Introduction to the Winter Series

January 2, 2018

 

Snowfall over Michigan reminds me of my life in Heilongjiang Province (northeast China). When it snows, both places transform into enchanted lands. My inspiration for the black and white abstract paintings of the Winter Series comes from my experiences both then and now.

 

The paintings depict winter landscapes of no particular origin. They combine sensory information across years and continents, but the black and white abstract art feels representational. Timeless, they illustrate a boundless realm filtered by the viewer’s imagination.

 

 

Color and its absence balance the wintery scenes. I use a “subtract method” to draw the viewer’s gaze to different shades of black. Water and detailed brushwork shape the landscape paintings, while a hint of blue compels the eye to areas of interest.

 

A traditional Chinese painting technique, black ink splashed on paper influences my work. Calligraphy brushes and water applied to both dry and wet ink create a spectrum of tones from black to light grey. 

 

In Chinese art, black often symbolizes winter. My application of black and white in the Winter Series stems from the Chinese philosophy, I Ching (The Classic of Changes). 

 

Inspiration for the black and white abstract paintings in the Winter Series 

 

For almost 30 years, I have lived in freezing climates, where heavy snow accumulates in winter. For eight years, I lived in Heilongjiang Province in the northeast region of China famed for its extra long, bitterly cold winters.

 

And for the last 21 years, I have experienced the arctic winds as they blow down over Michigan, USA. As snowstorms blanket the state in a sea of white, warmer lake water evaporates upwards, freezes and falls downwind as lake-effect snow. 

 

The color of snow is mystical. Overnight it transforms the world into a fairytale.

 

Misty pines of Heilongjiang

 

The black and white art of wintery scenes convey my memories and feelings of winter and snow. I use the monochromatic aspects of ink on a white canvas to create a misty effect, drawing on my memories of the misty pines of Heilongjiang.

 

In Winter 2 you can see pine trees covered in mist as they rise from the mountains. Rimed trees, barely visible stand tall beneath a merging of cloud and snow. It is a mystical experience, surreal.

 

 

However, there is more to the black and white abstract paintings than pines recalled from another time. It is an abstract of the essence of winter with snow-topped mountains and hills, and valleys packed with winter’s wonder. My abstract art defines the spirit of its subject.

 

The paintings represent no particular place. Instead, they combine objects, scenes, and environments from all experiences. While the Winter Series is abstract, the black and white art represents a wintery scene complete with detailed snowflakes.

 

Artistic elements of the Winter Series

 

Traditional Chinese painting methods use splashed or spilled ink on paper. I splash black ink, diluted with water to create varied hues within the snowy landscape. The brush strokes carry winter’s energy from my mind through the ink to the canvas.

 

Ink and white space are two artistic elements that I employ to create the black and white abstract art. White space is a form of negative space. In Western art, negative space exists around and between the objects of a painting.

 

Rather than fill the negative space of the canvas with extraneous decoration, I use white space to eliminate different aspects from the scenes. It draws the viewer’s gaze to intricate detail within the black and white abstract painting. I coined this application of white space, my "subtract method."

 

Black and white is the simplest combination, but the contrast is powerful. 

 

White space also suggests an endless feel of winter. As the pine trees of Winter 4 fade into the mist, the snowy mountains and clouds carry on past the edge of the canvas. It encourages the mind to imagine what lies beyond the painting.​

 

 

While white space fills each snowflake and snow-covered mountain, the white portions of the black and white abstract art use no added paint. Instead, the white space makes use of the natural canvas color.

 

Different shades of black created with diluted water emphasize distance and relief. The hues also conceive a sense of depth. They give the paintings a misty three-dimensional look as if it is snowing. 

 

The philosophical inspiration behind my black and white abstract art

 

The ancient Chinese philosophy, I Ching inspires my use of black ink and white space in the Winter Series. It envisages everything in life with two sides:

 

  • Black ink represents the idea of earth or solids. It is Yin / Shi (solid) / substance.

  • White space represents the heavens or clouds. It is Yang / Xu (void) / emptiness. 

 

Black and white are two extremes or opposites that coexist in nature. 

 

In ancient Chinese art, the void represents an emptiness from which a spiritual breath of energy comes and goes. The black and white abstract art and the different hues that gradually appear from out of the white space illustrate the realm of the void.

 

In Winter 1 you can see how the use of black and white expresses a sense of movement. It creates a sense of energy, of swirling wind as it carries snow around the mountain peaks as if the world is breathing.

 

 

The goal of my black and white abstract paintings

 

My goal with the black and white abstract paintings in the Winter Series is to use a simple method with few elements to create a sophisticated and mystical picture.

 

The eight years spent in the bitter cold winters of the forests in northeast China shaped my personality. It developed my strong will and determination. My impressions of winter and scenes of snow reflect throughout the Winter Series.

 

 

Shulin Sun

 

 

 

 

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