Imagine this, you’re in an amazing museum, with floors and floors of things to see and an hour and a half to do it in. What do you do? This was the dilemma I found myself in on several occasions while I was traveling in China. If you are on a group tour you have to accept that, in the words of our tour guide, what you consider ‘a beautiful museum’ is someone else’s ‘another boring museum’.
The Shanghai Museum of Art, built in 1996, in what can only be described as grand hotel lobby style (lots of marble), houses countless works of art and national treasures. I soon realised that I could only focus on a small portion of the collection. After a brief flirtation with the minority group textiles I wandered down a floor and found the amazing paintings of Zhang Lu, (1464 – 1538), who worked professionally as an artist, independent of the imperial court. I was able to record these amazing works because you can take photographs in the museum as long as you don’t use a flash.
The dynamism of his brush strokes and ability to depict people with great economy really resonated with me.
The gold fragments, which may appear to you as spots on the paper, are actually inclusions in the paper. It’s quite a common type of paper to use for calligraphy even today.
I will share two other images with you. The Four Sages of Shang Mountain.
The Five Elders (also representing the five elements -Wood, Earth, Water, Fire, and Metal).
I could live in envy of Zhang Lu’s ability to paint such lively lines, but I know the benefit will come from my trying to develop such facility in my own work.
If you would like to see more images of Zhang Lu’s work I would recommend the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Album of Daoist paintings, which was part of their 2013 Exhibition Ming Masterpieces from the Shanghai Museum.
Those lines are so wonderful, such control, yet free too. A master at work.