Tribute to Lin Fengmian        by Wan Qingli

 

When 1 returned to Hong Kong from the US in mid-August, I was shocked by the news that Lin Feng­mian had died on August 12. I thought I would meet Lin again when I came to Hong Kong two years ago. I was teaching modern painting history, and there were many things I wanted to consult him.

Lin Fengmian's status and influence in the 20th century Chinese painting, and his contributions towards modern art education in China rendered him a great artist of the century. Lin had toiled hard throughout his life and left us a rich legacy of art.

In the early half of the century, people who had stridied in Japan or Europe were very active in art education. Among them, the most influential ones were Xu Beihong, Lin Fengmian and Liu Haisu.

Shortly before he immigrated to Hong Kong, I had the good fortune to visit Lin and watched him paint.

It was in February, 1977, I went to the South to collect reference materials with two other members of the Beijing Painting Institute. We visited various provinces. Finally, Shi Qi and I went to Shanghai to call on some senior painters. We went to the Shanghai Painting Institute to ask them arrange interviews for us. Probably because the Cultural Revolution had just ended, the institute officer refused to help. He even listed those senior painters' "problems". So we decided to go ahead on our own.

We heard it was most difficult to find Lin Fengmian. After getting out of the prison in 1972, Lin hid himself and rarely received any guest. He was the one we most admired and wished to see.

We went to Lin's place on Nanchang Road. We went there three times, but each time we missed him and were disappointed. According to a woman who lived nearby, Lin went out early and came back very late every day.

We made the fourth attempt on the third day. We tried to get up real early but failed. It was around 9 a.m. when we got there. Surprisingly we found Lin's door partly open. We exclaimed with joy. The door opened and Lin Fengmian stood in front of us. He had a kind smile on his thin face.

Before we introduced ourselves, Lin seemed to know about us already. He said he knew we had called three times before, so he was waiting for us.

He took us into his place. Apart from a big table, there were some furniture such as short wall cabinets. The cabinets were empty, with no books or items. The place had been looted All the walls were empty too, like a house that had been vacant for a long time.

Lin let us sit down. He asked where we studied and what kind of paintings we did. He maintained that folk art was rich in content and that painters should absorb inspirations from them. On the study of art history, Lin said that painters had to study art history while art history researchers should learn how to paint. I told Lin I often heard mv teacher Li Keran mentioned about him. Lin had officiated at Li's wedding in 1943. Lin smiled and said nothing. He seemed to he over­whelrned hv memories. After a while, he asked nie how was Kuchan. Li Kuchan was one vear older than L I told Lin Li was well and very optimistic. I had been in the same cell with Lin a farm during the Cultural Revolution. Li often made jokes. Lin seemed to have particular inprcssion of Li Kuchan.

We chatted with Lin tor about forty minutes. Finally, Shi Qi said we wanted to see him paint although we thought that unlikely. Yet Lin said, "Fine. The institute has asked me for some flower-and-bird paintings, and I am about to do

them." We were very excited. Watching how senior painters paint would be the best learning opportunity. He did five flower-and-bird paintings, and we observed all his basic techniques.

Lin used Chinese brushes all through although some of his works had thick colours like oil paintings. He used rice paper of about four square feet. Apart from water colours in tubes, Lin also used Chinese mineral colours such as flower green and ochre.

We watched Lin painted five topics: egrets, birds with autumn leaves, chickens, dahlia and lotus flowers. We saw how he outlined the birds and rubbed in the background of a muddy bank; how he diluted the ink and flower  green to create a merging horizon; how he drew lines which were not calligraphic but rather like those in Song and Yuan folk pottery wares; how he created a glossy effect on the birds by brushing a little brown on thick ink; how he used different types of ink to depict the chickens; how he produced the dimensional touch of dahlia flowers by using separate colours: and how he painted ink on the reverse .side of the paper to create a background of sharp contrast oi light and darkness.

We stared until afternoon and felt uneasy for disturbing him for so long. We asked Lin about his lunch arrangements. He told us that sometimes someone came to prepare meal for him. I noticed there was a small plate of dark little cubes on the table. That was not painting colours; but some dry pickles.

Alter we bade Lin farewell, Shi Qi and I kept discussing Lin's painting methods on our way back. We were totally absorbed in it. We felt extremely lucky to spend hours with Lin and watch him paint.

It seemed to me that Lin was still well alive and was wearing his everlasting kind smiles.

 
Han Mo magazine number 24
 

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