Among painters I’ve befriended with, Gao Yun qualifies as a good painter. To become a good painter is not easy because attainments in all aspects are held to strict standards. Each technical aspect of the artistic process demands a proficiency good enough to solidly bring together the entire creation process. It requires a day to day accumulation of experience, comprehension, reserve and exploration to achieve such an extraordinary refinement of the craft through the heart, eyes and hands. Standards for a good painter are not homogenous. Everyone holds their own grids, their own views. For me, the conceptual, the spiritual and the cultural which are concerned with the metaphysical are certainly important. But it is also necessary to emphasise, especially at this moment, the often disdained, the physical craft of painting. Working with plastic arts, the figurative skill is at the core of an artist’s training. Many artists devoted their entire life to master it but are still much encumbered and far from maturing.
Gao Yun’s figurative skill is outstanding. From the picture storybooks in his early years to freehand ink paintings, his figurative skill as demonstrated in his Chinese figure painting is never mediocre. It is the kind of ability that is capable of a sustained creative output, out of which temperaments and affections grow. A heartfelt liveliness, an energy surface as the brush moves at ease. The figurative aspect in Chinese figure paintings has always been “the wings” cherished by Gao Yun. He had realized long ago that the level of figurative skill is the best reflection of an artist’s extraordinary professional attainment and artistic cultivation. The most down-to-earth standard for a good painter consists in the level of figurative skill.
The prominence of Gao Yun’s figure paintings consists in the three-qing. The first is the cleanness within the figurative composition. Regardless of it being in a refined or crude style, the internal structure is always a precisely integrated whole. The form of the brushstrokes, as the paint brush descends into and ascends out of, maintains a clean venation. Urban Stroller – Mountain Cyclists is the magnum opus of his freehand figure paintings created in the recent years. On an over-2- meter painting, stand only four figures without any background set-offs. Yet it is still vivid, full of life and with a rich language structure. The four cyclists in the painting are fully equipped and ready to embark on angle linear perspective as well as the tedious mechanical details. Gao Yun’s brush easily solves these difficult problems. The exuberance and variance of the“outdoor outfits”and the “saddle bikes”are cleanly blended into the precise figurative expression of the figures. The overall painting is smooth and clean, without any disordered contrivances or any sense of presumptuous usurpation.
The second qing is a lightless. Regardless of the subject being light or heavy, it is always suffused with spirit, full of vigour. The straight or angled brush strokes unfold in a relaxed rhythm. The Urban Stroller Series is a group of ink figure paintings that depicts everyday pedestrians passing through city streets. Urban Stroller V depicts a young man in military camouflage style outfits with a messenger bag. He is absorbed in his phone while striding forward. This characterisation of young people can be easily spotted on the street nowadays. The execution of the face in profile is especially noteworthy; the figure is given a pale and tender skin, youthful as that of a student, with no wrinkles or furrows and wears a hair neither long nor short and an expression neither sad nor happy. This is actually the most difficult challenge for freestyle figure painting. It is hard to begin with and difficult to produce effect. It is a figurative challenge that ties up many others’ hands which would incline towards those wrinkly and time- worn figures. The former would be like climbing slippery cliffs, full of potential dangers that most painters would simply avoid. The student figure is delineated in brisk and precise strokes, the brows and eyes, nose and lips, the jaw and the back of the neck are drawn and“written”in plain style. These ink lines, though simple, build the form effectively. Spaced out by a cheek left blank, the right ear’s inner and outer outlines are densely drawn. Each of the strokes signifies. This is actually to balance out the large blank of the figure’s face. A subtle trick that demonstrates the figurative master’s excellence.
The third qing is an elegance of the calligraphic rules inherent to the brush’s techniques. Regardless of the bold or restrained, the brush’s inner rules are well-knit and unobstructed. The rhythm and the movement of the brush are quick and bright. On a square of side 2 metres, Sketch in Xinjiang II depicts a Uygur man sitting and leaning to one side. It is a pure ink painting with freehand single line drawing. The figure is drawn from a wide angle linear perspective, which is rather a challenging figurative perspective. Without adding shading and texture, the varying distances to the different parts of the figure and the ups and downs of the body are entirely dependent on the plain ink lines whose slight sloppiness will immediately expose anatomical faults. This piece is done in the manner of a sketch, through which Gao Yun resolves the challenge with a neat and tidy structure of the brush strokes. The Uygur man’s crossed arms are especially impressive – the centre of gravity tips to the left forearm, indicated by a pressured flexor carpi ulnaris muscle. The right forearm slightly spins upward, meeting the left from a perpendicular angle. The right palm and wrist are relaxed showing only half length of the fingers which are met with the slightly dipped, cupped right hand, forming a very typical but difficult L-shape. At the cross of this challenging L-shape, Gao Yun consciously made the left wrist joint protruding outward, arranged the right hand in a triangular shape and painted the left slightly bigger than the right hand, thus cleverly brings out the inside and outside, front and back relationship based on a linear perspective.
It’s well-known that hands are the most difficult part of figure paintings. It has complex structure but ample potentialities for expressing actions and emotions. Plus, we are so close to them that we often understand them not as much as we would have supposed.As a result, a painter’s ability to depict hands demonstrates his or her figurative ability and thus an all-round level of the painter’s artistic achievement. The above three qings of Gao Yun’s are sufficient to have him qualified as an outstanding, good painter. His high sensitivity for figurative forms and incisive and observant insights form the clean figurative compositions. His rich experience lively applied creates a spirit of lightness. His figurative craft is technically ingenious and sharply responsive, thus achieving an elegance of the brush’s inherent rules.
April 1, 2019 at Nanjing Siming Villa