Capture the Essence of Nature—— Concerned with oil painting works of Sun Jianguang
By Bo Zhou
When I saw Mr. Sun’s paintings for the first time, a familiar feeling grew inside of me as I suddenly realized that, the addiction and attachment to the nature is such a rare feeling nowadays.
The 19th century, which is regarded as the golden age of European landscape paintings, has passed rapidly with the hustle and bustle of human modernization and urbanization. It belongs to Turner and Constable, to Friedrich, and also to our long-familiar Shishkin and Levitan. Artists have gradually shifted their focus from urban daily life to the formal structure and expressiveness of picture ever since Impressionism began. Despite still drawing landscapes, artists such as Monet, Seurat, Cezanne and Van Gogh, showed no more gratitude for nature. It’s more like a scientific experiment or an interior monologue. After the Second World War, artists didn’t even bother to take a look at those “landscapes”. Office premises, super highways and shopping malls have covered the quietness of countryside. Fast food, goods, and posters have replaced the forest, cottages and wild flowers.
For those who love nature, historical change of art is a journey full of sadness. The world is changing, but Sun has never changed his aspiration and remains attached to his observation of nature, willing to express his sincere feeling in his works. To him, landscape never means a simply combination of colors and shapes. In his opinion, artists may draw different sights of the world without being confined to a certain time or a given place, but the moist smells of soil will then be lost. Consequently, although Sun had traveled across the country by the early 90’s comparing different lights and colors from different places as a painter, he persisted in drawing the scenery of his hometown Harbin, forests, cottages and villages along the border lands of Hei Longjiang province. Such feelings as a native give the stamp of truth to his works. That is to say, the views do not exist in his paintings for no reason at all, it’s not a simply combination of different elements but a sketch and creative work based on the native lights and colors, and local scenery.
Sun is a color painter who is in love with light and color and it is not rare to find the tones of purplish grey in his works. I didn’t quite understand this at first because I have never experienced the feelings he had have but later on I learned that this is just the light and color of Harbin and of course, it also belongs to the border area of Hei Longjiang and Russian Far East. It is said that the color of the light poured down there is beige and Harbin is “A City of Beige”. Such a pale brown color could be both warm and lyrical. It’s just like the flame in the ice and the sunlight through the trees. Violet and beige are exactly complementary colors. It was only then that I realized that although drawn down as a part of picture, such unique scenery has its origin.
Besides those exotic streets in Harbin, Sun is also fondly attached to the unadorned wide fields, forests and cottages along the borderland of Hei Longjiang. He likes drawing hard-working farmers, shepherds and cottages, bushes and wild flowers found on the mountain paths, or the riversides and hillocks in the morning and evening or after rains, especially his sketching oil paintings filled with purity, freshness and simplicity, detailed yet imposing and it seems as if Sun drawn down family love or friendship rather than simply oil colors, and as if we could hear the flowing sound of laughter and whisper.
It is obvious that Sun’s painting language is Russian. This is what we called “Su Pai (Russian Style)”. As for the artists of a New China, that is a life-long pursuit of two or three generations but now it’s more like a form of nostalgia. However, for Sun, such a seemingly “old-fashioned” painting technique is exactly what he is after. In his point of view, this sort of tones and touches, which he has been digging into since he was young, fits the Northeast most. The sunlight, air and color there are basically the same to those in the Russian Far East, and the culture there has been deeply influenced as well. To represent the wide fields and the forests in the Northeast, touches and flavors of Sun Pai would be the best choice. I agree with him about that, for the Northeast, after all, is not the Lower Yangzi Region and the little bridges and flowing water there are totally different from the roughness of the Black soil.
Due to changes in his life, Sun has settled in Beijing. Even so, every year in the early fall he would pack his things, take his paint box and go back to Hei Longjiang for sketching with his fellow artists. Indeed, his personal art belongs to the land there, belongs to the sunshine and air there, and belongs to the trees and cottages there as well.
Doctor of Art History & Teacher of Central Academy of Fine Arts