1644 in China was tough–the end of an era with the fall of the Ming dynasty, peasant rebellions, famine. Many literati-scholars chose to take refuge from the world. “The Artful Recluse” at the Asia Society presents their works, so ethereal, so lovely, I couldn’t reconcile what I was seeing with the trauma of their times. The ignorance of this Westerner was proven by the passionate, young, white man I overhead reading and interpreting the calligraphy text with his Asian friend.
This figure is meant to convey loneliness–the literati crossing the bridge of life alone.
Perhaps like me, you can enjoy the simple beauty of a lotus blossom by Li Rihua. His poetry compares the flower to a woman’s body.
For a quick tour of East and West, compare the bird and flower paintings at the Asia Society with the Audubon exhibit at New York Historical Society.
Here’s one example of an Audubon watercolor on view now.
Bada Shanren was one of my favorite artists in the Asia Society show. A small gallery is dedicated to his exquisite ink on paper works. Minimalist strokes and ink wash convey lusciousness.
The artist was famous, enigmatic, and supposedly mad. His settings didn’t always make sense. But his beliefs make perfect sense to me.
His personal symbol was the lotus, a flower that grows out of mud to blossom, transcending the troubles of politics and war. His was in search of serenity to mask the scars of life. I hope he found it.
Although unusual, women could become recluses, too. The lucky few could removing themselves from their roles as wives or concubines to pursue poetry and art. Two are represented in the exhibit. Here is Xue Wu’s beautiful hand scroll Wild Orchids, from about 1601.
Although I intellectually understand that these works reflect duress, I still felt my blood pressure lowering in their presence. May we all rise above the mud in our lives and blossom into beauty and serenity.