Ways of a Master    by Li Lang

It was 30 years ago when I met Lin Fengmian for the first time in Shanghai. In the early 1960s, I was a reporter of the Meishu (Art) magazine. I went to interview Lin Feng­mian and He Tianjian in Shanghai.

Lin lived in an old building on Nanchang Road. His place had very few furniture, even the walls were empty. The morning sunlight shone on his desk. Lin sat on the other end of the desk. He was kind and friendly. At that time he was by himself, and the atmosphere in the house was rather desolate. He was sullen and quiet and was very passive in the interview.

When I asked him for some pieces of works to be published along with the article, he took out all the paintings he had. They were square ones measuring about 70 x 70 cm, and were mounted neatly. There were about 60 of them. Lin told me he mounted them himself.

I was touched by his diligence. According to Lin, he was greatly influenced by his grandfather who was a mason. His grandfather told him that he should do everything with his own hands, and Lin was comforted by the thought that he had kept himself busy working like his grandfather. "Apart from painting, I would also do things in my daily life. And I do them happily. I am grateful to my grandfather for his teaching." Lin's diligence was reflected in his painting production as well as in his involvements in China's art education.

Lin Fengmian was a paragon of respecting the traditions and absorbing the essences. In his studies in France, his teacher led him to realize the significance of China's excellent traditions. He had spent weeks and months in the Paris Oriental Museum and Porcelain Museum to copy the ancient art objects of China, and came to understand the immense charm and rich contents of Chinese traditional art. In the end, he developed his own art on the basis of Chinese culture.

In promoting traditions and training new talents, Lin had made great efforts. When he was the president of Beiping Art College, he offered an appointment to Qi Baishi as Chinese painting lecturer. Qi was grateful to Lin, but he was worried about his lack of academic back­ground and had no confidence to teach in the college. After Lin's repeated assurances and persuasions, Qi finally agreed. Qi was 65 at that time and Lin had made special arrangements to look after Qi. He also went to sec Qi from time to time. Qi was very happy, he painted a piece for Lin and invited him to dinner. This showed that Lin Fengmian had exceptional insight to appreciate real talents.

Lin was a reformist. He recognized the versatility and profundity of Chinese traditional culture and felt that one should enrich oneself with the essence of traditions. At the same time, Lin was also fully aware of the weaknesses in Chinese culture. He was able to compare Chinese and Western art, combined art history with commentaries and raised a series of theories for the development of folk paintings.

Lin was also an innovator. He developed new styles and methods upon a solid foundation of traditional Chinese and Western train­ings. He strove to retain the charm and mood of traditional Chinese paintings in his works. From theme selection, composition ideas to the colour arrangements, Lin had produced totally innovative ways of expression. His style was absolutely unique.

Now Lin Fengmian had left us. The impressions he left behind - friendly, unthreatening, hardworking and diligent, as well as his courage for innovations - would be exemplary for later artists. The works he left behind had enriched Chinas cultural treasury and also added glamorous colours to the world of art.

 
Han Mo magazine no. 24
 

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