"The crumple texture of Xuan paper delivered pleasure to me, which is always different from the straight and smooth canvas. … with the white background, various shades of black, white, grey as well as numerous layers of grey colour are formed by ink". 1
– Zao Wou-Ki
'Ink' in Chinese painting is not perceived as a single colour of black. Ink depict object by its characteristic of rendering various tones of colour on paper. Colors of the Chinese paintings can be classified into five - burnt, strong, heavy, light, and crystal. The 'white' background is the sixth colour.
Henri Michaux once wrote, 'one thousand years ago, Wang Wei, poet and painter, created the most beautiful waterfall, hill, path, garden, sea, pine tree forest, lonely pine tree adjacent to cliff by only one single colour – black. The numerous shades of colour of ink captured the splendid scenery'. 2
Ink and paper lie at the origin and are a vital force in the painting tradition of East Asia, as well as being common denominator among overseas Chinese artists. Nowhere else is this more evident than when considering the work of artists who travelled to France in the early to mid-20th century, such as Lin Fengmian, Pan Yuliang, Sanyu, Zao Wou-Ki, Chu Teh-Chun, Wu Guanzhong and T'ang Haywen, or US-based Chao Chun-Hsiang. At no point in their artistic careers did they abandon from Chinese ink painting; on the contrary, they injected new meaning into this medium with rich history.
1. autobiography of Zao Wou-Ki, artist's Publishing Co., Taipei, Taiwan, 1993, p. 151.
2. Paris, Galerie de France: encres de Chine, text by Henri Michaux, 1980.