and thin, and in winter dark and solitary. When such effects can be seen in pictures, the clouds and vapors have an air of life. The mist around the mountains is not the same in the four seasons. The mountains in spring are light and seductive as if smiling; the mountains in summer have a blue-green color which seems to be spread over them; the mountains in autumn are bright and tidy as if freshly painted; the mountains in winter are sad and tranquil as if sleeping.”

So, not only are his painting touchingly beautiful, but also his prose.

So, without further ado, here’s my letter to Guo Xi.

Letter to Guo Xi

Dear Xi,

I can’t help wondering where you’re from and wanting to find those mountains you’ve immortalised in your paintings. Not that I can climb them myself, but perhaps I could at least admire them from the ground, the same way we marvel at the stars. Well, that is if we actually take the time out to look for them. Or, indeed, if the sky isn’t too polluted to block their light. Isn’t it terrible that the machines of man have blackened out the stars and the heavens? Indeed, we’ve even tried to tame the mountains, although the big ones still put up a fight.

I’d love to sit on top of a mountain and just look up at the stars, the moon and feel that clarity all around me. That nothing else matters. You can just sit on your rock and just be. The cares of the world are all taking care of themselves on autopilot without us.

I guess I should be careful what I wish for because more than one intrepid explorer has climbed their own mountain, and found nobody left when they came home. They didn’t like being left on hold while they explored other realms without them.

So, Xi, I could see myself on top of your mountain now with my husband, the kids and three dogs in tow. I just hope they don’t have any sticks up there. We’re already regretting to teach the dogs how to fetch. Hopefully, they too could benefit from a bit o stillness and they might even find their inner dog.

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Letter From Guo Xi

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your letter. I have been here for such a long time withut any communication from the earth so I was very happy.

You must be careful when you climb the big mountains. The greatest danger isn’t climbing up or climbing down. It’s how to continue living with your fellow man in day to day life when you have known such peace and freedom. There is no tick of the clock and you are in your own time zone in your own world. I almost went mad with all the talk of chickens, what to eat for dinner, a hole in the roof. I didn’t care for these things anymore. Wanted to return to the mountains. They were calling me. But I have wife, son. Must stay. Keep my pictures in my head and paint them with my inks.

As much as I would like to go back to my mountains, I will do that in my head. Too much change. Time not stand still. Almost 1000 years. Memory better.

Still we must climb and conquer our metaphysical mountains. Don’t let them build up across our path to block the track. No good. You need to get your shovel out and move the dirt before the mountain gets too big. Can’t get moved. You get strong shoveling dirt. You only get flattened when the mountain buries you.

By the way, here in China we have the Year of the Dog.
Yours,

Guo Xi.

PS I had to share a comment I found re Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King. “The first part of the song is when you’re sitting in the exam hall, just writing and sitting in silence while you think “I’ve got two hours left”. The second part of the song is when the examiner suddenly says “Five minutes”. So true.

References & Links

  1. http://www.comuseum.com/painting/masters/guo-xi/
  2. Quoted by Arthur Waley in “Chinese Philosophy of Art-IV” in Burlington Magazine, vol. xxxviii, No. ccxviii, p. 247 in Jenyns, Soame. A Background to Chinese Painting. New York: Schocken Books, 1966, p. 134

Driving Myself Crazy…Day trip to Morpeth, Australia – Part 1

Yesterday, I did something almost devilishly wicked. I booked the kids into after school care and went on a day trip to Morpeth in the Hunter Valley, almost 2hours drive each way from home. It was one of the best things I have ever done!! It felt like Alice’s journey into Wonderland. Morpeth is that kind of place.

I don’t usually do this sort of thing. The only time I ever run away from home, is to go to the Sydney Writer’s Festival once a year. That said, I do have a lot of medical appointments in Sydney and I have been known to get a little “lost” coming home but we’re only talking a minor deviation…not an epic adventure!

Mind you, I have to be honest and say that the main reason I don’t escape isn’t ideological. I have a bit of a thing about driving. I wouldn’t call it a phobia because to my way of thinking, a phobia involves an irrational fear. My fears, on the other hand, are perfectly logical… rational even! I get lost easily and the same kind of spatial issues which make it difficult for me to follow maps, also make it difficult for me to park my car. For some reason, I can’t work out where my car is in space and I usually leave room for an entire Olympic swimming pool both front and rear. I’m not great at reversing and I also get lost easily as well. On top of all of that, I get extreme fatigue which strikes at unpredictable moments. So while I can be full of beans and bouncing all over the place one minute, the next I could conk out completely and need to go to bed immediately…not great when you are driving long distance. You could say that it’s deadly even.

So as you can see, my fears are more than justified!

On the other hand, I want to explore and experience the world and not be stuck in such a small, minute part of it. In my early driving days, probably just after I got my P’s, when I had even greater driving anxiety, my Dad asked me: “Does your licence say you can’t drive anywhere? Well, no one’s stopping you. You can drive anywhere you like!” Dad’s words often come to me while I’m driving and somehow empower me! I can go anywhere! Do anything! I just need to convince myself!

But the local geography around here doesn’t help the situation. You see, we’re surrounded by water and there’s a steep hill with a bit of an annoying road between here and the freeway to Sydney. I broke down on that road once and subconsciously, that hill has become some kind of barrier, a boundary, a line in the sand I don’t cross. It’s even come to define me: “I don’t go up the hill”.

Of course, it’s only now that I’ve been up the hill and beyond that I’ve realised just what a mountain the hill had become… a complete blockage to growth and exploration.

After all, mountains are meant to be climbed not just left in the way! They should be stairways to heaven and the stars not roadblocks stunting our dreams.

I had already conquered the mountain recently and had almost driven to Newcastle. I was almost sure I could reach Morpeth.

Campbell’s Store, Morpeth. This is home to fudge tasting, coconut ice, peanut brittle as well as the MorpethTea Cosy Challenge.

I first visited Morpeth about a month ago. It wasn’t a planned trip and I met up with my cousin with husbands and kids in tow, which made it very difficult to explore Morpeth in any depth i.e. look at anything much or spend a lot of money. I did manage to buy a new dress and a shawl literally trying them on over my jeans on the run. We also managed to taste test the ginger beer and the fudge. We actually saw a lot but I also saw so many beautiful things in all those tantalising old shop windows that my eyes almost popped out of my head. I had to go back…alone!

Home to the famous Morpeth Sourdough

I also had another imperative…visiting the annual Morpeth Weird & Wonderful Novelty Teapot Exhibition and the Morpeth Tea Cosy Challenge, which is held in the last two weeks of August.

You see, I collect antique and vintage teacups and saucers, plates, table cloths. I love an authentic retro tea party. Not a high tea and not something stiff and starchy either. I just miss cups of tea with my grandmothers. More than cups of tea, I miss their love, their warmth, their smiles and almost getting lost inside their huge, warm hugs! There is nothing else in this universe quite like a grandmother’s love. I can almost feel their love when I surround myself with all this old world finery. Both of my grandmothers had collections of bone china tea cups and it was tradition to choose your own cup. My grandmother should have had her kettle wired into her doorbell because as soon as anyone walked in the door, the kettle went on and we all had tea. I bought a number of exquisite Shelley teacups with money from Mum’s parents. My grandma would have loved them but she would have put them safely away in her sideboard. She never ever used her special things.  I use some of mine but I do reserve the Shelley ones for rare, special occasions. Some of them are over 80 years old and have become fragile little old ladies. Of course, I don’t know if tea cups actually develop osteoporosis but they can’t take calcium supplements either so I just have to be careful.

With so much to look forward to, you can understand why I was so determined to overcome all my driving hurdles and just get to Morpeth.

But fear is a strong thing. If you have read my post about the bird flying into my house, you would already know that I have some huge issues with fear. I’m not just talking about anxiety but serious jelly-legged, hyperventilating, debilitating fear. It’s the sort of fear that leads to total avoidance and locking yourself up in an awfully restrictive cage…a cage you really need to break out of quick smart before it becomes your home, your comfort zone and you even forget how to fly.

But then I heard about brain plasticity. You are not set in stone. You can even re-invent yourself. The more you do something, the better you get at it. You might not get rid of your weaknesses altogether but with a bit of effort, you can certainly make them better. Now, if you didn’t have to live with your weaknesses, if there was any possible way of getting rid of them, if you could just somehow open the door of your cage and somehow spread your wings and fly free across the open sky, wouldn’t you just do it?!!  Wouldn’t you move both heaven and earth to experience the liberation of unfettered flight?!!

I would and I have.

I put my key in the ignition. Turned the key. Moved my foot off the brake and shifted it onto the accelerator. I was a little nervous but I wasn’t afraid because slowly but surely, I’ve been unconsciously building up to this moment by going on more and more driving excursions, building up what is referred to as “resilience”.

My main strategy for handling the long drive was to break it down into smaller, less daunting chunks…a series of small drives instead of one very long and winding road. There was the stretch up the hill. My next stop was Ourimbah. The end of the freeway represented another break in the journey and then there was the drive up the New England Highway into Maitland and then the turn off to Morpeth. It also felt good checking out the road signs and slowly but surely watching the kilometres count down.

When I left home yesterday, I had no idea whether I could actually make it to Morpeth but I was so determined to get there. At the same time, I was kind to myself. Said that I just needed to try. I didn’t have to get there. If I didn’t make it, it wasn’t the end of the world. There was always next year.

But all the positive thinking in the world can’t make something happen and I am also responsive to that. The night before, it was looking like my trip wasn’t going to happen. After a difficult afternoon with our son, I crashed in bed almost unable to move. Then the weather went haywire. The rain was pouring down. There were strong gusting winds and Geoff rang to say that a tree had even fallen across the railway tracks and he was going to be late home. It was really looking treacherous outside  and there was no way I was going to drive through that. I was starting to wonder whether I should just have a quiet day in bed and rest instead! That’s what any sensible “sick person” would do but not this little black duck.

But when I woke up yesterday, it was all sunshine, blue skies and I was out of here. All the doors opened up. All the obstacles disappeared. It was meant to be!

I pulled up in Morpeth quite chuffed. I wouldn’t say jubilant because the drive was that easy that it barely rated as a challenge in the end.

Stepping out of the car, that unmistakable smell of fresh cow manure hit me in the face like a fragrant rose. I was in the country. I felt like I’d climbed to the top of the Magic Faraway Tree. Walked through the back of an old wardrobe and found myself in mystical Narnia. I was Cinderella dancing at the ball.

That’s right. I was Cinderella. I might have driven kilometres away from home but I was still on a relatively short leash. I had to pick the kids up from after-school care by 6.30PM and had to allow for contingencies.

Carpe diem …seize the day. Today is my day and I am going to seize each and every single second and squeeze it til it’s dry.

Go Ro! The world is my oyster and I am its pearl!

Wish me luck!

xx Ro

PS: I will take you on a tour of Morpeth in my next post so please stay tuned.

PPS: I should point out that although I’m a wary driver, I’m no recluse. I do spend a fair amount of time “working from home” doing my writing and more recently painting but most of the time, I’m out and about. When it comes to going to Sydney, catching the train just makes good sense. Sydney traffic is just dreadful. The roads are so choked up that they’re little more than car parks. I honestly don’t know how anyone gets around without taking a packed lunch and a good supply of water just in case!