〝西洋畫工細求酷肖，賦色真與天生無異，細細觀之，純以皴染烘托而成，所以分出陰陽，立見凹凸，不知底蘊，則喜其功妙，其實板板無奇 ，但能明乎陰陽起伏，則洋畫無餘蘊矣。中國作畫，專講筆墨鈎勒，全體以氣運成，形態既肖，神自滿足。古人畫人物則取故事，畫山水則取 真境，無空作畫圖觀者，西洋畫皆取真境，尚有古意在也。〞（《頤園論畫》—松年 1897）
蒙古鑲紅旗畫家，松年，身處19世紀末西潮洪流襲捲中土時期，猶然堅持以中國書畫觀點評比西洋人物畫之不足。不能明確得知他所指的西畫究竟是一般西方學院畫風的肖像畫，還是更為前鋒的印象派、甚且新印象派，若是後者，那麼他以〝皴染烘托〞去類比光影、人體構成，所謂〝分出陰陽，立見凹凸〞的繪畫手法就更令人深思，筆墨鈎勒線條的簡略省筆線性畫面和著重圓轉立體視覺再現光影身體色彩的透視繪畫空間的差異比較將會開展出什麼樣的可能性？當然，在強調神氣至上的主觀意識主導下，這種可能性會被抑制而不得展開。另一點，值得注意的說法，他指出人物畫和敍事（〝故事〞）的聯繫關係，時至今日尤然方興正熾，未因西畫—國畫之界域異質性而遭到任何改變。松年在這篇文章後面反複強調〝逼真〞並非評斷人物畫的最高準則，也不能從這原則去貶低中國傳統人物畫的工細、寫真能力，同時，所謂工筆—寫真的硬性區分對他而言只是託詞藉口。 他舉了一個戴嵩所畫的〝百牛圖〞作例子，畫裡牛眼纖細再現牛傍牧童的面貌，絲毫不差。令人震驚的例子，牛眼中的童顏，其傳遞的不僅只是中國筆墨鈎勒的寫真能力之精準技術，它其實讓我們不期而遇的撞見15世紀文藝復興時期尼德蘭的室內家庭景像，范艾克（Jan Van Eyck）的阿諾菲尼肖像（Arnolfini Portrait）（1434），突然錯位出現在中國農村風景畫中。歐洲北部市鎮商人的婚禮見證場景倒映在鏡內的影像被轉譯成東方田園牧歌。這段隱藏的無意識鏡像文本穿透松年畫論裡的意向河流，激盪出東西繪畫碰撞的漣漪波紋。不論是清楚意識到，或者毫無意識，松年的說法代表了當時甚多中國畫家的疑惑與困擾，面對西方傳教士輸入的技法與新的透視法則所構成繪畫空間，遍佈出現在大量輸入的西畫中，松年堅持中國傳統繪畫的筆墨美學，並不表示他的保守與漠視新事物，用退縮對抗西畫的繪畫空間；毋寧說，他採取的是折衷協商的作法，並未全然否定，但更堅持線畫，將筆墨繪畫空間的有效性與必然性放置在一種較為經驗性、直接觀察與比較的基礎上。在他另一篇短畫論中談到人體繪畫學習的途徑與歧路時，《頤園論畫人物》（1897），極其坦然的舖陳出當時欠缺人體解剖知識（認識論與醫學技術）困境，如同文藝復興初期時的畫家秘密竊取屍體研究學習，中國畫家只能擺盪在死亡與肉慾兩端點去摸索、練習、自學人體認識，骷髏與肉體：
線畫，寫意傳神的線，墨線、彩線維繫形將碎解的東方軀體，在西方身體與繪畫空間與論述沖擊下；社會邊緣底層的寫真畫家捨棄界畫的中性幾何畫線，堅持固守書寫線條作為貫串繪畫空間與光學經驗的唯一原則；聯結不同繪畫類型。〝牛眼裡的童顏〞，〝骷髏與肉體〞，書寫線畫留給我們的最後隱喻。 為何是色線？它來自何處？畫家穿梭編織的色線網絡，片面不完整地重織了印象派理論奠基者Michel-Eugène Chevreul編織更純色彩的絲氈歷史。從染色色素實驗挫敗後，他才發現顏色，純色絲線並不真實存在，純色是靠不同絲線的反差互補產生的光學視覺經驗。純色素自身並沒有真正的物質實體。從絲線染色開始，光學解放顏色的材質束縛，同時帶入新的繪畫空間革命。染色絲線，交織並比，替換生成種種彩度、明度差異的顏色，據說連E. Delacroix晚年在創作教堂大壁畫時，手中不時玩弄不同色澤的毛線交錯去推敲實驗新的色調與顏色。顏色、光綫與空間的革命，來自染色絲線，來自色線的編織。線，特別是有顏色的色線，從那一刻開始釋放出動能。康丁斯基從構圖，點線之關係上如此定義〝線〞：
Painting with Color Lines
By Tsun-Shing Chen
Lines. Lines bearing colors; lines applied with colors; lines dyed with colors; colored lines. Lined colors. The warp and the woof. Vertical, horizontal, oblique lines weave to and fro and form numberless traces of treading back and forth. Maps. Ruled-line paintings, chessboard, window panes, hollow brick walls, thin cracks in the porcelain glaze, patterns, coordinate grids. Portraits, landscapes, still life, and genre paintings. Why is a color line taken as the minimal unit of painting? Where does it originate from? What is the point of reemphasizing the element of painting when painting itself has undergone several times of collapses? Now that painting shows obstinate resurrections when its death has been pronounced time after time, what is the significance of a new painting unit—color lines—being invocated again? Jeng Jundian himself started out as a painter that pours and drips paint, exploring the world of splendid abstract colors. He then shifted to plain and neat concrete paintings featuring minimal brushes. Abandoning the imaginary position of highly narcissistic colors, he makes the uncontrolled self once again face the clashes among the object, the other and the world. And he allows the rules for genre painting to eliminate the extending and encroaching strokes. Color lines, a minute ethical demand, is a yearning for tranquility as well as a fatigue after the hustle and bustle dies down. Portrait, still life, and landscape are the three genre paintings that have traveled far and wide in history. “Portrait,” with its phenomenal visibility, seems to win a new recognition in the contemporary art world. However, as it falls under the spell of “grotesque” rhetoric, its very existence has been hollowed out; the form is there but the content is gone. Portrait, going way too far to the extreme of the grotesque, is no better than the lifeless reproductions of mannerism. As for “landscape,” there are inheritors: one or two literary artists maintain this tradition--with a hybrid style drawing together the East and the West, they did create something new. However, it simply fell out of the younger generation’s favor. As the French word for still life “Nature morte” has indicated, it is nothing but dead things that cannot come alive. Artists of the here and now should not follow well-trodden paths; otherwise, they would lay themselves open to ridicule with a blind insistence on these genre paintings. Is this restoring the old or bringing the new? Obviously, it would depend on how artists choose to redefine these genre paintings. Pouring the old wine in a new bottle is probably one of the most common and dominant ways to maneuver, i.e., applying narrative to genre paintings. Vast amounts of historical narrative and theatre of the absurd are turned into a panacea. Nonetheless, this is far from a redefinition of genre paintings, and there is no way to see any torso and scenery. Elements like space, color and light are not the problem anymore, for they are now formulae only. By employing color lines as a painting element and abandoning the filling-in contents, Jeng manages to return to the essence of painting. He retraces the history of Western paintings, and inquires into the art explorations since the Impressionism. “Color lines” exhibit shivering floating light beams, shades of colors interlacing and melting into each other. Jeng, bashfully learning colors and lights anew, turns color “lines” into a unit, and practices Kandinsky’s form creation constituted by point, line, and plane, knowingly or unknowingly. Posing radical questions, baldly ridding himself of the already acquired knowledge and techniques, like a young apprentice, he draws stroke by stroke. Relearning lies in the process of unlearning, and thereby the plain and innocent features unique to the line paintings are able to come into being. So every single painting, no, even every single stroke is a practice, or the preparation for learning. The necessity of genre paintings can never arise until such a gesture is taken: going back to the textbook, even though it is old and torn, dry and tedious. Like an apprentice, like a young pupil learning words by copying stroke order, he goes through chapter by chapter and practices over and over again carefully and humbly with his head down. But why color lines? Where do they originate from? Monotonously repeated color lines, with same primary colors (though not pure color), are regularly drawn and drawn over. They crisscross and part, without any emotions involved. They are like a piece of monotone music that repeats with minimal tunes or the multitude of strangers on city streets that walk by day and night, assembling and parting simply take place without apparent cause. Day in and day out, this patient and resolute painter keeps working on the lines in the hope that the chrome of certain lines would clash into that of its complementary colors and contrasting colors. Who knows? Maybe the sudden glistening momentary brightness will shine through the endless narrow cracks between lines. It happens all too soon for one to exclaim in surprise, and that light fades away even before the next line ends. Or on the contrary, a certain color could spread to cover the color field of a different chrome uncontrollably in the least expected place. Every line is always an accident, or a miracle. The painter can only say confoundedly, “I am unable to draw.” But this is never expressed in a desperate dark tone. The color dark black only enjoyed the highest level of prestige as in ink paintings in Goya’s art. It diminished in importance to the point that the Impressionist painters banished it out of their palette. Here the painter uses the tame intermediate colors, continuing his learning by practicing line paintings resignedly but delightedly. He is like a young child, who waves a net in the wind to catch butterflies and who is waiting. But it would be ridiculous and untrue to say that he is waiting for a portrait. As in a conventional creation process of a portrait, isn’t the model sitting motionless, suffering and waiting for the painter to bestow him the favor of allowing him or her to take a break. But what is even more puzzling is that the people painted are very often family members, relatives and friends whom the painter is best familiar with, spending time together, and sharing intimate relationships with. How is it possible then for the feeling of alienation to breed or how can the painter be so detached that the work of a portrait is being waited and expected? This body, face, or the skin and hair rising and falling do not need any exterior lighting. Internalized intuitions transcend anatomical knowledge. Isn’t the purpose of trying with the construction of lines and reflections of colors to lend verisimilitude to the representation of the human body? Because the paths contoured by loose and dense lines are indefinite, lines do not form planes, and these planes are way too fragmentary to overlap into a real three-dimensional space like a sphere or a cylinder would. And even the folding and unfolding of a curved surface is never a complete curve, either. Only linear lines. The space constructed by such lines coexists with its colors and light in a virtual optical space, floating outside the picture, mediating between the artist and the viewers, like the representation of space in Seurat’s Pointillist paintings. The space in Jeng’s color line paintings is exactly such a de-material (or de-concrete) space. And the human figures rendered in his portraits, briefly put, is neither an ideal body in classic paintings (regardless of being heroic or graceful), nor a body that the realism aims at. Moreover, it is not a body that appears in a sunlight flickering moment crystallized by the impressionists with contrasting and complementary colors. All these bodies contain certain quantity (constituted by its oil paint and the space) and retention, whereas portraits of color lines do away with almost all of these elements. The body or the face keeps falling in the lacunae between lines, flickering with the light and colors (chroma, value, etc.) to form ripples that flow over the picture. The painter revamps and adds lines again and again. It looks as if he is trying to make the portrait closer to the object; however, it secretly catches and opens up for more waiting, waiting for a sharing that would involve more people. Strangeness sharing. Sharing the strangeness. With an apprentice-like learning attitude, even when the model is his most intimate family members, the painter’s every single line creates a stroke which unconsciously echoes what the Jewish philosopher once said: each and every caress would only make the skin under the palm die away. What is brought up by the caress is not joy, but regret and waiting. In the portrait painted with color lines, the picture itself is like a dripping volume of water. A three-dimensional solid can be hardly constituted. The shape and contour is in an unstable status that is constantly folding, unfolding and refolding. The painter does not fill in, enter or occupy the picture. Instead, he keeps a fact-to-face adjacent ethical distance. Making change to the active and passive relationship with the object, he carefully and humbly recedes from the picture and stays beyond the lines with respect. He only awaits a position that is available to all. Nothing else. Straight lines of neutral, pure plain colors offset against any possible personal marks. There are neither brushstrokes, nor specific color fields; thus no emotional noise is to be heard. The violent fighting scenes most commonly seen in portrait masterpieces are that of using painting knife and brush to wage a flight against the object, self, and the work itself. The best examples of all in modern time are Freud and Bacon. Here the artist uses the weaving color lines and the thin screen of light and shade to filter out the theatre of cruelty; to lay a piece of delicately colored lint on the torn and scarred body of modern time so that the unhealed wound is able to send out microbeam from the crevice between thin lines. But why color lines? Where do they originate from? They come from the flowing contour of outline drawing of human figure; they come from the hook, crack, scrub, dyeing and boundary drawing; they come from these ink lines out the convergence of painting and writing—color lines? Where do they come from?
Western painting techniques require hard factualism, and the colors applied are true to the real object. With a scrutiny, one would find that the painting is simply done by upright brush, dyeing, and setting off by contrast; therefore, it exhibits a clear distinction of yin and yang as well as an apparent concave-convex difference. Those who do not know these details like these paintings for being neat and delicate. But in reality, there is nothing exciting or surprising. If one has the knowledge of contrast between dark and bright, then one would find that Western paintings fail to give forth a pleasant, lingering impression or affection. Chinese paintings, in contrary, place emphasis on a harmonious combination of stroke, ink, and outlining. The painting as a united entity rendered in an air of unity and coherence—catering to the representation of both form and characteristics—enjoys a state of consummation. Our ancestors oriented figure paintings to the stories, and landscape paintings to the real artistic conception. They never painted to achieve lifelikeness only. In Western conventions, both figure paintings and landscape paintings are oriented to sheer artistic conception. This somehow bears a certain antique taste. (Essays on Paintings by Yi-Yuan *,1897) *Yi-Yuan is Song Nian’s pseudonym
Song Nian, the Mongol Bordered Red Banner artist, lived in the late 19th century when the transmission of Western practice into China was in its full swing. He insisted on basing his comment of the Western portrait drawbacks on the conventions of Chinese calligraphy and painting. It is not clear whether his generalization of Western paintings has specific reference or not. Does he refer to the portraits in the Academic art fashion or that of the more revolutionary Impressionism or even the Neo Impressionism? If it is the latter, then here Song Nian is making an analogy between Chinese techniques of “upright brush, dyeing, and setting off by contrast” and that of light, shade or body constitution from a very different tradition. If that is the case, his description of Western painting techniques to make “a clear distinction of yin and yang as well as an apparent concave-convex difference” would give us some food for thought. What kind of possibilities may unfold from such comparison and contrast between a linear picture and that with a fixed-point perspective? Whereas the former is done by more simple, succinct ink strokes of outlining, the latter represents light, shade and physical colors through 3D visual effects. Certainly, under the dominance of subjective consciousness which deems air or energy as the top priority, such possibility may be suppressed in the very beginning. One more thing worth noting, Song Nian indicates that there is a close link between figure painting and narrative (“the stories”). This view is still prevailing in the here and now, being unchanged in spite of the East and the West division. In the latter part of the writing, Song Nian reiterates that “verisimilitude” is never the highest standard to judge a figure painting. Nor can one use it to belittle the capacity of traditional Chinese figure painting in its truthful representation of reality. Moreover, for him, the so-called arbitrary brush stroke-verisimilitude distinction is no more than an empty pretext. He further uses Dai Song’s work One Hundred Oxen as an example to expound his views. This painting features a fine delicacy. The representation of the shepherd boy’s face in the ox’s eyeball shows amazing precision. This astounding example, a reflection of a child’s face in the ox’s eyes, not only exemplifies the representational verisimilitude of Chinese painting techniques, but unexpectedly reminds us of the matter-of-fact domestic scenes in the Netherlands paintings of the 15th century Renaissance. All of a sudden, Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait seems to appear in the wrong context of Chinese landscape and peasant painting. The witness of a North European entrepreneur’s wedding ceremony, which is reflected in the mirror, is translated into the idyllic pastoral songs of the East. This hidden unconscious mirror text infiltrates through the intention stream in Song Nian’s essay, bringing forth the ripples and circles because of the clash between the East and West painting. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, or whether or not unconsciously, Song Nian had expressed the confusions and troubles of his contemporary Chinese artists, who are faced with a painting space created by the new techniques and perspective introduced by Western missionaries. Such technique and manner, widespread in Western paintings, were imported to China on a large scale. Even though he chose to insist on the aesthetics of traditional Chinese painting, it does not mean Song Nian is so conservative and ignorant of new development that he opposes the Western painting by falling back to his own conventions. Rather, he allows compromise and negotiation, without a total negation of the space in Western painting but with an even stronger insistence on a line picture. He places the validity and necessity of the space created by a brush-and-ink painting on a basis of experience, direct observation and comparison. In another short essay on painting, Essays on Figure Paintings by Yi-Yuan (1897), Song Nian discusses the paths and forked roads of acquiring human body paintings. He frankly points out a lack of human anatomy knowledge (epistemology and medical technology) at that time. Like the early Renaissance artists who studied the human body from secretly obtained corpses, Chinese artists explored, practiced, and taught themselves about human bodies with human skeleton and flesh. And such learning is confined by the two poles of death and sensual desire:
In the early days, artists started their figure painting from drawing skeletons. After the skeleton was reproduced, then flesh was added in, and finally, the clothes were put on. There is a set of rules to govern the representation of various figures: tall, short, plump, thin; the front, back, sides or profiles. Mistakes are not allowed. Drawing “private play pictures” is also one way to familiarize oneself with the skills of representing the human body. Painters did it not for sheer pleasure. Very often a craftsman was good at drawing such pictures; however, intellectuals regarded such paintings despicable and would not do it.
The apparent language of morals and pedantry in the latter part of the writing blames the “private play pictures” for being not only harmful to the social customs (“by seducing young boys and girls”) but also to people’s physical health. But this is no more than a quibble. That is why the concluding remark that “hopefully we can call a halt to drawing such paintings so as to accumulate virtue” sounds very much like a self-mockery. The underlying emphasis is still the embarrassing situation that a longing for the knowledge of human body cannot be satisfied. Certainly, a displacement of erotic desire is also one of the indispensable motivations. Song Nian’s short essay briefly but correctly points out an anatomic knowledge is required for human body painting in order to improve details like skeleton, proportion, muscle, folds of garments, movement, etc. Song Nian’s essay on paintings attempts to reach a compromise between the East and West with regard to their differences in painting space and aesthetic theory. Did Song Nian, as a late-Qing Chinese painter who witnessed the spread of Western knowledge to the East, realize that at the same time a radical reform of art was also taking place in the West? We do not know it for sure. But as an artist living in an age of transition, Song Nian had connected the art conventions during the Qianlong and Jiaching reigns and that of the new paintings of the 20th century. Such special position in art history shows us that the Western art theory and painting space had taken a long and winding path with many crossroads on its way to infiltrate into the host culture. To explore the truth of the human body and to improve portrait painting, eclecticism combines the incomplete knowledge of the human body based on observations of direct experience and a partial understanding of Western knowledge and technology. In so doing, it manages to modulate the aesthetic practice of calligraphy and painting homology. However, such a complex and daunting task was not conducted by contemporary intellectuals and literary artists from the mainstream. Instead, it was launched by a group of realist artists who were deemed as craftsmen of a lower rank. They engaged themselves in the exploration in both theory and practice. Ding Gao’s Tips for Realist Representation (1800) discusses a wide variety of details ranging from human body proportion, facial expressions, materials, formula, colors to the light in the studio (like the source of light and the color temperature, etc.). In the chapter “On Choosing a Studio,” Ding’s analysis of light and color to a certain extent reached the limit of optics knowledge of that time. For instance, he pointed out that light showed differences in color temperature and angle according to the passage of time. And some passages read so much like a standard Impressionist manifesto of optics: transitory scenes and images, complimentary colors, the color scattering effect of contrast color stimuli. These fully express the visual experience of Impressionist artists.
In the process of drawing a scene, one would find every color is different. When the sun moves slightly, the appearance of things differs a little bit too. The impressions are blurred, while differences are reflected. The flickering of light originates in the brightness at different time sequence.
Ding Gao enumerates several light scattering phenomena caused by reflecting light and contrast color stimuli. For instance, if a man stands against white walls, there is only white light produced in his surroundings. Yet if he stands under trees, the green color of the leafy shade would be reflected upon his face. However, Ding Gao was never a real Impressionist painter who paints outdoor to capture the interplay between light and shadow. What he had promoted was a typical and traditional Continental north light studio (“Direction and location of a room may be fixed, but as far as a studio is concerned, it had better be a room facing the north”). Therefore, the outdoor or even a building that has no walls for reflection would put him at a loss as the light would scatter all over the place. (“A pavilion has no walls. That made me not knowing how to draw.”) In addition to avoiding outdoor light scattering effect, he also rejected strong light. For example, a room with many white walls would not be an ideal place for drawing. He’d only choose a dimly lighted place with a consistent color hue and low brightness. (“The most true-to-life delivery is produced only when the lights are dimmed.) Only little later, Michel-Eugène Chevreul came up with a whole new color science in his search for pure silk dyes at the National Textile and Apparel Bureau in Paris. “The Law of Simultaneous Contrast of Colors” published in 1839 had led to a huge painting reform afterwards. Ding’s optical principles, comparatively, are less positively scientific. His intuitional experiential principles are certainly confined in practice to a narrow range. In addition to this drawback of being too subjective, the external factors such as social class discrimination (as a craftsman of a lower rank) and portrait painting deemed as a genre painting of secondary importance could restrain the possibilities of new painting space exploration. Or is it because Ding Gao’s painting theory doesn’t center on a new painting space, but remains concerned with the ideology of calligraphy and painting homology? He directs his focus on the classification of strokes and its derivative empty aesthetic statements. Simply put, Ding Gao’s new optical principles had not been fully elaborated. What is worse, it was influenced by the line-painting originated in calligraphy, so the momentum that it had gained turned out to be consumed by itself in the end. Only observing from this angle can we come to understand why nearly a century later Song Nian still faced similar epistemological contradictions and dilemma. An escape into the world of skeleton and flesh can never really solve the problem of painting space due to a lack of human body knowledge. However, this provides an indistinct realm in which Chinese painting techniques of hook, dry and wet strokes, dye or line-painting would not be threatened to extinction. Song Nian had reiterated a compulsive repetition of the same script or line-painting. This is in a similar vein with what Ding Gao had supported. Or like Ding Gao’s contemporary Sheng Zongqian, a realist painter active during Qianlong’s reign, his work Study on Painting by Jie Dan (1781) presses even closer to human body observation than Song Nian. Sheng discusses over muscle texture, skeleton, skin details, and bases his discussion on the different stages of life: how to illustrate and color a human body in its different life phases from the cradle to the grave. However, such precise optical observation once again fails to rid itself from the dominance of “lifelike” standard.
Nowadays, artists attach their representation much to a contrast of yin and yang or light and shade. Thus, places where the sunlight reflects upon are colored as white, and where in shade dark. This forms the Western school. However, the way of ink use is so much limited and very different from my understanding of a proper use of it. There is no magic with a lifelike representation; the key lies in how to apply ink. And the secret to it is nothing mystical, either. A good rule of thumb is that one should make the ink closely follow the strokes and help with whatever the strokes cannot reach. Therefore, stroke is the commander of ink, whereas the ink is the supplement of stroke.
As a result, a realist painter is destined to be in a dilemma of choosing “essence” or “appearance”. Brush and stroke is pinned down on the verge of verisimilitude. The intention under the interwoven horizontal and vertical lines to illustrate the appearance, however, is to manifest the artist himself rather than represent the portrait. The line-painting is not transparent, being unable to disappear under the skin. Let us sample Sheng Zongqian’s theory of “skin details” and “dry lines”:
The brush touch should be made apparent when one draws the skin curves and dry lines on the face. Every stroke should be in accordance with the hard horizontal lines, such as that on the forehead. Or the variant veins or lines different in thickness and visibility are all horizontal cross lines. And the place above the eyebrows should be drawn by both curves and hard lines, like〜〜〜. The skin lines should be represented by hook strokes, while skin curves by dry lines. Thus, the key of depiction lies in the differences of strokes.
Line-painting contains lines that catch the spirit and depicts the form. Ink lines and color lines prop up the human body of the East whose form is on the verge of breaking to pieces under the impact of the Western human body and theory. The realist painters on the social margin abandoned neutral geological lines of ruled line paintings. They insisted on the script lines as the only standard for linking painting space and optical experience and for connecting different kinds of painting. “Shepherd boy’s face in the ox’s eye” and “skeleton and flesh” are the last metaphors that script-line painting provides us. But why color lines? Where do they originate from? The network of color lines woven by the artist partially reproduces the history of dyed silk written by Michel-Eugène Chevreul, the founder of Impressionism theory. Only after the failure of dye and pigment experiments did he discover that colors or pure color lines do not really exist. Pure color is merely an optical visual experience produced by the complex contrast and complementary relation of color threads. Pure pigment itself is not a physical substance. Since dyes were applied to silk threads, optics has liberated the material confinement of colors. And it also ushers in a revolution of painting space. Dyed silk threads, interwoven and juxtaposed, create a wide variety of colors different in chroma and brightness. It is said that even the great artist Eugène Delacroix, when producing the fresco in the cathedral at his old age, fondled wool threads of different color hues so as to infer or experiment with new tones and colors. The revolution of color, light, and space originated from dyed silk threads and from the weaving of color lines. Lines, especially colored lines have released its kinetic energy from that moment on. Based on composition and the relationship between points and lines, Kandinsky defines “lines” as follows:
Geometrical lines are something invisible. It is a product of the movement track of a point. It originates from movement. However, this is realized by canceling the utmost motionlessness of the point. A leap from a motionless state to the movement is thus created. A line is the primary element of painting, and the largest contrast to a point. In fact, a line can be seen as a secondary element. (Point and Line to Plane)
The invisibility of geometrical lines, lines of no substance, faintly refers to pure colors, the original tapestry interwoven by the impossibly existent silk threads of pure colors. Pure colors. “Line” comes from the radical movement change of “point”. Doesn’t it reveal the fact that there exists actual space between Georges Seurat’s dabs of color? They form new colors (chroma and brightness, etc.) in the optical process of crashing and fusing together. Optical effects turn points of colors into photons in movement that shuttle between different tracks and interweave the traces of color lines and surfaces. Kandinsky translates contrast or complementary colors into the exchangeable and consecutive strength emanating from two threads. Straight lines are endowed with the simplest motion, producing tension and direction. As for horizontal lines and vertical lines, Kandinsky directly introduces colors to them: cold colors and warm colors. Horizontal lines are in cold movement; and vertical lines, on the contrary, in warm movement. And an oblique line has the potentiality to exercise both cold and warm movement. Intersecting straight lines can be either centrifugal or centripetal. It depends on whether there is a center or not. Intersecting straight lines without a center that spread outward have a particular capacity of producing bright colors (of higher brightness?); these lines separate from each other into black and white. Kandinsky considers that it is hard for such free spreading intersecting straight lines without a center to form a surface. They even pierce through and destroy surfaces. If one borrows Kandinsky’s theory to analyze this artist’s line painting, one would find that the two requirements may not be satisfied: the appearance of bright colors and the difficulty of surface formation. These two features refer to a high tension of free line movement that has no central field of force; thus, such tension explodes and brings turbulences mixed up with uproar of theatrical acoustics. Such imaginary painting space order in which shape, color and sound are appositive and corresponding doesn’t seem to tally with the phenomenon displayed by color line painting. In addition to piercing and destructing surface, the staggering movement of free straight lines doesn’t flare up bright colors and loud noise. Instead, these lines reflect misty hues of a grey scale of low brightness closer to the characteristics of pointillism. Substantial color complementary and contrast relation decides the ultimate optical effect of the picture. It rejects the validity of Kandinsky’s theory of an ideal symbolic space. Obviously, here the artist’s free straight line and free color line do not equal to and are different from Kandinsky’s free line. Although both are composed by randomly interweaving of universal vertical and horizontal geometrical straight lines, the difference between lines of abstract ideal system and the artist’ lines are beyond measure. To conclude, why color lines? Where do they originate from? Now in an age when digital images are omnipresent, when the 19th-century optical theory and practice are changed into pixels and ink jet points, what we see is an illusion of virtual tiny color dots instead of visually active participation in the working of optics. What is worse is the overly exaggerated brightness and chroma, and the color black that has long been expelled is now being highly welcomed and celebrated: see how the print-out facilities, LCD monitors and projectors boast the ability to generate the impossible ideal pure black. When one looks back at Goya’s time, an age of monsters and mania, when metamorphosis and absurdity were dominant, one may find that it bears a resemblance to our own age. Is it a pure coincidence? Aren’t those computer-generated computing software (since Maya) using the X and Y-axis defined grids to digitalize and simulate human body, to generate new species, or to give birth to various monsters to fall upon the world? Now, the artist brings a pure, plain and holed web of color lines before our eyes, taking a gesture of learning to draw a picture anew. We come to recognize a parable that awaits. The last landscape, and a still life. Color line paintings—a grid of colorful refined brocade constituted by the warp and the woof—cover the human body layer after layer and leak out of the woods at a distance bursting into bloom. They are like the perspective grid forgotten and left on the picture by the artist; they are the historical remains and residues of drafting and charting equipment in an illuminated chamber. Color line painting is a working draft that one has forgotten to wipe away or an archeologist’s undone task. Rules and techniques of perspective and the laws of color optics taint and infilter a collective body of broken pieces formed by human body, materials and the world. Do rationality and the world infilter each other? Or does the seduction of the world’s beautiful silk brocade fabrics devour rationality? The interwoven silk threads entwine the invisible thought that makes a vain wish to flee. The scenery leaks out of a meshed window.