In Memory of My Teacher Lin Fengmian     Wu Guanzhong

In the evening of August 12, 1991, I received a call telling me that Lin Fengmian had died that morning in Hong Kong. My much respected teacher, a master of Chinese modern painting and a great star had fallen down. I was shocked and benumbed.

Lin had persisted against the turmoils. When he returned from Europe and founded the Beiping Academy of Fine Arts in the 1920s, he was attacked for employing nude models and was forced to leave. He was appointed to establish the West Lake Art Institute, unfortunately, he did not teach for long before he was driven to exile, and even to prison during the "Cultural Revolution". He retreated and improved himself. Taking the essences from Eastern and Western Art, he created his peculiar and unique style. For most of the time, Lin was searching his way with loneliness, and it was not easy for people to understand lone venturers.

With thorough understanding of Eastern and Western art, Lin Fengmian had made full efforts to merge, the strength and specialties of the two sides and produce a rich, new state of aesthetic judgement. He had devoted himself entirely to the reform of visual presentation. He founded the art school and involved in art creation, with emphasis on introducing Western art and changing old cliche type of Chinese painting. He had made works on significant social themes such as "Humanism ", "Agony" and "Training Human". I also remembered his large-scale oil painting depicting fisherwomen on the shore looking out for their returning husbands. With the Japanese invasion in 1937, Hangzhou fell. The academy had to move inland. It was later combined with the Beiping Academy of Fine Arts. Some student movements broke out and the school administration had to change. A series of big changes forced Lin to leave. From then on, he was by himself and lived a tough and drifting life.

He made a lot of ink and wash paintings on the working women of Guizhou and Sichuan and the landscapes in the region, the paintings contained an air of melancholy. The eight years of war brought Lin into the community of the ordinary people. The experience had enhanced his emergence as a master of folk art.

After he left, all the students missed him. But we seldom had chance to see him. He did not join any social functions, and hid himself in a warehouse in Chongqing to paint.

For some time when Pan Tian­shou became principal of the art academy, he hired Lin to teach. The academy was a long way from his house, hence Lin only went there occasionally, and most of the teaching was done by Zhao Wuji.

I met Lin again after 1949 in Shanghai. He was still alone and worked in his little room quietly. Afterwards, every time I went to Shanghai, I called on him. Lin was forever so kind and friendly. He was lonely.

In 1978, before Lin left the country, I went to bid him goodbye. He was calm as usual, just like when he talked about his years in prison, he did not get agitated. When I returned to Beijing, I received his registered mail sending me a painting. It was a lone wild goose and some reeds by the pond.

After the Open Door Policy, I went to Hong Kong many times. Every time I would call on Lin. Once we talked about Zhejiang Institute of Fine Arts's plan to convert his former residence into his museum. He did not have much reaction. When I suggested that his 100 pieces of works left in the Shanghai Painting Institute be displayed in the new museum, he was more excited. I proceeded with the plan after I returned to Beijing. The institute did not have enough funds for the construction. However, an overseas Chinese entrepreneur donated some money for the cause. To our surprise, Lin sent a letter thanking for the donation. He stressed that it was more important to train young artists rather than to build his museum. He asked the donation to be used for a scholarship to sponsor overseas studies.

I was a junior student in the Hangzhou Art Academy and had not actually attended Lin's lessons. I learned mainly from his works.

In 1987, the Hong Kong Art Centre held my retrospective exhibition. I was surprised to find Lin's inscriptions on the catalogue and the posters. Lin came to the opening ceremony and watched all the exhibits in details. I kept asking for his comments, he only remarked, "you have a very solid foundation".

At a party held for the show, people asked about his activities. He said he often painted at night. I said I had never seen Lin painted since one would not watch how the hen lays her eggs. Lin laughed heartily, probably feeling that finally someone could share his joy and pain of creation.

Lin's paintings were a pursuit of maximum extension and strictest contraction, which achieved equilibrium in the contrast. He had a peculiar style of placing the round among the square. He used square frames to contain the round shapes in his paintings. All the objects he depicted - blossoms, dahlia, sunflowers and even cockscombs - were round and full. Beautiful arches and curves were commonly found in his works. He also made use of the Western concept of geometric shapes to depict the Chinese opera characters, for instance, his "Chinese Opera" dated 1978.

He often used thick colour blocks as the basis and dissolved them with Oriental techniques. The colourful world of Lin Fengmian were often intruded with leaping and flowing lines which represented the Eastern mood.

Lin was a kind and lovely man in ordinary life he was a head­strong person in art. He was only true to his feelings, so he tended to paint topics he liked.

In 1989, the Taipei History Museum held an exhibition of Lin's works. But the exhibits were limited to ink paintings only. The works revealed his early unrestrained and lofty style alongside his vigorous, sweeping and weighty style in later vears. Some years ago he said he would pick up oil painting again, but he never managed to do so.

The Taipei exhibition was a big event; There was much publicity and the response was overwhelming. At almost the same time, there was a Lin Fengmian exhibition in Beijing. The preparation works were inadequate and there were few exhibits. Not too many people knew about it, and the function was a failure.

Last year, Taipei awarded a commendation to Lin for his contributions in art. In 1986, Hua Jun­wu, Wang Chaowen, Huang Miaozi and I called on Lin representing the Artists' Association to invite him for a visit. Lin felt comforted. The lost wild goose would return home one day. However, the dream was never realized as he had left us forever.

 
Han Mo magazine number 24
 

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