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A Clash and Merge of Energies – Art Influenced by Taoism

In January, I painted a new piece for the Wave Series of paintings. By reflecting on two opposites, I desired to paint a clash and merge of energies as two different sources of water combined into one.

My goal when I painted this scene was to create a strong contrast between opposites. Rather than recreate a landscape painting from real life, the image, a story of harmony and conflict revealed itself in my imagination.

The result was a vibrant painting. It formed through many layers with detailed brushwork to evoke depth and energy.

Last year, I wrote about the Cliff Series of paintings, and about how Taoist philosophy informs my work. Tao is energy. In this ancient philosophy, everything manifests from Tao, but it is always changing, evolving into a new creation.

As well, in Taoism, two opposites co-exist in nature. These two extremes, for example, Yin and Yang, find a balance in an endless cycle where the process of their motion co-creates. As I painted, I discovered the opposites and their meaning in my scene.

Two extremes co-exist in nature

Taoist philosophy embraces the idea of complementary opposites, as opposed to mutually exclusive opposites. So, rather than thinking of opposites as linear polar extremes of each other, Taoism views them as complementary.​

The scene I painted depicts a stream of water after the rain, as the water flows off a cliff into the ocean. In this scene, I found the calm stream and the agitated wave to be opposites.

As they mingle at the bottom of the cliff, there is a clash and merge of energies. Fresh water meets salt water. Stream meets the ocean. It is a tumultuous union. With this painting, I found that to show the depth and energy of the scene it required many layers. More than I usually apply.

In the extract below, long black lines of ink mix with lighter swirls of blue. There is strength in the layers of spilled ink and acrylic paint. In contrast, in the upper far right of this extract, a close examination reveals an abundance of free-flowing lines that breathe life and energy into the work.

Shulin Sun Wave Series

In this artwork, I also aimed to create a strong contrast between:

  1. Calm (stream) and agitated (wave).

  2. Void and.solid.

  3. Warm tones on the left and cold tones on the right.

Form and void embodied in a clash and merge of energies

As with other paintings of the Wave Series, this work uses spilled ink and acrylic paints on paper. However, unlike other artworks in the Wave Series where I employed the use of dry brushes, I also use wet brushes to create a different hue in the layered ink and paint.

The gold color is a combination of yellow and brown. With each layer, I use both long and short brush strokes to create texture and energy.

In traditional Chinese art, the white represents the void. In Taoism, the void or empty space signifies the form’s utility. For example, while doors and window give a room form, the usefulness of the room lies in its space.

I design the white space of the canvas to show what becomes of the wave and stream as they meet. Through its emptiness, the white conveys the energy, whereas color represents form.

In the following extract, detailed brushwork with Chinese brushes in the colors interacts with how I designed the white space. It creates an intricate texture in the gold. As well, in the complete work viewed at the end of this article, a viewer might perceive the white to be the splashing of frothy foam formed as the opposites unite.

Shulin Sun Wave Series

While these opposites crash into each other, in the end, they merge. The interaction of the stream and wave creates change rather than a struggle.

Taoism sees the relationship of two extremes as a balance, but not at the same time. When one side strengthens, the other weakens creating an evolving cycle between the two opposites.

Water and people

Like my other paintings in the Wave Series, this artwork also reveals the personality of water. In the Tao, there are many references to water and our behavior. It tells us not to force things as we might meet with resistance but to persevere and slowly chip away at the things that might stop our growth.

As I painted this artwork influenced by Taoism, I contemplated the meaning of two opposites of water.

Water can be hard and soft, calm and agitated. It can also be salty and fresh, murky and clear. As well, it takes on many forms, from the rain that falls from the sky to the ocean that fills the world.

We share many similarities with water. We often have a clash and merge of energies. People are also the same but different. In the world, there are always differences of opinions, behaviors, and appearances, as well as variations in personalities, beliefs, and cultures. Like water, when people come together, they should and will co-exist.

Contemplating the balance and movement of opposites in nature informs my art. I find it refreshing to be present as I paint, and to allow the free flow of thoughts on Taoism philosophy and the I Ching to inspire my creativity.

Shulin Sun Wave Series

Shulin Sun

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