When reading about Asian ink painting, one will encounter many different terms that describe this special kind of painting method. In Chinese, it is “shuimohua” (水墨画, lit. “water-ink-painting”) in Japanese “suiboku-ga” or more colloquially “sumi-e” 墨絵 (lit. “ink painting”). Despite its Chinese origins, it has become common nowadays to subsume all ink painting under the Japanese terms, although there is a small, but subtle difference between the term “sumi-e“ and „”suiboku-ga”. Both describe painting performed by the use of ink on paper, but whereas “sumi-e” just describes ink painting in general, “suiboku-ga” rather is seen as a part of sumi-e – by mixing ink with more or less water, it lays emphasis on shading, different ink tonalities and the combination of various ink tones. In suiboku-ga, the main aspect is to depict three kinds of ink intensities – dark, medium and light – in one single brushstroke.
A Brief Biography of Mu Xi (牧溪/Mu Hsi/Muqi/Fachang)
Not many information about Mu Xi exists, although it is commonly accepted that he was born in the Sichuan province around 1200 and later lived near the capital Hangzhou. We don’t know anything about his family, childhood or education, except that he was probably tutored by Liang Kai and the abbot Wuzhun Shifan. Mu Xi was a Chan Buddhist monk and lived in the Liutong Temple at the West Lake beginning from 1215. The monastery was without any doubt a place for Japanese pilgrims who came to China to study Chan Buddhism and came into contact with Mu Xi’s works.
The Rise of Chan Buddhist Painting and the Birth of Ink and Wash / Sumi-e
The 12th to 14th centuries in China can be seen as the birth years of what would later be known as sumi-e. Starting with the literati, who used mostly or only monochrome ink, it came to full development when some painters consciously withdrew from social activities and advocated themselves to Buddhist studies, mainly of the Chan School. Chan Buddhism had been introduced to China in the 6th century and was revived in the 13th century. Its ascetic, straightforward nature appealed to many scholars.
Introduction to the Aesthetic Concepts of Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting
If one gets engaged with the aesthetics of ink and wash painting (Chinese wash painting), one will soon encounter a lot of contrasting principles, which look confusing at first, but those principles are quite easy to follow as soon as they are understood.
Art Becomes Classic – Blurring of Boundaries Between Academic and Amateur Painting in China
The end of Mongol rule and the re-establishment of an indigenous Chinese emperor in 1368 led to a revival of the Imperial Academy and the painting styles of the Southern Song (960-1279 CE) and the Yuan (1271-1368 CE) Dynasties. Some painters picked up the painting style of the Southern Song Dynasty, especially that of the Ma-Xia-School. Others continued the tradition of bird-and-flower painting from the times of Emperor Huizong. Other artists brought colors back into picture and revived the blue-and-green painting style of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE). Since most of the Academy painters came from the Zhejiang province, they were named the “Zhe school”. The most notable painter of the Zhe School was Dai Jin. Their counterpart, literati painters from the Wu region in Suzhou, continued in the more expressive and individual styles of the Four Masters of the Yuan Dynasty. They are known as the “Wu school”, of whom Shen Zhou is best known for his eclecticism and ability to paint in the styles of former masters. Although this two main currents in painting existed, the boundaries between academic and amateur painters blurred – not in stylistic terms, but in attitude, mostly when some literati, who had devoted themselves to nothing else but painting, started to accept money for their works, which had been not the case in earlier centuries.