Pang Jiun’s Oriental Expressionism: Oriental Oil Painting with Lyrical Strokes combining Classicality and Modernism

By Pedro Tseng


1. Chinese modern painting or modern traditional Chinese painting

In the first half of the 20th century, powerful western colonialists had exerted influence on far eastern areas, and its art was both westernized and modernized in development and struggled in westernization and modernization. Modernism attaches importance to representation of individual style. In the society ruled by people in East Asia where Confucianism prevails, modern spirit has its limitations.

In the infancy of Chinese modern painting, most of the famous artists who had studied in Japan and France in the early period of the Republic of China, such as Liu Haisu, Gao Jianfu, Lin Fengmian and Xu Beihong and so on, had painted traditional Chinese paintings for some time before they discovered western painting. Accordingly, after they had acquired occidental painting skills from abroad, they attempted to integrate western painting theories and skills into traditional Chinese paintings, and created new traditional Chinese paintings refined through western art. By contrast, neoteric Taiwanese artists completely abandoned the fetters of traditional culture whilst facing the option of old fine arts and new fine arts, and were flung into the path to study new skills, and consequently studied Western painting material and skills intensively throughout their lives. Taiwanese artists in the age ruled by Japanese highly respected Shichuanqinyilang, and acknowledged the authority of the Exposition of the Empire Academy of Fine Arts and Taiwan Art Exhibition, and persisted in pursuit of the painting styles of Impressionism and Fauvism. At that time, there were very few people who had studied abroad and then remained abroad, such as Chang Yu and Pan Yuliang, who died in his late years in Paris, Zhu Yuanzhi, who died of illness in New York, Ho Delai, who stayed in Japan permanently. They were relicts having studied abroad in the course of Chinese modernization. Their sacrifice was the sad melody of foreign artists of Chinese origin of the first generation. As far as Zhao Wuji, Wu Guanzhong, Ding Xiongquan, Zhu Dequn and so on, who had made considerable achievements were concerned, they went abroad to study or for exhibitions and stayed in the occident after the end of the war of resistance to Japan.

Pang Jiun was born in Shanghai in 1936, and is the son of Pang Xunqin, a Chinese oil painter of the first generation. Starting from Pang Xunqin’s parents, there were nine artists in the three generations of Pang Jiun’s kin. His father, Pang Xunqin, had studied in Paris in France and had taken the office of president of an art academy. His mother, Qiu Ti, had studied in Tokyo, and was an artist in the same period as Chang Yu. Pang Jiun held a joint exhibition with his elder sister, Pang Dao, when he was just eleven years old. When he was 13 years old, he passed the examination to enter Hangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, and then transferred to China Central Academy of Fine Arts, and followed Lin Fengmian, Pan Tianshou, Huang Binhong, Xu Beihong, Wu Zuoren, Dong Xiwen, Li Keran and so on. He was one of the last students of Xu Beihong’s. When he was 18 years old and had graduated, he created the record of being the youngest graduate. From then on, his art career started.

Subsequently, Pang Jiun chose to settle in Taiwan, and became a professor at the National Taiwan University of Arts for nearly twenty years. He has held more than thirty individual oil painting exhibitions. In his art career of more than half a century, he kept exploring oriental oil painting styles, and had experience of and original opinions about oil painting colors. He thought western oil painting skills were important indeed, however, an artist must have cultural accomplishment, and be innovative, only in this way could the artist become truly original. His unique oil painting orientalism has the comprehensive characteristics of late western Impressionism and Fauvism in the use of oil painting colors, showing the passion and expressive force of western painting. In addition, he combines Chinese cultural and art philosophy, and integrates oriental art with western art to show unique artistic conception and painting style. The freehand brushwork including concept without corresponding strokes in his oil paintings is called Oriental Expressionism.

2. Evolution of Pang Jiun’s Art Thinking Mode

During the modernization of Chinese art, the westernization of thinking was a key factor to driving art to be completely modernized. In the 20th century, Chinese artists followed westerners to make efforts to seek the origin of western culture, adjusting their steps with the change of society. To begin with, they studied skill; in the intermediate stage, they studied theories; and finally, they studied the thinking mode. Today, people come to realize that modern art can not be created just by imitating skills and theories, what is important is to know how western modernists imagine relationships of persons and the space and time that they are in, and the full thinking mode to construct themselves into meaningful individuals.

Michel Foucault (1926-1984) said in his masterwork, The Order of Things, that before the middle period of the 19th century, four fields of general art theories, which were the theory of representation, the theory of articulation, the theory of designation and the theory of derivation supported artists’ thinking modes. After Impressionism, art thinking modes were substituted by the four theories of human finitude, mutual proof of the empirical and the transcendental, the cogito and the unthought, and origin and history and so on. The four theories constitute the basic framework of modernism which is quadrilateral in epistemology. Although they seem independent, they supplement each other.

(1) Human finitude

In modern thinking, things are positioned in their respective inherent laws; human beings exist in the way that they are attached to things. Existence of human beings is directly relative to things. Since existence of human beings is subject to things and things are limited, human beings are also limited. Human beings are like things and have their historical origin and termination. As human beings are able to work, live a life and speak, they will not exist perpetually or be transcendental, they must be shown through their relations with things. Human finitude is predicted and shown through demonstration of knowledge. In modern thinking, human beings are not independent of the world or aloof, and human beings are also creatures; their lives are limited, accordingly, they can not be free from birth, aging, disease or death. In the co-existence of art and things, is what is revealed through reproduction the infinitude of modern artists? As a matter of fact, in western culture, artists have never co-existed or been linked with formative arts; their incompatibility is one of the basic features of modernism.

The first generation of the three generations of Pang Jiun’s kin had studied foreign oil painting; the second generation internalized characteristics of oil painting, and developed oil painting belonging to the orient. The third generation was new age-oriented. “My father, Pang Xunqin, was a Chinese student of the first generation having studied in France; originally, he studied science, but after he went to Paris, he was subject to art ethos, in addition, he originally liked art relations, so he started to paint paintings. My mother had also studied in Japan in the same period. Accordingly, I grew up under the influence of my parents’ European cultural experience and orientalism experience.” Pang Jiun said: “My father was positioned as a rightist and reactive academic authority; I was positioned as a revisionist. Accordingly, in those days, I received a mission to specialize in painting landscapes and places of interest, because there were foreigners from embassies of some countries in the mainland at that time, and they did not want to only appreciate engravings all day long. Accordingly, my paintings from nature were sold in Beijing Gallery. My paintings painted in the morning were often sold out in the afternoon. I became famous both here and abroad at the same time. I became the only one that kept painting oil paintings non stop.”

Under the social conditions of that time, artists could only be represented through representation of aestheticism and mentalism. Painting from nature became the initial status of human beings and the environment. Accordingly, by analyzing his oil paintings painted from nature, we can acquire that: his life experience can be found out through the artist’s consciousness, painting behavior and representation of paintings. Unless his paintings of landscapes and those painted from nature are generalized or arranged in the current society, his paintings were done just for painting’s sake, and were purely to pursue color aspects of scenes, characters and still lifes.

(2) The empirical and the transcendental

In modern thinking, production of human knowledge is contingent on form which, however, is represented through empirical true content. Knowledge content, itself, is the scope for reflective thinking of human beings, and is acquired from a series of division or segmentation of things. Empirical world is the basis for human beings to judge logic; the principles established from the basis are objective standards for judgment. While faced with actual empirical analysis, modern artists try to connect the objectivity of the nature with the experience outlined through sensation, namely, to link cultural history with language. Accordingly, such a thinking mode can be said to be acquired through efforts of artists made in order to show off the distance of individual experience and transcendentalism. Shape symbols depended on by modern art keep experience both separate from and correlated with the transcendentalism, belong to pre-sensation and pre-dialectics in property. Their function is to connect experience of flesh and blood with cultural experience.

“On occasion, my mother brought Picasso’s and Matisse’s painting albums from Hong Kong. In those days, I liked Fauvism very much. However, because of the Cultural Revolution, I had to destroy my oil paintings done when I was a child, and then I studied academic paintings discreetly, which was perhaps one of the reasons that I subsequently paid more attention to esthetics in painting, and showed little interest in representation of social subject. When I paid attention to form and color, what I realized was that Impressionism appeared in France instead of any other places because the colors of both the countryside and the cities in France were excellent. By contrast, the mainland includes a lot of large mountains and rivers, and tends to be in gray tone. When I painted from nature in Huang Mountains, I realized the cause for the production of texture strokes in traditional Chinese painting. However, there is still a problem in representation of the gray tone. During the Cultural Revolution, my landscape paintings were popular because of my representation of the gray tone, the public knew that there was an artist named Pang Jiun who could paint gray tone well. At that time, I observed large mountains and rivers on the mainland, and felt that they must be in gray tone, which also corresponded to the lasting appeal and dimness in Chinese poems, and Chinese restricted and deep emotions. All of these belonged to the same spirituality.”

“When the Chinese paint a painting, they always combine hand with brush life. For this reason, I pile up thick colors when I paint oil paintings trying to combine my hand with brush life. Blanking in traditional Chinese painting is also a very abstract skill. For instance, blank on painting with birds represents the sky, that with human beings represents the ground, and that with boats represents the water. It is a very high realm in painting. Accordingly, it will be a high achievement to combine western painting tools with Chinese ideas, namely, to integrate Chinese spirit with the essence of oil painting skills. However, such a combination or integration shall not be conducted in a formal manner. “It has become Pang Jiun’s mission to base oil painting on Chinese tradition. If analyzed by excluding the style classification but based on the main creation origin thinking, it is the concept that natural factors are adopted, but the nature is imitated, and emotions are expressed in the world and the nature that his paintings inherit.


(3) The cogito and the unthought

What modernism asks is how to put the cogito into the form of the unthought. Artists shall think about the existence of formative arts and the existence of individual life, which is the difference between the art thinking of modern artists from that in the classical period. In art representation in the classical period, the individual life of the artist is hidden, and his existence is subject to the plastic language he uses. While an artist thinks about the world of the represented objects, the artist is well-defined from the unthought. However, in modern art, artists always think how to connect, represent and release the languages or concepts that are enough to represent it, in other words, they try to link the cogito and the unthought. It is the problem of modern artists to represent the images of objects and represent the existence of the artists.

Pang Jiun’s style is unique because it keeps the characteristics of oil painting and the original sensation of oil painting, and is integrated with the lyrical strokes of Chinese traditional painting. The common fault of today’s oil painting is that the materiality is emphasized excessively, sketch shaping is emphasized; in this way, the language of the oil painting loses its vitality and entertaining quality. His realistic shaping and framework used during creation were acquired by him through exploration, and can be integrated with the lyrical strokes of ink wash painting. Flowers painted by Pang Jiun are especially vivid, and show fresh vitality with its dance posture. It is observed that Pang Jiun has initiated a unique artistic style of oriental oil painting in freehand brushwork. His works have the characteristics of late western Impressionism and Fauvism, occidental passion, and the idyllic connotation of oriental literati paintings.

Pang Jiun likes listening to Mozart’s symphonies when painting. The touch of his paintbrush will change with the fluctuation of the melody, accordingly, his brush work is dynamic. Although the subjects he paints are still lifes, they seem as if they could move, and are attractive. Pang Jiun thinks artists should not only have their own characteristics, but also be completely free during creation. It is Pang Jiun’s art persistence to emphasize freedom. However, his persistence has exerted influence on his students. In more than sixty years, Pang Jiun had been criticized and denounced in the Cultural Revolution, he has lost his form, but he still has a passion for painting. However rough and bad the environment was, he kept painting, and conveys his thinking like Mozart, a music wonder child, who conveyed his thinking with music, however, Pang Jiun conveys his vital force with a paintbrush in his hand.


(4) Origin and history

Time is one of the thinking modes defined by human beings. Objects have no memory, however, human beings have the instinct for memory. Human beings have established a schedule (chronology) according to their experience for the purpose of construction of the certainty of human memory for their own benefits. Human beings can refer to the schedule to think about their course of experience. However, for the modernists, time is not only a planar smooth chart, it has its life, its starting point and termination. The origin of objects must depend on human memory. However, object origin was present when the universe started; things are taken as the standard and are used as the tools to construct origin. It has become a problem for modernists to look for the origin of human beings, namely, to construct a story of origin having no origin point, according to the time series. The origin can only be present in thinking. Accordingly, its origin is always in an uncertain state. Its uncertainty has become the anxiety origin because human beings must identify themselves through life, nature and history and so on.

Pang Jiun has combined his preference for brush, ink and lines expressed in Chinese traditional painting with the extensive artistic language of oil painting in a perfect way, and his vivid neat style is formed in his painting in this way. His vivid lines are used by force, and Pang Jiun’s unique style having simple shapes is completely shown. His paintings are free from the restrictions of traditional oil painting, and are integrated with the degage styles free from vulgarity of Chinese traditional lyrical strokes, including the spirit of literati painting, having a lot of oriental flavor. He creates art with philosophical connotations and with a free brush rhyme. His paintings are full of cadence and flowing rhythm similar to those of calligraphy everywhere. Pang Jiun signs in a special font, and with seals created by himself. His signature responds with the painting naturally so that its subjective color and spirituality are shown immediately. He abandons planar two-dimensional thinking, and tends towards three-dimensional space. His paintings are both similar and dissimilar. With his brush work including meanings with corresponding strokes, his paintings are freer, and bolder and are more unconstrained and are rhythmically vital.

In a word, Pang Jiun’s original oil painting style has oriental tinges to some extent. In the works of western neoteric art masters, he has observed their lyrical strokes, typicality and representation, which are just strong suits of Chinese literati ink wash paintings. Pang Jiun’s creation characteristics are that he has broken the past concept that “academicism sketch” was put in the first position, the classicalism which emphasizes that paintings must be close to the practical objects, that easterners’ romantic lasting appeal is created with oil painting, and that oil painting style with oriental freehand interest is originally created. As far as the use of oil paint is concerned, Pang Jiun comprehensively has the characteristics of late western Impressionism and Fauvism to show the passion and expressive force of Western painting on the one hand. On the other hand, he comprehensively uses Chinese cultural and art philosophy in his paintings; his paintings contain the poetry of oriental literati paintings placing stress on verve. Finally, he shows dreamlike artistic conception and painting quality with his spirit and skill integrated with eastern and western strong points. It is observed that Pang Jiun has succeeded in creating an “oriental expressionism”.