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Interview of Inner Painting Master Li Fanqing: Transform while Understanding Life

Abstract: He liked painting since the childhood, however, since he was born in a poor family, he later became a migrant worker and got to know “inner painting” so he dedicated to learning the craft meanwhile making his expense for life. Under the instruction of the teachers, he stepped on the right road of “inner painting”. Later, the “superlative craftsmanship of inner painting” became a need of him and an important part in his life.

Editorial comment: He liked painting since the childhood, however, since he was born in a poor family, he later became a migrant worker and got to know “inner painting” so he dedicated to learning the craft meanwhile making his expense for life. Under the instruction of the teachers, he stepped on the right road of “inner painting”. Later, the “superlative craftsmanship of inner painting” became a need of him and an important part in his life. “Inner painting” also records the hardship and joyfulness, happiness and sorrow in his life. He is Li Fanqing, a master of inner painting. Recently, Li Fanqing accepted an exclusive interview of Culture China Net. The interview is as follows:

Culture China: Welcome to the exclusive interview of Culture China. All of us are strange to “inner painting”, can you please give a brief introduction of it?

Li Fanqing: To mention inner painting, first we need to talk about snuff bottle since it is the carrier of inner painting creation. Snuff bottle is a crystallization of the integration of Chinese and western cultures. In the later Ming Dynasty and at the beginning of the Qing Dynasty, snuff was imported to China and snuff box was gradually more and more Oriental thus snuff bottle appear. Snuff bottle is not only the container carrying snuff but also a fine artwork for people to appreciate and reflects their status. Depending on the small yet exquisite unique shape, numerous materials, dedicated making techniques, snuff bottle wins the affection of many people from royal relatives to common people. At present, almost no one uses snuff, however, snuff bottles are handed down as an exquisite artwork. Moreover, its popularity never reduces and snuff bottle is crowned as “a mini-artwork integrating various forms of crafts and fine arts of many countries”. As an elegant artwork, Chinese snuff bottle integrates painting and calligraphy, carving, inlaying, refining and other techniques into one. It adopts porcelain, copper, ivory, jade, agate, amber and other materials, and employs the techniques of China flower, five colors, porcelain carving, jacking, ingenious making, inner painting, etc. By drawing the advantages of many crafts from China and abroad, it is really a wonder of Chinese and foreign cultural and artistic communication. It provides complicated angle of appreciation thus enrich the interest of life and aesthetic taste of the Chinese people. For hundreds of years, thanks to the operation and development of the people with high aspirations and determination, it is now very famous and a beloved target of collection of Chinese and foreign collectors.

The inner painting craft appeared in the reign of Emperor Daoguang in the Qing Dynasty. During the development, four factions, namely, Beijing Faction, Hebei Faction, Shandong Faction and Guangdong Faction took shape in inner painting crafts, in which Hebei Faction has the largest influence on the inner painting creation. It has profound conception, ingenious layout, quietly elegant yet rich sketch colors, vivid artistic conception and other artistic characteristics. Wang Xisan, the founder of the Hebei Faction started to learn from a famous master of Beijing Faction at 19, and integrated the advantages of all the factions and finally became a great master in the contemporary Chinese inner painting art. Under his leadership, Hebei Faction inner painting is now the strongest in the contemporary inner painting team. A unique craftsmanship of China, snuff bottle inner painting art is a mini-artwork condensing the national artistic essences. Since the painting is made on the inner wall of a crystal snuff bottle or the milky white inner wall of a frosted finished snuff bottle thus it got the name. A snuff bottle no more than the size of the center of a palm, a mouth as small as the penholder, however, with exquisite painting art and keen artistic sense, the artists paint and write reversely in the bottle with very fine special hook brush. While appreciating the snuff bottle from the outside, people would be deeply moved by the exquisiteness and incomparableness. It is hard for them to understand how can people make this in the limited space thus they often think it is a work of “superlative craftsmanship”.

Culture China: How did you become attached to “inner painting”? It is handed down from your ancestors or because of personal interest that you took the road?

Li Fanqing: I took the road because of personal interest. I liked painting since the childhood, however, I was living in the countryside. At the time, education in the countryside was lagged behind and there was no fine arts teacher. I drew small animals and people that I liked on paper. Later, since my family was poor, I became a migrant worker and got to know inner painting art during the time. So I dedicated to learning the craft by putting aside the tuition fees. I worked very hard at the time since the tuition fees was hard-earned. I stayed in the school for half a month and then went to work for half a month to earn my living expenses. Under the instruction of the teachers, I gradually stepped on the right road of inner painting art.

Culture China: What’s the difference and similarity of inner painting and traditional painting?

Li Fanqing: Inner painting comes from outer paintings but harder to accomplish than outer paintings. The traditional painting is painted on rice paper, damask silk and thin silk. They are generally called the traditional Chinese painting. Inner painting is an exquisite picture painted manually with special deformed brush and in the transparent or semi-transparent padding of glass, crystal, agate, amber, etc., and boasts elegant style and delicate sketch. The colors of inner painting can be divided into traditional Chinese painting color, oil painting color, water color, propylene color and other different colors plus the skills of adoption to show the effects of the painting. The differences of inner painting and outer painting lie in the different creation carrier, expression and techniques. The similarity of inner painting and outer painting is that both of them could bring a beautiful sense of visual appreciation to people.

Culture China: In the Self-portrait of Fanqing, you said you hope to bring “your understanding to life” in your artistic career. Can I ask what the understanding is? What is your understanding in the years? Can you share it with us?

Li Fanqing: For me, inner painting is a need and an important part in my life. It also records the hardship and joyfulness, happiness and sorrow in my life.

My style of painting emphasizes particularly on freehand brushwork. When I finish a work, I would settle to appreciate it carefully and think earnestly, therefore inspire deeper and farther imagination. Moreover, in imagination, I can improve myself and find my disadvantages and potentials in painting so that I could be more perfect in painting and dealing with people. I develop in exploration and in life, I improve myself continuously. From the philosophy of “Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi”, I realized the integration of special abstract and artistic conception of the Oriental culture advocating “the heaven and the man are one” and “the greatness is intangible”. Without the understanding of the heaven and the earth, maybe Zheng Banqiao would not propose “it is hard to be silly sometimes”.

I deeply understand the preciousness of art lies in its unique characteristics and style. I am a passionate believer committed to dedicate my life for arts. To win the recognition of the industry and the society, only a real artist could know the happiness and hardship. Only the painting made after the artist realizes his understanding has its life and sincerity.

Culture China: Your inner painting works intend to express what essences of the Chinese painting?

Li Fanqing: The creation of Chinese painting emphasizes artistic conception, so images may be called the essence of Chinese painting. Chinese painting focuses on the requirements of “to make accomplishments and have your earn understanding”, the artistic conception is prior to the brush and the conception is reflected while the painting is completed. In addition, Chinese painting stresses integrate the object and the painter to achieve an artistic state of expressing the spirit through the form, integrate the form and the spirit and create a vivid artistic conception. I have been trying my best to express the essence of Chinese painting in my works as much as possible and share my internal aesthetics with all, keep on learning and making progress.

Culture China: How do you think the traditional flower and bird painting in the Chinese painting should keep up with the times and what kind of reform is needed?

Li Fanqing: It was approximately during the Sui and Tang Dynasties that flower and bird paintings became independent variety painting. Due to the development of aristocrat fine arts in the Sui and Tang Dynasties, flower and bird paintings became popular in the palaces and upper classes. They were used to decorate the environment and meet the needs of appreciation. Although the Five Dynasties were short, flower and bird paintings witnessed great development in the era and have profound influence on the future development. In the Song Dynasty, the flower and bird paintings reached the heyday. What expressed by the flower and bird paintings was the most intangible spiritual world and the complete integration of spirit and nature. It is the most supernatural yet natural and spiritual art, in the meantime, it is the nature itself.

I paint with freehand brushwork of half fine brushwork and half realistic painting. The half-fine brushwork and half stick drawing type of painting does not go to the extreme in the shape. It only lacks the vigor caused by the exaggeration of stick drawing but also avoids the roughness and emptiness likely to be caused by stick drawing. It is not as cautious asfine brushwork but in the meantime avoids the risk of emphasizing too much on the craftsmanship and the style. With the richness of the ink, it reflects the vitality of creatures and the smoothness and brightness of color. With the music-like elegance and exquisiteness as the aesthetic character, the stick drawing forms the shape and the fine brushwork is expressive. The stick drawing may also be extremely common and the fine brushwork might be extremely elegant. This is the painting style of myself. As for what reform is needed, in my opinion, we need bold innovation and break the limitation of form. We should paint because of the painting and paint with our heart.

Culture China: You once said “the nature always has a strange attraction to me”. What is brought to your painting by the nature?

Li Fanqing: I like the nature and like the feeling of freedom in the nature. Wondering in the nature will bring me abundant inspiration of painting and I like to see the harmonious coexistence of the grasses, trees and the birds in the nature. The harmonious scene is the goal that I pursuit in my painting. The nature has injected great vitality in my painting and makes it hard for me to stop the brush in my hand. We should deem a painting as the consumption of all mental efforts and energies and the release of all feelings. When you see some scenery so beautiful you will linger on and on and forget yourself. You are completely melted by the scenery before your eyes and shocked, and the enthusiasm of expression will occupy all your body and mind. At this time, in your mind, a complete picture has taken shape and every nerve is concentrated on a point, blood will swell in your body. You feel that you must paint it, otherwise it will be a great regret.

Culture China: Inner painting developed on the basis of traditional Chinese painting. What do you think will be the future road of “inner painting”? As a new generation representative of inner painting, what new ideas do you have?

Li Fanqing: Inner painting developed on the basis of traditional Chinese painting. As the new generation of inner painting workers, in the aspect of carrying on the inner painting accomplishments of the predecessors, we should promote the flower and bird inner painting to a higher artistic summit with the creation energy and vitality of thought of the youngsters. We have the responsibility to make our contributions to the development of the inner painting cause.

As for what will be the future road of inner painting, I will only express my own opinions. I think first we need innovation since innovation is the foundation of development. Without innovation, there will be no development. The inner painting workers should keep on learning, they should refer to the artistic essences of all categories, cultivate the personal cultural accomplishment and all beautiful things in inner painting. They should dare to make attempts and avoid to repeating the old road. I am not against the old road, what I think is, the young people should be bold to make attempts in art, and break the bias that inner painting is a kind of artwork in the painting art community. The youngster is in a golden age of artistic creation. For the development of inner painting art, Master Wang Xisan exerts his utmost effort and achieves the present scale of inner painting. We should follow the instruction of him, carry on and further develop the inner painting art.

Culture China: We know that last year, you gave two joint exhibitions of five people inner paintings in Shijiazhuang Folk Art Museum, can you please talk about your impression on the two exhibitions and talk about your recent plan?

Li Fanqing: Last year I, together with four of my friends, Yunong, Jihua, Xiaoquan and Shijia, we gave two exhibitions of the works of five with “transmutation of inner painting” as the theme in Hengshui Inner Painting Exhibition Hall and Shijiazhuang Folk Art Museum. To mention the intention of holding the exhibitions, I should first elaborate on the difference of technique and art. You may depend on your hands to acquire a kind of technique while art should depend on the deepness of accomplishments. Some commenter points out that the value of art is not specially linked with the carrier of the art. During the development of inner painting art, with “arts and crafts” as the label, some artists only carry out simple copy of traditional Chinese painting and other outer painting works, and result in some people’s misunderstanding to the inner painting artworks. My colleagues in the inner painting community have the same feelings. In the contemporary society, economy, culture and politics develop rapidly, especially the urbanization process in the present China brings great changes to the living environment of the Chinese people. At the same time, inner painting makes all-round reference and its artistic feature also undergoes world-shaking changes after widely drawing on the techniques of traditional Chinese painting and oil painting. Both the internal and external factors promote the inner painting favored by people by depending on the extra difficult creation techniques and the mystery of reverse painting to transform in the functions. That is to say, it develops from a tool of “technique” into an aesthetic method, and a convenience tool of entering the society and creating a culture. It is under the great background of the time that advocates artistic characters that we insist on keeping away from commonness in creation, and do not take the old road of copying but spend all our minds in the patter, connotation and interest. We emphasize on advocating the spirit of inner painting art. In the transformation of inner painting art from a technique to an art, we are vividly against the plainness, commonness and short-cuts of creation. We insist on express our inspiration with bold and unrestrained attitude, and improve the artistic conception and expression. Thus we show some of our representative works created by us during this time to elaborate on the transmutation of inner painting.

The two exhibitions attracted great attention from the mass media and the support and affirmation of Master Wang Xisan and the teachers and friends in the industry and the art community. Master Wang Xisan gladly wrote “get rid of the stale and bring forth the fresh” as the contribution to our exhibitions. While holding the exhibiton in Shijiazhuang, Xu Yu, Vice Chairman of China Calligraphers Association and the former Chairman of Hebei Calligraphers Association, Yu Cong, Vice Chairman of the Hebei Province Writers Association and a famous poet, Sun Zhiying, Secretary General of the Hebei Provincial Federation of Literary and Art Literary and Art Circles and other teachers came to express their congratulations and encouraged our exhibition. With the support of these teachers and predecessors, we will work harder. Recently, we are planning to hold an exhibition in Beijing when we get the works prepared. In the not too distant future, we will present a nice art feast for the friends like inner painting art in Beijing. (Author/ Gao Song, Li Lingjun)

Special subject for Li Fanqing

Introduction of Li Fanqing: Li Fanqing was born on Nangong City, Hebei Province in 1979. He was passionate for painting since the childhood and learnt outer paintings in an amateur class of fine arts in 1996. In 1998, he learn inner painting in Neisan Painting College and was lucky to get the instructions of inner painting great master Wang Xisan in person and many famous inner painting masters. His works gradually got mature. Later, he went to learn from Su Fengyi, a master of inner painting. His works are characterized of vivid artistic conception, natural and unrestrained sketch, elegant style, stillness and grandness and deep meanings thus enable people to realize a beautiful sense of returning to the nature. With rough and unrestrained momentum, deep yet light water and ink and simple & bold style, his painting style varies in an unconstrained way to paint auxiliary landscape. He uses the fine techniques of expression to paint the theme. The sketch is merry and lively and changeable so that the painting is integrated and realized a state of adopting simple objects to express deep meanings. Now, he is an artist of arts and crafts in Hebei Province and a member of China Arts-Crafts Association (CACA) Snuff Bottle Committee and a member of Hebei Faction inner painting Association. Representative works of him include A Silhouette by the Pond, the Lotus Pond after Raining, Appreciating Butterflies, New Fun in the Old House, etc.

 

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