Chang's philosophy on the art of painting

By Chang Da-chien

Some people, apparently considering painting as a very difficult art, contend that a painter must be born with the genius for his calling. I do not think so. For so long as a man takes an interest in painting, success will come his way as a matter of course, provided that he follows the right path and plies his study with assiduity. The proverb says, "Three parts of human endeavor plus seven parts of Providence." This tenet, however, is quite opposite to my way of thinking. I deem it far more likely to put it the other way round, that is to say, "Seven parts of human endeavor plus three parts of Providence." In other words, however talented a painter may be, he will come to no good without industry. Most of the so-called child prodigies have turned out to be nonentities when they came of age. Why is it? The answer is: they have been pampered by their parents and extolled to the skies by everyone so much that they forget themselves and, having grown swollen-headed with conceit, no longer devote themselves to their work. Since it is common sense that retrogression begins where progress leaves off, how then can they expect to succeed?

In my opinion, the painter should commence with copying the old master , as is the practice with the calligraphers, with a view to acquiring the mastery of line. First, he must do exercises in the contour method, next in life study. The latter requires thorough understanding of the nature of the subject, close observation of its manner and attitude, and identification of oneself with its feelings. One must practice and practice again, if necessary, till one makes no technical errors.

As far as I can see, there is no rigid line of demarcation between Chinese painting and Western painting, whether in the initial approach or in the highest ultimate attainment. Whatever difference there is in the form of representation, it is a mere -result of the regional divergence in custom and usage and in the media and materials of the painter.

Of course, there is also a difference in the application of color. In Western painting, light and color are not used separately; color sets off light and light brings out color. Apart from that, shading is added to achieve depth and three-dimensional effect. In Chinese painting, light and color are employed apart and light comes in only when it is called for. The different aspects of light and shade, or front and back, find expression in the rise and fall or the turn and twist of the lines. In unique Chinese paintings in ink monochrome or in the impressionistic style, shading is dispensed with altogether. Ancient Chinese painters long ago considered shading detrimental to the graphic beauty of the picture as a whole. That is why, apart from the brush-stroke, Chinese paintings also rely on color for enhancing the contrast between light and shade. In principle, this is similar to the modern photographic study of human figures in high key, which produces aesthetic three-dimensional effects without the assistance of shadows.

The trend of modern Western painting has been in the direction of the abstract. Both Matisse and Picasso confess that they have changed their modes of expression under the influence of Chinese paintings. I have seen with my own eyes no less than five albums of Picasso's experiment in Chinese painting with brush and ink, each containing some forty sheets of paper. One of these is The Pastoral God, which he has presented to me as a souvenir.

In the light of this new trend, it does not make sense that a wide gulf should still have existed between the Chinese painting and the Western painting. However, it is difficult to instill the merits of Western art into a Chinese painting without compromising its inherent character and betraying some trace of the Western touch. This can only be achieved by a genius of the highest intelligence who will apply himself to the task with extraordinary care and industry, for the slightest negligence may defeat the purpose of his pursuit.

Chinese painting has often been pooh-poohed by unappreciative critics for its want of perspective. In reality, Chinese painting is not innocent of the visual aspect of dimension in space; only, the Chinese point of view may shift from one direction to another, as the painters of some modern schools show, instead of from one fixed point. The dicta of the ancients quoted in the following may represent the Chinese theory of perspective:

"Distant hills have no wrinkles." Why is that so? Because neither the human eyes, nor the camera lens, can see the rugged contour of the distant hills through the softening atmosphere in space. Hence, it is quite unnecessary to paint any wrinkles.

"Distant waters have no waves." For the same reason, it is impossible to see the ripples or billows on distant rivers and lakes.

"Distant men have no eyes." The same principle applies to human figures. It is common sense that at a distance facial features are indiscernible.

Perspective, I take it, is what things look like in nature under a certain condition, not just a set of hard and fast rules. Centuries ago, long before the invention of the camera, Chinese theorists of art bad laid down those principles which, curiously enough, are in agreement with the elements of modern photography. - For instance, in a distant scene, the color is invariably in the light tone and its outlines are soft, vague and a little blurred. This is the Chinese artist's technique for suggesting distance. In case of a near scene, the detail of a building must needs be distinct and sharp and their colors in deep tone, as though they were right in front of one's eyes.

Shih T'ao sometimes employs a special technique whereby he reverses the usual practice by giving things in the foreground a blurred ethereal look while making the objects in the distance appear clear-cut and solid. That is tantamount to setting the camera focus on infinity or riveting one's eyes on something remote, so that the objects at close quarters are out of focus. It is truly wonderful of Shih T'ao to be able to anticipate in his paintings the modern scientific perspective of the focus and give it an aesthetic interpretation. Chinese impressionism is, therefore, both in accord with the principles of physics and compatible with the elements of aesthetics.

On the basis of aesthetics, sometimes it takes a different angle to give expression to beauty. Theoretically speaking, the painter may derive inspiration from every possible angle, or from a mobile point of view, or paint an artistic composite picture from several different points of view. Such a theory, though quite comprehensible to the modern man, was inconceivable to some of our ancients. For instance, the great Sung Dynasty critic Shen Kua is known to have stigmatized the buildings painted by Li Cheng for their"upturned roof-corners". With the premise that looking down from a high point, one may see the roof but not the inside of the eaves, he maintains that Li's painting does not stand to reason because it shows the roof ridge as well as the bracket system under the eaves. Superficially, Sh6n's criticism seems to be pertinent, but in retrospect 6 he has obviously barked up the wrong tree. For in painting, aesthetics is the thing. Li Cheng not only sees the ridge of the roof from a bird's-eye view but has swooped down to take in the bracket system under the eaves'. In his Painting he has successfully combined the first impression of the roof with the second impression of the bracket and eaves into an aesthetically blended picture. The Chinese architecture is noted for the exceptional beauty of its roof and its bracket system. It is quite impossible to paint both without recourse to blending the upward and downward perspectives.

The painter is the deity of his own world, invested with the prerogative to create whatever he pleases. In his paintings, he may play the part of the Creator and cause it to rain or the sun to shine, without being dictated to by any force in existence. He may conjure up a peak or get rid of a pile of unsightly rocks, as he sees fit. If he conceives a domain of genii and fairies, he is at liberty to put it into form and color. He may, as the scientists advocate, "bring about improvement upon Nature," or as the ancients say, "let the brush amend Nature without the auspices of the Providence." Generally speaking, the painter may create a world on the paper a paint it in whatever way he likes. Sometimes it is desirable to reflect the realities, sometimes it is expedient to leave realistic considerations out of mind; the choice being entirely at his discretion. In short, when painting a picture, the painter should neither seek to be too life-like nor wilfully strive for unlikeness. If faithfulness be the criterion, painting is at a disadvantage in comparison with photography. If it is unlikeness that the painter aims at, why then should he paint the subject at all?

So, the true artist must try to bring out, between likeness and unlikeness, the extramundance charm of nature. That is what t ancients mean by "to capture the spirit at the expense of appearance." In other words, the world of the painter's creation should such that the initiated shall be able to recognize its identity at one glance. The artist sees what is truly beautiful and paints it, while rejecting what is not beautiful. Speaking of true beauty, it does not dwell solely in the outward form of things but must be appreciated through its spiritual vitality. This may be coupled with the famous dictum of the eminent T'ang Dynasty poet-painter Wang Wei:" a picture there should be poetry, in a poem there should be a picture." For painting is poetry unsung, and poetry is painting set music. To attain such a transcendent state, it is imperative to conceive the picture before manipulating the brush, so that as soon as inspiration sparkles in the painter's psyche, it may take shape on the paper by means of brush and ink. So it is said, "The form is b ahead of the brushwork," and "The spirit dwells in the painting when it is done."

As to the countless new-fanlged things of our age which were unknown to the ancients, they are not altogether unpaintable, some people are inclined to think There-is no reason why they should not become fit themes of art, so long as the painter can justice to their form and spirit by virtue of his inspiration and intellect, without compromising his aesthetic principles, and so long as paintings are in keeping with the classical tradition without deviating into the beaten track of vulgarism.

In brief, if a painter wishes to become an adept, he should first of all master the contour method, next life study, and finally t impressionistic style. Whether he paints flowers, birds, landscapes, or human figures,. it is necessary for him to be conversant w their nature, form and feeling. He must begin with copying and studying the work of famed painters of the past and the present. In doing so, he must guard himself against lopsided favoritism; because every great painter has his own particular merit worthy emulation. But the individual touch of each is different, so the beginner should not imitate only one master, nor follow a course under the unassisted guidance of his own bent. He must emulate the spiritual quality of the old masters and he able to adapt it to his o use, rationally and intelligently. In the same way, a master of painting should teach his pupils. He should impart to them the technique of painting and let them pursue their own courses, till they are mature enough to make independent creations of their own, instead of requiring them to tread in his footsteps. In this way, they may become independent painters in due course of time. That is why one can tell at A glance the authorship of the extant paintings of the T'ang and Sung masters, in the absence of the signatures. For even a fragment of the original painting is eloquent of its creator.

The ancients say, "Read myriads of books and travel myriads of miles." It. simply means that knowledge should be obtained from actual observation as well as from books, the two being complementary to each other. If the painter has contemplated the great mountains and rivers of the world till -there are peaks and valleys in his bosom", so to speak, he need have no fear of having to create something with his brush out of the void. The more he sees the more resourceful he will become. It is so with landscapists, so wi the painters of flowers, human figures, birds, animals, and the rest.

Travelling may provide the painter with source materials, enable him to see the whole creation in its infinite aspects and broad his horizon. So it is imperative to travel myriads of miles.

An accomplished painter, having technically attained the state of sublimation, is above the constraint and limitation of any fix rules and methods. All things in the physical universe are his for the drawing and be can paint as his heart desires. After all, having become a master of painting, why should he be a bond-slave of conventional rules? As for the beginner, however, it is expedient him to adhere to the rules and proceed according to the proper order.

In painting human figures, the most popular themes of the ancients are angling, fuel-gathering, ploughing and book-reading. The occupations were chosen, not for their being a means of making a living, but for their symbolic significance of the noble way of I befitting a learned mandarin living in retirement. Being ignorant of this underlying meaning, the painters of to-day often paint t human figures concerned with sordid worry written across their faces, as if they were wretched mercenaries living from hand to mouth without suggesting the consolation of a tired soul finding sanctuary in a retreat. How absurd!

Of the four noble plants, plum, orchid, chrysanthemum and bamboo, each has its own exalted station, which is symbolic of 1 integrity and character of the painter or of the one to whom his painting is dedicated. Apart from that, these plants are the prototype from which the technique of flower painting is derived. How should the ancients know that they would become the hackneyed a much abused themes of the thoughtless painters of today?

In conclusion, let me bring up a few points from my experience as a painter, for the reference of those who are interested: -

( I ) Copying. The beginner should learn the rules and methods by means of mastering the technique of defining the contour lines.

( 2 ) Life Study. The painter should understand the nature of his subject, observe its form and attitude, and identify himself with its feelings.

( 3 ) Conception of Ideas. Whether it be human figures, stories, landscapes, or flowers and bamboos, there should be a lofty underlying meaning, however insignificant the subject may be.

( 4 ) Creating the Psychical State. The painter should strive for new ideas and discard shabby and hackneyed ones.

( 5 ) Seeking After the Sublime. The painter should read books, cultivate his nature and remove himself from what is earthly and vulgar.

( 6 ) Craving for Nobleness of Style and Dispensing with Superfluous Brush-Work.

( 7 ) Composition to Play Second Fiddle to Rhythmic Vitality.

( 8 ) To Capture the Spirit at the Expense of the Appearance, so long as it does not go against the fundamental aesthetic principles.

( 9 ) To Let the Brush be Relaxed and the Heart at Ease, and to guard against showing off one's own talent and giving rein to one's o temperament.

(10) While emulating the old masters, One Must Go Through A Metamorphosis, instead of resorting to duplicating or pirating.

    1. To Give Expression to a Sentiment by Painting an ' Anecdote, such as The Return of Lady Tsai Yen to China, Lady Yang Suffering from a Toothache, Po Chui-yi Listening to the Balloon Guitar on the Ilstinyang River, etc.
    2. Great Compositions, such as King Mo's Travels, Chu Yuan in Exile, The Truce of Pienchiao between Emperor T'ai Tsung of the Tang Dynasty and the Turks, General Kuo Tzu-yi's Encounter with the Uighur Tribesmen, etc.



      Chang Dai-chien (also known to some as Zhang Daqian) was born on May 10, 1899 in Nei-chiang, Szechwan as Chuan Chi, the ninth child of a wealthy family who had converted to Roman Catholicism. Resisting his family's efforts to push him into a business career, Chang briefly entered a Buddhist monastery before beginning serious study of Chinese calligraphy and painting at the age of 19. After an extended visit to Kyoto, Japan, Chang settled in Shanghai in 1919 to study with prominent artists Tseng Hsi (c.1861-1930) and Li Jui-ching (1867-1920). In a training method typical among art students in China, Chang made many arduous copies of artistic masterworks, beginning to develop his legendary (and notorious) ability to recreate works from diverse periods.

      Because of his family wealth, Chang first entered the Chinese artistic community as an amateur painter and connoisseur. The collapse of several family businesses in 1925 deprived Chang of his income and compelled him to begin selling his art work. His first exhibition of 100 paintings in 1926 was a great success and launched his career. The start of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 began a period of war and revolution that repeatedly disrupted Chang's artistic efforts, forcing him into flight several times. In 1939 he found refuge in the remote desert outpost of Tun-huang, where he spent more than two years copying the legendary murals in the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas.

      Leaving China in the wake of the Civil War of 1949, Chang sojourned in Hong Kong, Taiwan, India and Argentina before settling in 1954 into a 30-acre compound outside Sao Paolo, Brazil that he named the "Garden of Eight Virtues." Chang continued to exhibit his art in the US and Europe, traveling to Paris in 1956 for a breakthrough show of his paintings at the Musée d'Art Moderne. Chang's meeting with Pablo Picasso during this trip was given considerable attention in the press as a meeting of the masters of Western and Eastern art. A dam construction project in the mid-1960s that would flood his home caused Chang to leave Brazil. California had impressed Chang during his numerous trips to the state, the first of which was in 1954. Chang moved to the Monterey Peninsula in 1967, eventually acquiring both a home in Carmel and another on the scenic Seventeen Mile Drive. Chang relocated to Taiwan in 1976, spending the last seven years of his life painting and creating his garden home known as the "Abode of Illusions." He never returned to California after 1979.

      In addition to his prized original works, Chang has become equally infamous for his recreations of Chinese masterpieces. His copies span 1,000 years of Chinese art and demonstrate a virtuoso talent for emulating, and even improving upon, the work of painters before him. Today many of these forgeries, still attributed to others, hang alongside Chang originals in museums worldwide. An article in the Washington Post Sunday Magazine on January 19, 1999 examined the controversy surrounding the reputed 10-th century Chinese painting The Riverbank owned by the Metropolitan Museum of New York, believed by some to be Chang forgery.

      Chang's artistic legacy is immense, controversial and complicated. Beyond the difficulty posed by a life spent in nearly perpetual exile and travel, Chang was a highly social personality who enjoyed his fame and actively contributed to the creation of an heroic persona. As a young artist he adopted the posture of bearded sage, reveling in unconventionality and romanticism, the beginning of a life-long process to create a unique aura that often overshadowed his artistic efforts. The exhibition Chang Dai-chien in California will present an often overlooked element of Chang's legacy, demonstrating his status as a truly global artist.

      The Art and Life of Chang Dai-chien

      By Wu Hsiao-ting

      Always garbed in a floor-length robe, wearing a long, flowing beard, and carrying a walking stick wherever he went, Chang Dai-chien looked like one of the ancient scholars in his own paintings. "An ancient figure in a modern time," he epitomized his biggest achievement in his career as a professional artist is remarkable amalgamation of the old and the new, the bringing of fresh, innovative elements into traditional Chinese painting. His invention of the splashed-ink-and-color painting technique breathed new life into Chinese painting and took it to a realm which transcended what any ancient master had done before.

      Chang was born into one of the most turbulent eras in Chinese history. In the eighty-four years of his life (1899-1983), he was to witness the downfall of the Ching dynasty (the last imperial government in Chinese history), the battles between the fledgling Nationalist government and the warlords who unofficially controlled a large part of China, the Sino-Japanese war, and then finally the fall of mainland China to the Communist forces led by Mao Zedong. Chang's works, however, remained largely untouched by the historical and social events around him. Though he lived through an age during which Western artistic currents gradually infiltrated Chinese art, he stuck strictly to the conventional Chinese brush-and-ink painting method. We can say that he made a point of innovating within tradition, never diverging from his beloved Chinese heritage.

      Chang's artistic talent was recognized when he was still a small child. As he could do very refined paintings and calligraphy at an early age, he was considered to be a child prodigy. The cultivation of his natural endowments, however, had to do with the influence of his family is mother, sister and brothers were all very skilled in either painting or calligraphy. Under their guidance, he set out easily on the path to artistic perfection.

      Chang himself professed that he benefited a lot from the tutelage of his sister, Chiung-chih, whose ability in artistic appreciation is well manifested in the following anecdote. One day an artist gave to Chang's family a painting in which he had depicted a hundred chrysanthemums. The entire family praised profusely how well the hundred chrysanthemumseach with a different, dainty look had been drawn. Chiung-chih, who was still very young at that time, pointed out with aesthetic acumen that although the chrysanthemums were presented differently, the leaves all looked the same, as if they had come out of the same mold. Therefore the painting could not be taken as a work of superior quality. Her exceptional view affords us a glimpse into the enriching, informative environment in which Chang grew up.

      In his younger years, Chang studied art under the tutelage of his own family and laid a very good foundation for his fine-line kungpi painting technique, a style akin to Western realism with meticulous brushwork and close attention to detail. In order to render precise, vivid representations of the subjects in his works, he not only had to master painting skills, but he also had to study the anatomy of flowers, birds and other small creatures in the natural world. His sister Chiung-chih once spelled out the structure of a flower to him, petal by petal.

      When he had finished his formal high school education, the seventeen-year-old Chang followed his family's wishes and went with his brother, Shan-tzu, to Japan to learn commercial weaving and textile dyeing. The techniques Chang acquired during his stay in Japan enabled him to age and darken paper and silk, skills which he would find greatly helpful later in his life when he began to make copies of ancient paintings.

      Although Chang was very good at weaving and dyeing, he found it much more after his heart to become a painter. Realizing the close connection between painting and calligraphy in form and technique, he returned from Japan after two years and studied the art of calligraphy under Tseng Hsi and Li Jui-ching in Shanghai. There, he quickly absorbed the teachings of his masters, and soon perfected all the styles and types of ancient and modern calligraphy. He eventually developed his own style of calligraphy, which possessed a dynamic rhythm most befitting his painting. His teachers, Tseng Hsi and Li Jui-ching, were learned scholars and painters as well as good calligraphers. They greatly admired Chang's painting skills and did all they could to help him develop his talent. Absorbing their profound knowledge of Chinese history, literature and art, he grew into a highly refined painter. During that time he also greatly enhanced his ability to compose poetry. Unlike most painters who merely dabbled in poetry and wrote little more than simple verses, Chang competently composed good verses. In his works, we never fail to find a perfect harmony of the painting and the poem inscribed on it.

      Owing to the influence of his teachers, Chang studied and imitated paintings by the Four Monks of the late Ming dynasty, by Shih Tao, Pa Ta, and by Chien Chang, mastering their loose-brush hsiehyi painting style, a style close to Western Impressionism with free brushwork and little attention to form and detail. Chang, like most traditional Chinese painters, considered copying ancient art a must, because it provided him a direct access to not only the skills, but also the vision and the temperament of the great masters. Yet instead of allowing himself to be shackled by the styles of the ancient masters, he turned them into a stimulus, an inspiring power to open up new possibilities for his own artistic development. Following the advice of his teachers and the examples set by the ancient masters, Chang also traveled to mountains and rivers throughout China, hoping to achieve a spiritual consonance with nature and capture its essence in his paintings. Later, after he left China, he often painted these scenes from memory.

      In the early part of his career, in addition to the literati loose-brush style, Chang also studied works painted in the Tang dynasty "blue-and-green" landscape tradition, which was characterized by its use of lyrical, effulgent blue and green colors. Moreover, he helped revive the mogu or "boneless" painting method created by a painter of the Five Dynasties, in which forms were built with colors alone without ink contours. From the above styles and techniques, Chang learned and polished his skill as a colorist. He showed his indebtedness to these styles and techniques in the exquisite application of color in his works Clear Autumn in Wu Gorge and Wen Shu Yuan in Yellow Mountain. Actually, his use of bright colors in his paintings marked a distinction from conventional Chinese paintings, in which colors usually held a subordinate place. His mastery of colors often made his paintings radiate with aesthetic appeal.

      After his teachers died, Chang went to Beijing to develop his career. He soon made his reputation as a

      prominent painter in both Beijing and Shanghai, the two most important artistic centers in China. His remarkable artistic skills won him substantial recognition. However, his rise in fame also had to do with his teachers and his brother, Shan-tzu. They introduced him to quite a number of artists, which undoubtedly helped promote his fame. Through the exchange of aesthetic views and ideas with these artists, he also greatly expanded his expertise as a painter.

      In 1940, when the whole world was deep in the turmoil of World War II, one of the most important events in Chang's artistic career happened. Against all the hardship and difficulties engendered by the war, he set out to see the Tang dynasty Buddhist wall paintings in the caves at Tunhuang, Gansu Province. Later, his name was often associated with the art of Tunhuang due to the contributions he made towards resurrecting that long-neglected art from near oblivion. With the help of Tibetan monks and the entourage he brought along with him, he studied the religious murals in 309 caves and made copies of many of them. The Buddhist images and figures presented in the murals, with their controlled, disciplined outlines and bright, ornamental colors, mesmerized and deeply attracted him. They later exerted a strong influence on Chang's paintings, as seen in his colorful, decorative approach and his fluent, precise control of the brush lines. Examples include Afternoon Rest and Red Leaves and White Crow, among many others. In 1944, the copies he had made of the murals at Tunhuang went on exhibit in the cities of Chengtu and Chungking. They gained nationwide attention and created quite a sensation at that time.

      Chang left mainland China in 1949, when it was taken over by the Communists. His love of individual freedom was apparently the main cause for his self-expatriation. He was well aware that an artist's talents and skills would inevitably atrophy if they could not be nurtured in a free environment and given space to expand. Since the ideals and concepts espoused by the Communist regime were obviously at odds with his aspirations, he chose to leave his beloved home country and move to Hong Kong.

      In the following year, Chang and his wife, Hsu Wen-po, visited the caves near the village of Ajanta in Maharashtra State, India. He studied the religious wall paintings there and compared them with those at Tunhuang. He found that although the murals at Tunhuang had been influenced by those at Ajanta, the former had nevertheless developed a Chinese character of their own. The wall paintings at Ajanta did not leave the indelible mark on his works that the art of Tunhuang did.

      Chang and his family moved to South America in 1953. After one year in Argentina, they settled down in Brazil. There he bought a big farm and named it Pa-teh (Eight Virtues) Garden. Treating it as a canvas, he created a Chinese-style residence with hills, ponds and small mountains. Chang lived there for sixteen years before he moved to California, USA, and often modeled his paintings on the scenery at his Brazilian retreat.

      In 1956, Chang was invited to an art exhibition in Paris, where his paintings won him a great deal of attention and praise. He also paid a visit to Cannes, where he met with the Western art master Pablo Picasso. To most people their meeting might have meant nothing more than a newsworthy event; yet looking deeper, Picasso's vitality and ever-innovative spirit, which kept driving him to imbue new life into his works, must have impressed Chang.

      One interesting episode happened during their visit. An art dealer brought five paintings attributed to Picasso and asked the master to pick out the fake ones. Picasso, in turn, assigned the job to Chang. Unfamiliar with the works of Picasso and Western art in general, Chang amazed all those present by pointing out the forgeries at once. Despite the differences between Western and Chinese painting in form, style and expression, Chang man-aged to cross the barrier by means of his artistic ingenuity and showed himself to be a surprisingly astute connoisseur. The episode also showed that his extensive training as a painter allowed him to surpass the constraint of form and directly appreciate the intrinsic beauty in art presented in whatever form.

      In the ten years following his exhibition in Paris, innumerable exhibitions featuring Chang's paintings were held in major cities in Europe, America and Asia. His fame gradually accumulated and he became one of the first Chinese painters to enjoy global acclaim.

      When Chang was fifty-eight years old, he accidentally hurt his eyes while moving a big stone in Pa-teh Garden. People attributed the reduction in the number of his fine-line kungpi works after 1957 to his failing eyesight, and they even connected with that his invention of the splashed-ink-and-color technique, which does not demand such meticulous brushwork. Chang himself confirmed that all this was true, yet of course there were far more complex factors behind his invention. It was after he had spent some time in the West that he started to splash ink and pigments onto his works to form semi-abstract compositions. Exposed to such trends as abstract expressionism and automatic painting, which were in vogue in the West during the fifties and sixties, Chang, a sensitive and perceptive artist, was not likely to remain unaffected. Yet different from the paintings of abstract expressionism, which often presented a subliminal, abstruse world and whose abstraction manifested the Western artists' desire to overthrow their artistic tradition of realistic representation, he brilliantly brought the abstract images built up by the spattered ink and colors back from the threshold of abstraction by adding a few concrete details, such as a small hut or a sailboat, with a traditional Chinese brush. So, instead of breaking completely free from his cultural heritage, as the Western artists were trying to do, Chang emphasized his attachment to Chinese tradition by fitting new elements within it.

      In addition to the direct impact from Western culture, Chang may also have derived his splashed-ink-and-color method from Wang Cha, a painter of the Tang dynasty, who was said to have created his work by spattering ink onto the painting surface. In any event, Chang's splashed-ink-and-color painting was a natural development from his many years of hard studies and his rich artistic and life experiences. It would have been impossible for him to have made such an achievement without first mastering all the styles and techniques of the ancient masters, or without living so long and seeing so much of the world. He applied his genius and creativity to what he had absorbed and finally created a personal style which won him acclaim as the greatest Chinese artist of the past half millennium.

      After seven years in California, Chang moved to Taiwan in 1977 and there he spent the few remaining years of his life. Having attained the peak of his career, he was enthusiastically welcomed home by both the government and the local people. There was, however, one drawback to living in Taiwan: because his paintings were so sought after, he had to do a lot of them to meet the innumerable requests from friends, admirers or celebrities. With his outgoing personality, he did not like to say no and he did his best to please all, although, as can be imagined, few of these paintings sprang from his heart. This social obligation put a colossal burden on Chang, who was already very advanced in age, and it drained much of his energy and time.

      Three years before he died, however, he managed to create a monumental work that made people gape in awe at his verve and courage. Panorama of Mount Lu was a grand, ambitious landscape, two meters high and ten meters long [6.6 x 33 ft], and it incorporated a comprehensive range of styles which Chang had mastered in his life. Some areas of the painting were rendered in the splashed-ink-and-color method  which  blues and greens in swirling patterns suffuse the painting surface, making up the images of mountains and forests while other areas were touched by delicate brushwork and soft washes of ink. Standing in front of the painting, one cannot help but be amazed by the grandeur and the technical skill that the artist displayed. The fascinating natural world draws the viewer deeply in and gives him the feeling that he is actually in it. "Though the painting was never completed about one-fifth of it was left undone after the venerable artist passed away at still ranks among the finest and most representative of Chang's works," remarked Pa Tung, a distinguished art researcher in Taiwan who has extensively studied Chang's works.

      Chang died at the age of eighty-four. The prolific artist painted an incredible lifetime total of thirty thousand paintings. Many were lost, especially during the Cultural Revolution, but an enormous collection of more than five thousand works remains. The motifs range from figures, birds and flowers to landscapes; the styles extend from fine-line and loose-brush to the innovative splashed-ink-and-color. "No genre which has ever made its appearance in Chinese painting history evaded Chang's grasp," said Pa Tung. "He had a gift of making them shine with his outstanding skills."

      Though Chang liked to define himself as a traditionalist, the significance he held for his time probably lay in the successful transition he made from the old to the new. If he had not broken fresh ground with his epochal creations, he would perhaps not be remembered as an artist of such a god-like stature. To understand him, you have to study his works and go into his world, where you will encounter a genius rarely seen in our time.

      San Francisco State University
      College of Creative Arts
      Chang Dai-chien in California

      Contact: Paul Dorn at 415/338-1442
      High-Resolution Images Available for Download


      Chang Dai-chien in California
      Exhibition at San Francisco State University
      Symposium at the M.H de Young Memorial Museum

      SAN FRANCISCO, March 17, 1999 -- San Francisco State University presents Chang Dai-chien in California, an exhibition of more than 40 paintings by the acclaimed Chinese artist and other materials, September 26 through November 20, 1999 in the Fine Arts Gallery in the Fine Arts Building on the university's campus. Chang Dai-chien in California is the first comprehensive exhibition of work made by Chang during his residency on the Monterey Peninsula from 1967 to 1977, a period when he developed a "splash color and splash ink" technique and radical media handling evocative of Abstract Expressionism. Chang Dai-chien in California commemorates the 100th anniversary of the artist's birth and is presented as part of SFSU's Centennial Celebration. The exhibition and symposium are cosponsored by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the National Museum of History of Taiwan, with support from China Airlines; the Ministry of Education, Republic of China; the Council for Cultural Affairs, Republic of China; the Flora Foundation; and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.

      The best-known Chinese painter of the 20th century, Chang Dai-chien (1899-1983) is often referred to as the "Picasso of China" and is believed to have produced nearly 30,000 original works. During nearly 30 years living in the Americas (Brazil and California), Chang developed stylistic innovations that revolutionized traditional Chinese painting. However, his work is rarely considered outside the context of this literati tradition, even in such important exhibitions as Challenging the Past: The Paintings of Chang Dai-chien, which was organized in 1991 by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution and later traveled to the Asia Society in New York City and the St. Louis Art Museum.

      "This exhibition is the most important Bay Area display of Chang's artistic achievement since the 1972 retrospective at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco," says Mark Johnson, professor of art and director of the SFSU Fine Arts Gallery. "This is also the best opportunity ever to consider the importance of Chang's California paintings, which are very clearly inspired by the region's natural landmarks such as Big Sur and Yosemite."

      Chang was frequently forced to live abroad due to social crises in China. In the late 1960s Chang acquired two homes near Carmel on the Monterey Peninsula, which would become his principal residence for the next decade. His home became an important destination for artists from throughout Northern California, and he showed his work in exhibitions at several Bay Area venues. Chang was acquainted with many prominent California art figures, including Ansel Adams and James Cahill. Chang's widow and many children and grandchildren continue to reside on the central California coast.

      Three consecutive days of events to open the Chang Dai-chien Centennial Celebration begins at 11:30 am on Friday, September 24 at San Francisco's City Hall with a special ribbon-cutting event hosted by Mayor Willie L. Brown, Jr.; Supervisor Mabel Teng, artist Au Ho-nien and members of Chang Dai-chien's family. The Chang Dai-chien Centennial Celebration continues with a special symposium at 1 pm on Saturday, September 25 at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum examining the artist's life and work. Speakers will include Michael Sullivan, professor emeritus, Stanford University; James Cahill, professor emeritus, University of California, Berkeley; Paul Karlstrom, director, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution; Gordon Chang, professor, Stanford University; artist C.C. Wang; Mayching Kao, dean, Open University of Hong Kong; and Hung Liu, artist and professor of art at Mills College. A Mandarin Chinese language program will be presented at 1 pm on Sunday, September 26 in the McKenna Theatre in the Creative Arts building. Featured speakers will include Huang Kuang-nan, director, National Museum of History, Taipei; Feng You-heng, PhD; and Ba Tong, associate curator, National Museum of History, Taipei. The gala opening reception for Chang Dai-chien in California will be held from 1 to 4 pm on Sunday, September 26 at the Fine Arts Gallery.

      Chang Dai-chien in California represents the latest example of SFSU's commitment to research and exhibition of the creative legacy of Asian American artists active in the state. Previous exhibitions have included With New Eyes: Toward an Asian American Art History in the West in 1995 and Sino Ka?/Ano Ka?: San Francisco Babaylan in 1998. The university also received a $82,900 grant in 1997 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to produce a directory of Asian Amerian artists active in California from 1840 to 1965. In addition to the exhibition, symposium and website, San Francisco State University will also publish a 132-page full color catalog, featuring text contributions in English and Chinese by many distinguished scholars and acquaintances of the artist.

      San Francisco State University
      College of Creative Arts
      Chang Dai-chien in California



      • The Chronicle of Higher Education,October 29, 1999, Page B120
        "Daring Experiments in Style," End Paper feature, Opinion and Arts
      • San Francisco Chronicle, September 27, 1999, Page D 1
        "A Playful Eye Matched by a Masterly Touch: Chang Dai-chien's works at SFSU toy with tradition," by Kenneth Baker
      • Washington Post Sunday Magazine, Sunday, January 17, 1999, pg. W14
        "The Master Forger," by John Pomfret
      • Art in America, September, 1998, Pg. 112
        "China's other cultural revolution: history and Chinese art," by Charles Ruas and Richard Vine
      • Central News Agency (Australia), September 9, 1998
        "Chang Dai-chien Paintings on Exhibit in Australia," by Peter Chen
      • The New Yorker, August 11, 1997, Pg. 26-7
        "The Met has just acquired the 'Mona Lisa' of China. But is it a fake?", by Carl Nagin
      • Arts of Asia (Hong Kong), May-June 1995, pg. 92-103
        "The M.K. Lau Collection: 20th century Chinese paintings," by Catherine Maudsley
      • Weltkunst (Germany), August 1, 1994, pg. 2001-3
        "Qi Baishi and Zhang Daqian (Chang Dai-chien): Two Chinese painters between tradition and modernism," (in German) by Irmtraud Schaarschmidt-Richter
      • Arts of Asia (Hong Kong), May-June 1994, Special Issue on Chang Dai-chien
        "The Paintings of Zhang Daqian (Chang Dai-chien): unity of tradition and modernity," by Mayching Kao
      • Arts of Asia (Hong Kong), November-December 1993, pg. 143-45
        "International conference on the poetry, calligraphy and painting of Chang Dai-chien and P'u Hsin-yu," by Julia K. Murray
      • Arts of Asia (Hong Kong), September-October 1993, pg. 94-103
        "Chinese Painting," by Liao Kuei-Ying
      • San Francisco Chronicle, December 26, 1992, pg. C3
        "Asian's 'Brushstrokes'," by Kenneth Baker
      • St. Louis Post Dispatch, Sunday, August 30, 1992, pg 3C
        "Contrasting Cultures and the Art of Chang," by Robert W. Duffy
      • Christian Science Monitor, Tuesday, June 2, 1992, pg 12
        "A Master at Painting Master Works," by Julie Tilsner
      • Art and Antiques, May 1992, pg. 40-46
        "Master of Deception: Chang Dai-chien," by Carl Nagin
      • New York Times, Friday, May 15, 1992, Section C, pg. 23
        "Restating and Adapting Images of China's Past," by Holland Cotter
      • Smithsonian Magazine, January, 1992, Pg. 90
        "He was a lion among painters: Chang Dai-chien," Constance A. Bond
      • Associated Press, Monday, December 2, 1991
        "The Artists: Last of the Traditional Chinese Artists," Carl Hartmann
      • The Washington Post, Friday, November 29, 1991
        "Prolific Chang's Asian Perfection," Hank Burchard
      • The Washington Post, Sunday, November 24, 1991
        "The Amazing Chang Dai-chien, Forging Ties to the Past," Paul Richard
      • Orientations (Hong Kong), September 1989 "Chang Dai-chien's 'The Three Worthies of Wu' and His Practice of Forging Ancient Art," by Fu Shen Huang
      • House and Garden, February 1988, pg 72-78
        "Artful Roots: China's greatest modern painter and forger gardened in the mountains above Taipei," by Carl Nagin
      • Art News, January 1973, pg. 61-62
        "The remarkably rich palette of Chang Dai-chien," by Rene-Yvon LeFebvre d'Argence
      • Le Jardin des Arts, Number 28
        "Tchang Ta-ts'ien: un grand peintre de la chine contemporaine," (French) par Denys Chevalier


      • Chang Dai-chien in California, Mark Johnson, Ba Tong, et al
        San Francisco, CA: San Francisco State University, 1999
      • Modern Chinese Painting: The Reyes Collection in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Shelagh Vainker
        Oxford, UK: Ashmolean Museum,1996
      • Challenging the Past : The Paintings of Chang Dai-Chien, Shen C.Y. Fu
        Washington, DC: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution ; Seattle : University of Washington Press,1991
      • Master of tradition : the art of Chang Ta-chien, Richard E. Strassberg
        Pasadena, CA: Pacific Asia Museum, 1983
      • Three contemporary Chinese painters : Chang Da-chien, Ting Yin-yung, Cheng Shih-fa, T. C. Lai
        Seattle : University of Washington Press, 1975
      • Chang Dai-Chien: a retrospective exhibition, illustrating a selection of fifty-four works painted by the master from 1928-1970, Rene Yvon Lefebvre d'Argnece
        San Francisco: Center of Asian Art and Culture, The Avery Brundage Collection, 1972