Faced with political turbulence and the growing fear of westernization, post-war China looked toward painters such as Fu Baoshi for peace of mind. As one of the modern masters of the east, Fu Baoshi merged classical Chinese motifs with contemporary references to reveal a multi-faceted culture, one that was in touch with history yet cognizant of emerging philosophies and new ways of living.
“The act of moving a stagnant tradition entails imparting life, dynamism and an affecting quality to painting,” the artist once said. “[It’s] injecting warmth to enliven something that had long been frozen and hardened.”
He began his career copying subtle landscapes and semi-religious figure paintings from Chinese antiquity and giving these scenes a modern touch by including elements from contemporary poetry, as exemplified in Beauty Under Banana Palm (below), on view through Jan. 8 at the Cleveland Museum of Art, as part of a retrospective titled Chinese Art In the Age of Revolution, Fu Baoshi (1904-1965).
Drawing on his experience as a young artist-in-residence at Musashino University in Japan and his tenure as art history professor at Nanjing, Fu Baoshi merged the pale, spacious compositions of traditional Chinese literati painting with new Japanese forms of ink application.
In time, he developed a style all his own, spreading the brush bristles and applying strokes with respect to pressure and direction. He applied his texture-stroke not only to traditional landscapes, but to scenes of industrialization emerging in neighboring lands — surprisingly modern scenes, such as Irkutsk Airport, which depicts Chinese planes landing at a Soviet airbase in the winter of 1957, and Gottwaldov, a Czech cityscape enveloped in smog, evoking the shadow of urban life (top).
“Fu explored new subject matter related to revolution, socialist reconstruction and industrial development, which testified to his ongoing attempt to transform Chinese painting to serve new political needs,” says exhibit curator Anita Chung.
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