Autumn mountains, myriad miles

New Acquisitions: 2017

Vast, autumnal, and complex, this 2013 work evokes the grandeur of painting during the Northern Song dynasty (960–1127), when the landscape genre was in its exuberant formative phase. The artist, Tai Xiangzhou, was born in 1968 in Yinchuan, Ningxia Province, and began training at a young age under local masters of painting and calligraphy. After pursuing a successful career in media-oriented fields, Tai turned his full attention back to painting and calligraphy in 2005. He quickly acquired mastery over many aspects of early Chinese landscape painting.

In this work, Tai resurrected the monumental style of the landscape master Fan Kuan (circa 960–circa 1030). Tai captured Fan’s fascination with the dramatic aspects of nature and the material surfaces of things such as rocks, leaves, and gnarled tree trunks. Bold, dark outlines define the solid forms, inside which staccato strokes and subtle washes provide dimensionality and texture. Rendered in graded tonalities of ink, the rocky terrain and rough granite surfaces pitted with “sesame seed” or “raindrop” dotting are signature elements of Fan’s style.

Seen straight on from a slightly elevated perspective, a mass of convoluted mountains crowds the picture frame from top to bottom and side to side. Summits reach so high that their peaks and jagged ridges are cut off from view; foothills drop off into the void. Filled with softly glowing mist, a river valley runs horizontally between the foreground and background ranges, yielding a glimpse, at upper right, of a distant watery plain. In front, the mountains fall and rise, creating an open window to the river and the taller alps behind. Mist lingers among the rifts and cracks in the steep slopes and sheer cliffs, highlighting contours in the rugged terrain and silhouetting the vegetation growing along their crests.

The varied brushwork, wide range of ink tones, and subtle use of wash create an atmospheric richness and textural complexity that make the scene both tranquil and dynamic. The land is young, newly made; not primordial, but empty and seen for the first time. It has an untraveled feel that invites exploration.

Tai Xiangzhou (b. 1968)
China, Modern period, 2013
Horizontal format (framed); ink on silk
Gift of Shao F. and Cheryl L. Wang
Freer Gallery of Art S2017.9

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