Four years ago, I had the privilege of staying with the Chinese artist Jin Xingshi at his home in Tokyo, where his work has been exhibited at the National Art Center. Living between Beijing and Tokyo, Mr. Jin paints using various media, but he is at his best in the realm of traditional Chinese ink painting. The Origin of Gold is a physically imposing, three-panel work about two metres long by one metre wide. Simultaneously alluring and menacing, the painting is an apt statement on the ambivalence of wealth. With its lurking dragons and splendid variation in brightness and texture, The Origin of Gold is a remarkable combination of abstraction and ancient motif. It took my breath away when I saw it in Mr. Jin’s apartment.
Until I went to China, I didn’t appreciate how perfectly suited Chinese landscape painting is to the country’s scenery. Upon seeing the jagged cliffs, misty mountain peaks, and dark woods of Sichuan province, Chinese ink painting seemed like the logical artistic representation for such dramatic landscapes. Perhaps this was my own forced rationalization of Chinese painting style, or maybe my eyes had been conditioned to see what I had seen in artworks. Either way, I unexpectedly felt like I was in a traditional Chinese ink painting when I was in the countryside, like the Hunan province landscape Mr. Jin depicts with such a sense of movement in Zhangjiajie Landscape Series, 2 (below).
A note on the title of the third painting below, The Buddha’s Halo Comes Slowly (佛光徐来): The term 佛光 (fo guang) means the light the Buddha brought into the world and the halo around the Buddha’s head. It is also used to refer to a natural optical phenomenon often seen from the peak of Mount Emei, a Buddhist sacred mountain in Sichuan. When the mountain’s summit is surrounded by clouds, sunlight projects the outline of the peak and of any bystanders onto the clouds: the Buddha’s Halo. The clouds tend to gather just below the peak and extend out into the distance causing an effect known as the ‘sea of clouds’ because a visitor to the summit of the mountain feels as if the peak were an island jutting out of a body of water, the densely packed clouds and fog like a ‘sea’ lapping at the mountaintop. Although surely inspired by this picturesque natural occurrence, Mr. Jin’s painting uses the ambiguity of the term Buddha’s Halo to its advantage with its arms of white reaching into the jet black ink.