Root Series, 2018, Acrylic and Ink on Canvas, 48x48 Inch
My art inspiration arises from nature. In recent years, I have created many artworks in the Root Series. Exposed tree roots inspire most of the paintings in this series. That is, roots which grow above ground as opposed to those growing under the ground.
Roots are a fascinating subject to paint. Among other things light, gravity and nutrients influence the directions roots grow. While some roots grow on the surface, others grow down or towards sources of nutrients such as water.
Besides exposed roots, I also discovered a new art inspiration: to paint roots under the water. However, it has not been easy to capture the impression of roots under the water. It challenges my artistic methods.
Where tree roots grow under the water, the water appears blurry. While the water acts to magnify what I see, the tree roots have also expanded after many years of soaking. As well, when I look down at the tree roots, I find other particles attached to them.
It is this first impression of roots in water that give my art inspiration. It is something that you can see but are unable to touch.
Drawing the artist’s first impression is an old art philosophy also adopted by the Impressionists in the late nineteenth century. The Impressionists’ ideals influence my art. Inspired by nature, they set out to observe it and capture its changing states of light and sensation.
When I paint, I consider the effects of changing light and the sensation it creates.
Capturing the impression of roots under the water
My first attempts to recreate the feeling of roots under the water failed. I used the same technique that I successfully applied to the Root Series. It involved spilled ink and acrylic paint on paper with dry Chinese brushes.
When it did not work, I discarded the painting. Sometimes, to reach the desired effect, I go through many attempts until I am satisfied. I had to think hard and long about what I had to change.
What did I need to do to recreate the memory of what I felt? The success of my new style that blended impressionism with traditional Chinese aesthetics was evidence that my method worked. Rather than change my approach, I decided to experiment with texture.
The most significant change came from the use of materials. Most of my paintings are on paper. Instead, I discovered canvas was better at showing the expanding effect of roots under the water.
Because I chose to paint on canvas, I also had to make other changes to my technique. Before I could spill the ink, I first had to prime the canvas with gesso. Priming stops acrylic ink from soaking into the material. It also creates a textured effect.
Rather than use gesso over the entire canvas, I only applied it to specific areas.
In the above image, the horizontal-streaky lines show where I spread the gesso. As I used it in distinct regions of the canvas, I had to spend more time planning the art piece before I began to paint.
Sensation created with a combination of techniques
I continued to use traditional Chinese painting techniques such as adding water to the ink to create different hues and applying layers of spilled ink.
In the image below, the new effect using gesso merges with my signature dry brushwork to create intricate marks in the spilled ink. I used a combination of large and small Chinese calligraphy brushes.
The contrast of light and shadow, fine detail and blurred areas, as well as the use of color and whitespace, give the painting sensation.
The next extract of the painting also provides an example of how the use of different hues and layers of spilled ink provide light and movement.
Art inspiration from art philosophy
Influenced by the Impressionists, my art seeks to reveal a sensation of roots under the water, rather than the subject itself. This impressionistic ideal has similarities to concepts found in ancient Chinese philosophies, namely, the I Ching (Book of Changes)and the Tao (Dao).
Similar to the Impressionists, traditional Chinese artists aimed to draw the spirit or energy of their subject, rather than paint a realistic likeness.
I also view similarities in the artistic approach of the Impressionists with the aesthetics of traditional Chinese art.
The Impressionists drew their art inspiration from the essence of painting and the visual experience. In a similar fashion, traditional Chinese artists conveyed the objective natural scene and their subjective personal emotion.
Both opposing pairs found in these art philosophies influence my artwork. They come together to inform my latest painting of roots under the water.
The painting is also another great example of the non-being and being concepts from ancient Chinese philosophy:
Wu 無(non-being) and You 有(being).
Xu 虛(void) and Shi 实(solid).
Considering these concepts (previously mentioned in the Ice Series), the painting seeks to convey my feelings about roots under the water but also my first impression of how they appear.
The artistic journey inspired by nature
The experience to create this painting provokes considerable thought on art philosophy, techniques and influences on my new emerging style.
From the desire to paint roots under the water to the completion of the painting, there are many connections between the two different art styles and my work, including the simplicity of the subject matter.
After many failed attempts, I was finally satisfied. I had created a painting of roots under the water.
This painting and its journey to arrive at its completion demonstrate a perfect fusion of traditional Chinese painting techniques and Western art philosophy.