• Beginning 20th May 2022, Fu Qiumeng Fine Art is pleased to present “Moonlight on Stones,” the gallery’s first solo exhibition...

    Beginning 20th May 2022, Fu Qiumeng Fine Art is pleased to present “Moonlight on Stones,” the gallery’s first solo exhibition devoted to the Asian American landscape artist  Wang Mansheng (b. 1962). Wang uses self-invented organic painting materials, in addition to conventional ones, to explore contemporary forms of landscape and finds enchanting and enlightening visual structures to embody his perception of nature.


    Born in Shanxi, China, and a graduate of Shanghai’s Fudan University in classical Chinese literature, Wang became a professional artist after he immigrated to the US. Drawing on traditional sources from his Chinese heritage, observation of landscapes throughout the world, and immediate experience in the Hudson River Valley, Wang has developed a distinctive visual language, deeply enriches the philosophical connotations of landscape painting, and brings a traditional Chinese subject into global context with his unique perspective and practice. 

    On view through 23rd July, "Moonlight on Stones” features 19 paintings selected from Wang’s “Night Mountain” and “Ancient Trees” series. These pieces, executed between 2008 and the present, are on display for the first time. Each work in the “Night Mountain” collection is inspired by a line from classical Chinese poetry. The relationship between text and image–a traditional scope–has been enacted in a novel way through the artist’s sensitivity and intellectual interests. The “Ancient Trees” collection represents his consideration of longevity and form. In intimate contact with the ecosystem of the Hudson River Valley, he makes brushes and ink out of local organic materials to paint objects found in the area while demonstrating his reflections on lines, shape and texture. 

  •  折蘆為筆 Interview with Mansheng Wang
  • The exhibition is curated by Dr. Chao Ling (b. 1987), Assistant Professor in the Department of Chinese and History, City University of Hong Kong. Ling primarily researches classical Chinese poetry and art history, with a special focus on the medieval period. He also works on literary theory and philosophical investigations of the relationship between text and image. Ling holds a Ph. D. in East Asian Languages and Literatures from Yale University (2019) and B.A. in Chinese Languages and Literatures from Peking University (2009). An exhibition catalog will be published, in which his introductory essay will be included.

    Wang’s painting and calligraphy have been exhibited worldwide and are in the permanent collection of museums, including the Brooklyn Museum, Baltimore Museum of Art, Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Princeton Art Museum, and Yale University Art Gallery. In China, he has shown his work at the Beijing Art Museum, Today Art Museum in Beijing, Xuhui Art Museum in Shanghai, and Shanxi Museum in Taiyuan. Wang has also lectured and given demonstrations on Chinese art and culture at universities and museums, including Columbia University, Harvard University, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York University, The New School, and Boston University.

  • Moonlight on Stones

    Author: Dr. Chao Ling

    The idea of moonlight on stones, when pondered philosophically with contemporary knowledge of physics, poses some intriguing questions. The visually perceivable reflected light on the stone is emitted certainly not from the moon, but the sun; when looking at the illuminated stone, we process the lit-up area as an effect of moonlight based on comparison with the picture of sunshine registered in our mind. If we suspend this concern, the next issue is this: how can we say that the moonlight is on the stone, while physically speaking, it is after all a brighter part of the stone. These two issues both reveal the idea of presenting a world view in a seemingly representational mode, which in my opinion, highlights the intellectual robustness of Wang Mansheng’s (b. 1962) artwork. Several words came to my mind—translation, transmedium, and transforming–when I started closely looking at these pictures. The paintings try to signal and imply some deeper ideas which are inspired by appreciation of nature and then further developed in the process of artistic production. The paintings on view theoretically join, in a visual language, the polyphonic conversation with Kantian scaffolding, German idealism, Spinozist mode, and the Chinese tradition of the transcendental dao (way, principle, etc.) manifested in the mundane physical world—a physically metaphysical experiment.

  • Wang Mansheng (b. 1962) was born in Taiyuan, Shanxi, a city in northern China. He graduated from Fudan University in...

    Wang Mansheng (b. 1962) was born in Taiyuan, Shanxi, a city in northern China. He graduated from Fudan University in Shanghai in 1985, majoring in classical Chinese literature. He then worked as editor, director, and producer for documentary programs at China Central Television in Beijing for 10 years. This job gave him opportunities to travel to different parts of China, each with a unique, enchanting landscapes, and to introduce them to audiences in visual language. Wang immigrated to the Hudson River Valley area, less than  an hour’s train ride from New York City, in 1996. Even though he began to study calligraphy and painting at the age of seven, he did not become a professional artist until he moved to the US, where he “assembles” and abstracts landscapes from around the globe into pictures of the substance and essence of landscapes. The selections from his “Night Mountain” collection, which are on view in this exhibition, are successful demonstrations of an initially traditional Chinese subject’s exploration and projection of global and intellectual landscape art. The exhibition features works from the “Night Mountain” series as well as paintings of Ancient Trees executed with self-made reed brushes.

  • I.

     

    Wang Mansheng, Stone Gate Cliff Lodge, 2009, Ink, Walnut Ink, Tempera, Acrylic on Paper. 30 × 22 in (76.2 × 55.9 cm).

     

    I.

    The majority of the paintings in the exhibition belong to the “Night Mountain 夜山” series. The series title echoes the title of the exhibition, “Moonlight on Stones,” which is a quotation from Xie Lingyun’s 謝靈運 (385–433) poem,

     

    “Stone Gate Cliff Lodge 石門巖上宿”. 

     

    At dawn, holding orchids from the garden, 

    Worried of wither from the frost.

    At dusk, retiring to a place of clouds

    to play with moonlight on stones.

     

    朝搴苑中蘭,畏彼霜中歇。

    暝還雲際宿,弄此石上月。

  • Before digging deep into this quotation, which is also the caption, or the unwritten, out-of-the picture colophon, for the cover...

    Before digging deep into this quotation, which is also the caption, or the unwritten, out-of-the picture colophon, for the cover painting, it is important to point out that what Xie Lingyun did with landscapes in words is what Wang Mansheng is experimenting with in images. Classical poetry provides Wang with a mode of reference for dealing with landscapes. On the one hand, painters and writers represent nature in the Greek mimesis and Latin imitatio at the same time—the creators  both go to the real landscapes and learn from artistic tradition. On the other hand, Xie Lingyun’s philosophical way of achieving knowledge about the ultimate dao through looking at landscapes is relatable for contemporary artists who are increasingly sensitive to the human mind and body in the ecosystem. When looking at the awe inspiring “designs” of Wang Mansheng’s evening mountains, another easily overlooked fact about Xie Lingyun’s landscape which probably inspired Wang is that the mountainous areas in the medieval period were not simple, sublime and beautiful, they were also dangerous and hazardous. In his “Rhapsody of Mountain Dwellings,” Xie Lingyun described all the directions of his mountain estate–deep mountains with low visibility in bad weather and predatory beasts that frequently endangered mountain dwellers. Rhapsodic genre’s structure of categorizing and covering all aspects of the subject helps the poet put unorganized and unexplored natural territory into order, and further in line with his philosophical perception. The painter works in a similar manner. Wang’s imaginary representation of mountains builds primarily upon shapes and brushstrokes conventionally accepted in the history of landscape art—with individual creativity realized with new painting utensils. What the poetic caption adds to the painting’s meaning is the philosophical depth that poetry can evoke much better than picture alone.

  • Xie Lingyun was maybe the first landscape poet who devoutly invites the readers to see the landscape through a philosophical...
    Installation view of the exhibition: "Moonlight on Stones."

    Xie Lingyun was maybe the first landscape poet who devoutly invites the readers to see the landscape through a philosophical lens. For instance, in his “Fuchun Isle” 富春渚詩, he wrote: “When things come continuously one should become used to them; in doubled mountains, what is valuable is stopping and lodging.” (洊至宜便習,兼山貴止託。) Xie Lingyun looks at the continuously flowing water and the constant encounter with mountains, and what he sees is not nature but a text. He sees the Kan 坎 (water) hexagram of two Kan trigrams put together, and the Gen 艮 (mountain) hexagram of two mountain trigrams repeated. This way of reading is mainly based on knowledge of past texts. And this way of seeing a mountain was made possible by the emergence of the Dark Learning (xuanxue 玄學). The materiality of things was sacrificed to their textuality. One should receive enlightenment, or at least pursue the metaphysical principles.

  • "Different tones altogether reach hearing,

    Unique sounds are all pure and elevated.

     

    異音同致聽,殊嚮俱清越。"

    “Stone Gate Cliff Lodge” was written in the autumn of 430, when Xie started his second reclusive retreat to his hometown. The caption is the opening two couplets. The first couplet laments the transience and vulnerability of orchids. As the time of the day moved from morning to evening, the poet retreated to a lofty residence, where he began to playfully contemplate the moonlight shed on the rocks. Was the poet suggesting that there is something more permanent than the organic components of nature in the moonlight? Or were they equally transient yet both revealing something eternal? The fourth couplet of the poem implies the latter. It reads:

  • Installation view of the exhibition: "Moonlight on Stones."
  • Even though myriad things vary in physical presentation, they embody universal law and can influence human beings in the same manner. A Qing critic of poetry Wang Fuzhi 王夫之 (1619–1692) commented on this poem: “[The entire poem] turns into one piece, just like a full moon with light—having no contour lines 轉成一片,如滿月含光,都無輪廓.” 

     

    Capturing the poetic aesthetics of vague moonlight on rigid rocks, Wang’s image introduces a contrast between mountain boulders, contoured in lines, and moonlight, ink washes without clear borders. In a rather straightforward way, he evokes the world of yin and yang, just like Xie Lingyun skillfully demonstrated. 

     

    The poetic exposition of the dao echoes Wang’s philosophy of painting landscapes. He travels extensively around the globe and the US to observe real mountains and rivers. Just like Shitao 石濤 (1642–1707), who “made  drafts after exhausting eccentric peaks 搜盡奇峰打草稿,” Wang visits states like Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona, and the alps in the Switzerland, among many other spectacular mountains, not to represent them realistically, but to extract the mountain-ness of all mountains. The way of representing mountain bodies is deeply rooted in traditional Chinese landscape paintings; the method of combining life sketching with imaginary textures is a collective practice of western and eastern methodologies; the understanding of the essential form of mountains is achieved in a global experience. 

  • Another intriguing aspect of this painting is the representation of moonlight. What does the term “moonlight on stones” imply? In...

    Wang Mansheng, Poem of Roving in the Mountains, 2016, Ink, Walnut Ink, Acrylic on Paper, 22 × 30 in (55.9  × 76.2 cm)

     

     

    Another intriguing aspect of this painting is the representation of moonlight. What does the term “moonlight on stones” imply? In the painting, Wang Mansheng used white washes to indicate the moonlight. The wash of bright white color applies another layer of substance to the dark background, which can now be seen as mountain cliffs or rock clusters as the washes suggest the edges of the rocks. This process successfully captures the natural phenomenon of moonlight revealing the rocks otherwise invisible in darkness. Moonlight and stones depend on each other to reveal themselves to human vision. At the end of this visualization process, we manage to see, and the artist manages to represent, the shape of light. “Moonlight” becomes the major subject of the paintings;it is the illuminating agency and the illuminated object at the same time, just as Xie Lingyun was implying in the poem, that the seemingly transient moonlight on the rocks, like all ephemeral phenomena, embodies eternity by illustrating the fundamental principle of its very being. 

     

  • Detail of Remaining Snow.
  • Such principle can be roughly termed as ziran 自然. It is often translated as “nature” but it also means “self...

    Detail of Wang Mansheng, Stone Gate Cliff Lodge.

    Such principle can be roughly termed as ziran 自然. It is often translated as “nature” but it also means “self so”. Natural objects embody the principle by being at their due places. What Xie Lingyun has shown in the poem is that natural objects can be read as imageries of the dao.Wang Mansheng does it in a visual way using the writing of characters, or calligraphy, as a medium. When viewed from a certain distance, the positioning of white shapes of moonlight resembles an abstract work of calligraphy. For example, the two blocks of white wash in the upper middle resemble the beginning part of a vertical stroke. They create a visual effect like flashlights shedding light on a scroll of calligraphy. (By the way, flashlights revealing part of an ontological being is Frege’s metaphor for epistemology.) They vary in thickness and darkness; they are parallel to each other but not in a rigid manner; the spacing between them is carefully rendered so that they create a visual link but not a crowded cluster. These are in fact the key criteria when judging and appreciating works of calligraphy. If we do view the entire image as an abstract and partially moonlight-lit calligraphy in white, then just like Xie Lingyun, Wang Mansheng uses linguistic symbols to demonstrate natural principles. 

  • Writing characters on mountains or steles is a common form of commemoration–an act of marking permanent traces on an unclaimed...

    Writing characters on mountains or steles is a common form of commemoration–an act of marking permanent traces on an unclaimed surface, in many parts of the world. In the Chinese tradition, inscribing texts on mountain cliffs is not only a commemorative act of monumentality, but also an important calligraphic art. Wang Mansheng is also a disciplined student of calligraphy who copies copybooks and rubbings of inscriptions diligently while also exploring a self-expressive style of writing. When he practices, he sometimes simply grabs a sheet  of saved local or national newspaper–covered by printed English letters telling stories of the daily world, and writes on them calligraphy in different scripts and sizes. The painter probably did not think in calligraphic terms during the process of producing the “Night Mountain”, but the calligraphic aesthetic which purely depends on lines, shapes, spacing and shades of ink trained the artist’s hands and eyes. Moreover, the symbolic act of adding text to landscapes—carving an inscription on mountains or adding a poetic colophon/caption/inscription to paintings, reminds viewers that the artist intends to use a specific image to illustrate the general concept of landscape. 

  • Installation view of the exhibition: "Moonlight on Stones."
  • II.

    Chinese landscape poetry is often related to the topic of becoming a Daoist immortal who, upon enlightenment, flies up to the heavens or mythical high mountains to enjoy eternal life. The deep mountains have layers of heavily vegetated peaks, so high up that they touch the heavens and mountain dwellers would forget about time passing. 

     

    As the first section has shown, if the purpose of Wang’s landscape painting largely is to visually embody the ultimate dao, echoing the poetic tradition, then what does the human (artist’s) body do in this process? Is he simply a craftsman, a technician, or an important cauldron that forges and creates such transcendental knowledge? There is an outstanding painting with a profound poetic caption in this exhibition, which deals with this topic. 

  • 天池海在山頭上,百里鏡空含萬象。 丘處機《長春真人西遊記》 Celestial lake on mountain’s top, Hundred li mirror holding ten thousand images. Qiu Chuji (1148—1227) Diary of Travels...

    天池海在山頭上,百里鏡空含萬象。

    丘處機《長春真人西遊記》

     

    Celestial lake on mountain’s top,

    Hundred li mirror holding ten thousand images.

     

    Qiu Chuji (1148—1227)

    Diary of Travels West of Changchun Zhenren

     

     

    2013, Ink, Walnut Ink, Tempera, Acrylic on Paper, 14 × 11 in (35.6 × 27.9 cm).

  • Qiu Chuji (1149–1227) was a famous Daoist priest of the sect of Complete Perfection 全真教. He is known for meeting Genghis Khan near the Hindu Kush. His disciple put together the narrative of his expedition, Travels to the West of Qiu Chang Chun, in which we can find vivid descriptions of nature and people. The quoted line is embedded in a series of realistic landscape depictions. However, it is precisely the artist’s act of isolating a single couplet and attaching it to the image that calls our attention to the idea of the Daoist internal cinnabar, or neidan 内丹. Drawing its theoretical foundation from the Eastern Han text, Cantong qi 參同契, the theory of internal cinnabar believes that the human body is a cauldron that,  with the circulation of primordial qi, could fire up internal cinnabar that allows  the practitioner to achieve immortality. Such a theory began to be systemized in the Northern Song dynasty and became an important aspect of the Complete Perfection teachings. In order to be successful in internal cinnabar firing, it is crucial for the practitioner in meditation to be able to use internal visualization 內觀 to see the internal vision/landscape 內景

  • A typical picture of the internal landscape uses landscape elements, mountains, water, trees, etc., to represent human organs. In meditation,...

    Neijingtu. published in 1886. Neidan 384 NeijingTu1

    A typical picture of the internal landscape uses landscape elements, mountains, water, trees, etc., to represent human organs. In meditation, the primordial qi should travel in a guided route through different body parts. 

     

    Two parts are of most importance: the cinnabar field (dantian 丹田) and the Palace of Muddy Pellet (niwangong 泥丸宮). The cinnabar field is located three inches below the navel and has another Daoist name, the ocean of air (氣海). Primordial qi rises from the cinnabar field, fires the internal cauldron, reaches the Palace of Muddy Pellet, the brain cavity, and results in  Daoist immortality. The first line of Qiu Chuji’s poem can be read as poetic exposition of this process while Wang Mansheng’s accompanying painting can be seen as the visualization of it, with a vast body of water hovering above the mountains. The pursuit of religious transcendental immortality depends on the very human body, which can be translated into embodiment of external nature. In the context of artistic production, bodily interaction with the world and the painting materials is as important as conceptualization and logic. 

     

    The second half of the caption reveals another theoretical characteristic of the Complete Perfection teachings, namely, its deep connection with Chan Buddhism. It is widely known to even general readers that “Form is empty; empty is form.” Myriad images of the world are reflected in the empty mirror; the void is the true nature of the teaching about the world. 

  • Installation view of the exhibition: "Moonlight on Stones."
  • III.

    III.

    The above two sections show how Wang Mansheng uses landscape painting to inspire metaphysical understanding of the physical internal and external worlds, and how the human body is a crucial contributor to this seemingly non-physical approach. These ideas picked out of his paintings are also manifested in a very bodily and physical way, which is Wang’s experiment with local organic materials to produce pictures of objects from the local ecosystem. 

     

    Wang Mansheng always experiments with different ingredients and materials to make painting brushes and inks. Some of his most successful results include walnut ink and wild reed brushes. This reflects the artist’s pursuit of purity and elegance out of mundane daily interaction with nature. With these painting tools, Wang Mansheng paints objects he collected from around his house in the Hudson River Valley, for example, driftwood  from the river. 

  • The innovatively and unusually made materials urge the artist’s body, which is trained by tradition, to re-define and re-discover the...

    Wang Mansheng, Reed Brush to Paint Ancient Pine, 2016, Ink on Paper, 27 × 39 in (68.6 × 99.1 cm).

    The innovatively and unusually made materials urge the artist’s body, which is trained by tradition, to re-define and re-discover the interactive mode with the painting media. Moreover, using reeds to paint similarly botanical but texture-wise widely different trees requires an exceptional control of brushes. It is an insightful presentation of how to capture the traces, lines and texture of nature on paper, after conceptualization and execution with his hands. This is, after all, the ultimate task of artists.

  • Wang Mansheng

    About Artist