Pang Jiun’s Grey-Tone Oil Paintings and the Relationship Between Pang Jiun and Wu Guanzhong
Pang Jiun’s Grey-Tone Oil Paintings
And the Relationship between Pang Jiun and Wu Guanzhong
Pang Jiun’s father was Pang Xunqin, who was amongst the first-generation of oil painters in China. Fu Cong’s father was Fu Lei who was a leading authority in the field of translation in China. The friendship between the two families spans several generations. Pang Jiun and Fu Cong are childhood friends. Fu Cong became a famous international pianist, a musical poet. Pang Jiun plays the violin well, but could not escape the destiny of his family and has devoted his whole life to the exploration of the art of oil painting. His works not only have the artistic conception of Tang Dynasty poems and Song Dynasty lyrics, but also exude the rhythm of Mozart.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Pang Jiun, Yan Zhenduo, and Cao Lida were the “Three Musketeers” of the Beijing Art Company. Their landscape oil paintings were unique and unusual in their revolutionary trend of being “red, light and bright” and sold well in the painting shop in Wangfujing. Moreover, Pang Jiun’s Li River subject paintings flourished at that time.
When it comes to the Li River, people think of Bai Xueshi, Li Keran and Wu Guanzhong. Bai Xueshi’s dark green Li River is already an icon, hanging high in the room of the Great Hall of People and overlooking visitors from across China and indeed the whole world. Li Keran painted the Li River with a concept of reverse light source, having changed the pattern of Chinese painting since the Ming and Qing Dynasties and, as a result became the Chinese ink painter considered to have contributed the most in modern times. Wu Guanzhong painted Guilin villages and fields full of warmth – the landscapes belong to China and his oil painting is really the oil painting of the Chinese people.
A Soviet Union art expert once said, “Chinese painters have not mastered the color grey, nor do they know how to convey a sultry, dense atmosphere.” Pang Jiun, however, expertly portrays the Li River in tones of grey. Making use of western oils, he depicts mountains, rivers, flowers, trees and fishermen in the misty rain. His grey color originates from the essence of traditional Chinese painting; it is mild and quietly elegant. There are tangible elements behind its intangible appearance. He uses grey color as a moderator and mediator in the painting, using it as a buffer between paler and darker sections. It is always challenging to paint shadows well in oil, as this can easily make a painting look ‘dirty’. Pang Jiun uses grey tones not only on his still life flower paintings, but also in the shaded areas of his landscapes; in between the muted areas of black, brown, dark green and the lighter areas of pure white. His grey tones are bright, lively, fine and smooth and contrast beautifully with the lighter areas of the painting, adding a sense of layering to the work and strengthening the tensile forces of color. Pang Jiun’s grey tones offer greater depth to the artistic conception. Dark grey is used for the distant hills creating visions of beautiful Guilin Mountains. Light grey is used for the clouds and misty rain, sometimes so thick that is obscures everything, heightening the sense of mystery in the painting. Cloudy mountains are reflected in the river, forming another layer of grey tone. According to Pang Jiun, there are five different tones of grey. The palest grey, verging on white, covers most of the painting; this is the Li River itself, where boats converge. Thirty years pass by in a flash. Entering the flourishing 21st century, Pang Jiun’s Li River is now flanked by countless colorful peach blossoms; the boats have passed through numerous mountains on their way downstream. The Li River is high-spirited and vigorous and nothing can be compared to it. We can not only enjoy the realistic beauty of Chinese landscape through western oil painting, but also feel the spirit of oriental culture in his intangible and tangible artistic conception.
Pang Jiun’s tones of grey do not simply represent the color grey, but rather a kind of style, the style of oriental literary painting. It forms a kind of smooth and swift rhythm and conveys warm and pleasant feelings. We can similarly feel the charm of such tones in the many works by Braque and Picasso.
In the early days of the PRC, Premier Zhou Enlai gave a banquet for Pang Xunqin, Guo Lanying, Ma Sicong and Wang Kun, entrusting Pang Xunqin to make preparations for establishing the Central Academy of Arts and Crafts. When Zhou Enlai died in 1976, Pang Jiun felt an urge to paint his only painting of a leader, depicting the Premier as a “Good Premier of the people, working day and night for the people’”, in his typical grey tone style. The Premier is wearing a grey Chinese tunic suit and has an easy grace. Despite the simplicity of the tunic, Pang Jiun makes the figure stand out, bright and striking, bringing out the nobility of Zhou’s character beyond everybody’s expectations. Brown, dark red, light grey, black and even white surround and envelope the grey color. The map, valance, newspaper, book, pencil, and cup all highlight and convey the theme of ‘working day and night for the people’. This profound work is eye-catching and touching, representing the unparalleled height of achievement of Pang Jiun’s grey tone works in the 1970s.
Pang Jiun’s paintings of southern China remind us of Wu Guanzhong. Wu Guanzhong is from Yixing City in Jiangsu Province, whilst Pang Jiun is from Changshu City. They have the same southern Chinese disposition and similar Chinese and Western cultural backgrounds; they share similar landscapes and similar feelings. Wu Guanzhong is strict and careful, while Pang Jiun is straightforward and emotional. Bitterness has bred Wu Guanzhong, while freedom has created Pang Jiun. For over half a century Wu Guanzhong fought off his critics, expressed astonishing views and producing exceptional works. His influence was wide-spread. Pang Jiun traveled to Hong Kong and Taiwan and encountered twists and turns, producing highly acclaimed and fresh new works at home and abroad by exploring painting that adapts foreign methods to Chinese needs. Looking back over several years, we find that they are in the same time period and belong to the same generation. With totally different feelings and experiences, they blaze a trail in the nationalization of oil paintings.
Another similarity between Pang Jiun and Wu Guanzhong is that they both paint on location. Whenever Pang Jiun travels, he takes his painting paraphernalia with him. Hotels and rooms soon become his studio. Pang Jiun’s figure sketches have rarely been exhibited. However, he has recently published his sketches, which formed a luxury album of nearly 400 pages. After casually looking at these paintings, you would find them so beautiful. They are free and easy like the works by Matisse and bold and daring like the sculpture of David. When he converts these sketches into oils, however, composition and color become paramount. In his oil paintings, Pang Jiun is famous for using rich colors. Whether the painting truly resembles the original object does not matter. Emotion and atmosphere are his top priorities. From the light, arousing sketches to the reemergence of bright and thick oil painting, Pang Jiun has resorted to endless schemes and has made one step forward in expanding the tensile forces of color after post-impressionism and fauvism.
Pang Jiun is a landscape painter, but he is most intoxicated by the painting of flowers. Breaking away from the shackles of restriction, he freely and indulgently explores the capricious world of color. The oil paint shifts from white to black with rich color gradations, just as the keys of the piano also shift from low pitch to high pitch with many combinations in between. Pang Jiun uses pure and thick colors. In the clash between different color zones, he abandons the accuracy of representation and tries to release the feelings as much as possible, so his paintings become very profound and filled with a sense of symphony.
The use of clean, bright and eye-catching color is an important method for Pang Jiun to improve the tensile force of Chinese painting. On the other hand, he is able to convert the composition of spots, lines and space into the bold and unrestrained world of oil painting, breeding the oriental literary taste of innocence, elegance, quality and purity. Sanyu (Chang Yu), a painter of Pang Jiun’ father’s generation painted and handed down a lot of flower paintings, characterized by strong color, simplicity, solitude, and loftiness, as if he were otherworldly. An oriental painter who obstinately stood in the colorful world of the west. The potted flowers by Pang Jiun are painted with a completely different state of mind, one which is free, bold and willful, but also more popular.
It is hard to classify Pang Jiun into any particular type of painter. His paintings of real objects are not realistic and he focuses more on the “meaning” of a real situation. Pang Jiun is generous, open-minded, and humorous. His paintings are also generous and noble. I once joked that Pang Jiun was a painter from a rich and powerful family. Though his powerful family once met with misfortunes similar to the Queen of France or the Tsar of Russia in the Great Revolutions, he always kept his nobility. Whenever Pang Jiun visited relatives and friends, he would offer a banquet there for them. Friends and relatives would come and go, group after group. The guests were happy and satisfied while he was also pleased. To appreciate the works of Pang Jiun, is just like listening to the string quartet of Mozart blended from time to time with the sound of running water and the lingering music of “A Wonderful Night in Spring” and even “The Moon Over a Fountain” by Abing, the blind Chinese musician. Perhaps the “Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto” would be a more apt description of his paintings: using rich western instruments and musical form to tell a romantic story of the east, a story of hidden love in Southern China. Pang Jiun has made historic contributions in the development of contemporary Chinese oil painting. Not only in his blending of Chinese and Western techniques in his use of composition, but also by using bright, clean colors, and by conveying his traditional Chinese heritage in a scholarly style, but updated with a modern, contemporary spirit.
Fong Yuk Yan
(This article is the foreword of catalogue The Art of Pang Jiun.)