Of the artist's life, Wang Huaiqing said that "The artist embarks on a lifelong search: a search for the self, for an understanding of art. But some answers elude you forever. That makes this an arduous life, because the search is an endless one." In the early '80s Wang developed a fascination for the classically elegant structures of ancient Chinese architecture and furniture; their rough elegance and simplicity were an endless source of insight and inspiration for Wang. This Yu Hu Chun Vase (Lot 191) is highly representative of Wang Huaiqing's work. In it, line and structure become even simpler and more abstract than in his early-period work, giving line a chief role in demarcating the space on the surface and breaking through stereotyped presentations of form and empty space. In Yu Hu Chun Vase, Wang employs severe dividing lines that cut through its space and add a high degree of tension and concentration.
Through the influence of his teacher, Wu Guanzhong, the strong contrasts of black and white and an emphasis on structure became the principal elements of Wang Huaiqing's art. As the artist has explained, "In my eyes, black and white are color." Those opposing tones are crucial to the color structures of Wang Huaiqing's oils, including this Yu Hu Chun Vase, where their stark opposition is mediated by cool browns. In the vocabulary of traditional Chinese landscape painting, the central importance of black and white helped form China's special "culture of ink," and Wang's use of those pure tones to define space and ambience differently than in western abstract works produced an abstract style with uniquely eastern characteristics. Throughout this entire work, Wang employs abstract simplification, geometric forms, and purification to create a look suggestive of China's simple style of vernacular architecture in the late 18th century. Wang maintained that despite the choice of the oil medium, his style was essentially derived from native Chinese influences, and the special worldview of the Chinese, interpreted by Wang through western techniques, produces visual communication at a level that both eastern and western viewers respond to and appreciate.
The fineness of porcelain and the solidity of the desk form a striking contrast. The weightiness of the wood structure conveys breadth of mind and seriousness. The cultured atmosphere of the Ming breathed its influence into the style of furnishings used in that era as well as its use of the color white, and for Wang Huaiqing, these inspired the production of a number of dramatic works. The large areas of empty space in Yu Hu Chun Vase helps the artist invoke the world of ancient China's literati painters through the idea of "negative space." Visually, a viewer tends to interpret smaller spatial areas or planes as the "figure" of the painting, i.e., as a positive form, while larger planes become the "ground," or the negative space in which it is supported. Mobile forms are also interpreted as positive forms, while static forms are more likely to be perceived as negative space or ground. Wang's conceptual juxtaposition of positive and negative space, of form and emptiness, echoes the outlook expressed by the ancient philosopher Laotze: "Being and non-being produce each other; difficulty and ease complete each other; long and short define each other; high and low rest on each other; sound and voice harmonize each other; front and back follow each other." Through habitual visual conditioning we respond to negative space indirectly, unlike our response to positive forms, which we decode at a glance, and negative space thus often seems to be present and yet not present at the same time. The Qing Dynasty's Da Zhongguang (1623!P1692), in his "Everything about Painting", expounded the concept that "form and empty space rely on and create each other; blank space has exquisite effects in a painting." In calligraphy, too, there are traditional views emphasizing method versus freedom, concentration versus looseness, dark versus light, and "white as a balance to black." From his early representational oil works to his later collage structures and his pure, natural style of abstraction, Wang Huaiqing's work consistently displays an ingenious management of theme and subject and a deeply personal passion and inspiration. Artistic conceptions employing negative space lead to a sense of positive and negative forms that are competing yet mutually dependent. Their contradictions and antagonisms produce fascinating creations that portray positive and negative in isomorphic relationships, and their sharing of the same spaces highlights the subtleties involved in their perception. A strongly unified presentation of positive and negative spaces opens up rich aesthetic possibilities, out of which the total artistic image develops. Artists ancient and modern have pursued new and unusual conceptions, and in Wang Huaiqing's combinations of open space and dense solidity he found a conception uniquely his own.
Two elements that can add to our understanding of Wang Huaiqing's art are the Chinese ink-wash tradition and the nearly geometric reduction of forms in western Suprematism; despite the vast difference between the two, in Wang's art they become complementary features. But the character of Wang's art also reflects other eastern sources. By "character," sometimes we mean a person's overall physical and psychological qualities; for the ancient Chinese, "character" ("qi zhi") in particular described the style of the literati, the depth of their poetry and art, and their high seriousness and broad outlook. The reflection of this character is at the very heart of Ming era furnishings, and a number of writings by the literati of the era reflect how their tastes and their style of use were behind the development of new types and styles of furnishings, as their special needs and requirements helped lead to novel designs that enriched the styles of the era. These literati and other persons of refined taste had great appreciation for fine art objects and antiques, for musical instruments, chess sets, and fine paintings and calligraphy; they also studied the forms, construction, materials, and special uses of various types of furniture as well, so it is little wonder that the furnishings of the time so completely bear their stamp of this class.
In Yu Hu Chun Vase the artist selectively employs elements of the vase and the wooden desk, focusing on specific details to create a feel for the layering and textures in traditional Chinese architecture and furniture. Textural effects have always been an important element of both ancient and modern works, in both East and West. The use of different tools produces different textural languages. Whether we refer to it as texture or grain, the materials from which an object is constructed produce the weaving, the patterning, and the composition unique to it and its sense of coarseness, luster, or hardness. Textures can be either felt tactilely or can be visual, and despite the simplicity of line and composition in Wang Huaiqing's works, his oil pigments produce textures almost as pronounced as a relief sculpture. Their visual and tactile effects are contrasting and yet mutually complementary.
While Daosim in the Ming was not accorded either the status or orthodoxy of the school of Confucianism originating with Cheng Yi and Zhu Xi in the Song Dynasty, it nevertheless held considerable significance for the literate and elite classes of that day. Confucian thought was the central pillar behind the legitimacy of the state, while Daoism was the key that provided an entrance for the scholarly elite into the world of literature and art. The rise of many great figures of the Ming, including the calligraphers Wen Zhengming and Zhu Yunming, painter Tang Bohu, author Li Mengyang, and man of science Xu Guangqi, the influence of Daoism can clearly be seen at work. The Chinese words for vase, "ping ping," and desk, "an," in Wang Huaiqing's work both hint at the Chinese word for peace, "ping an," though a Confucian turn of thought and aesthetics is also apparent in the icy, jadelike color of the vase, as the Confucian code of the gentlemen suggested humility and peace and an even-tempered approach to life. These are perhaps suggested in the jadelike translucency of the glaze in this monochrome porcelain from the Northern Song period. The Yu Hu Chun Vase style evolved out of the purification vases of Tang era Buddhist temples. It featured a wide flaring mouth, narrow neck, and a ring-foot base; its gentle curves create a vase of great beauty with ample yet graceful and balanced proportions. After the introduction of the Yu Hu Chun style of vase,
it was produced in significant volumes in Chinese kilns all the way up to the late Qing period.
Today, that style of vase, and the values of the cultured elites if reflected, find a new life in the Wang Huaiqing work Yu Hu Chun Vase.
In the essay "Black and White, Vertical and Horizontal: The Modernist Structures of Wang Huaiqing," art critic Jia Fangzhou provided an insightful conclusion: "Starting with Pan Tianshou, Lin Fengmian, and Wu Guanzhong, and then on through Wang Huaiqing, the path toward structuralism becomes ever clearer and more obvious. If we posit that the first three artists began the exploration of eastern structuralism, then Wang Huaiqing's feat was to push on to the furthest reaches of that territory, using an unusual, even extreme method-abandoning color-to accomplish this feat. Because color always provided the oil medium with its uniqueness, abandoning it for simple black and white marks a return to the purity of the most traditional aesthetics. Pure black and white allow for powerful artistic expression, and as Soulages said, 'The more limited the means, the more intense the expression.' His work had a powerful tension, produced through use of the single color black. Kline, an American abstract expressionist painter active after the war, produced numerous paintings in only black that were reminiscent of works by Chinese artists, and his architectural structures and sharp black-white contrasts gained him prominence. But while his work has been seen as influenced by Chinese painting, with an eastern 'paper and ink' feel, his was still primarily American in spirit, as opposed to the inward and reserved quality of eastern art. Wang, on the other hand, used western painting implements and materials, but his works reveal an entirely eastern quality-an character, an eastern mood, perhaps even a kind of eastern 'spirit.'