“What struck me the most was not really the
magnificence and vastness of the (Tibetan) landscape.
But rather, the loneliness and insignificance of being a human.
Human beings were so powerless, fragile and helpless in the face of nature.
Human beings appeared so tiny and trivial in the presence of
the extended horizon. Human was subject to the manipulations of
this distant, ruthless skyline.”
Ai Xuan has been dedicating his life to pioneering Tibetan themed art. While Tibet may be a foreign territory to most, it seems not that distant when it is on Ai Xuan’s paintings. Not only can this be ascribed to his delicate attainment in realistic portrayal, but also to his profound understanding of Tibet. Ai Xuan’s well-seasoned depiction in portraits and his perception of the minutest detail are all visibly revealed on the subject characters. With the deep bond knotted with Tibet and its natives, his paintings aren’t just demonstrating the beauty and bleakness of Tibet but more in conveying his solicitude to Tibetan people’s fate, expressing the sentiment of human’s insignificance amidst the forces of nature.
Ai Xuan always places special emphasis on the rendition of characters’ eyes. People can actually read the obscure melancholy in the crystal-clear, pure eyes of the Tibetan girls. As long as viewer’s resonance and sentiment towards the artwork is evoked, the connection between the art piece and the audience is harmoniously built. Another notable depiction is the distinctive silence among Ai Xuan’s paintings, perhaps ascribed to his selection of palette and tone of colour, allowing a sense of desolation to penetrate through the paintings.
Since 2008, Ai Xuan has begun to create ink painting. The subject is still Tibetan people and custom, the accurate use of line and space in his ink paintings demonstrates his profound drawing technique. From the refined realistic painting to the impressionistic ink wash, Ai Xuan has opened up a free and relaxed expression in his art.
Walking into the Wilderness by Ai Xuan
In 1973, for the first time I entered the Tibetan-inhabited area in western Sichuan. I was around twenty years old. At that time I was very curious about Tibet. This grassland and the Chengdu Plain were simply two different worlds. All fields of vision there, the sky, the land and the people, created extremely great contrasts with those from the area three thousand meters below... Everyday from dawn to sunset, I captured almost everything I could see with a pencil to fill my appetite. But at spiritual levels I was on a sleep mode. That “first-time” exotic feeling turned me into a “perpetual motion machine” that replicated everything that had happened...
Things had started to change in the early 1980s. My deep intellectual thoughts on Tibet were awakened. Perhaps that was related to my adventures in early years. I had encountered many times of mountain collapses, mudslides, fallen rocks and a few times of car crash in remote places and uninhabited wetlands of very poor natural conditions in western Sichuan. My view on the meaning of life and the relationship between human and nature had gradually changed. Especially when you see the endless and majestic skyline, the extremely cold and remote snowfield, the colorless, dull snow slopes, snowy weeds that were trembling violently under the pressure of strong winds, the people who struggled through the snow with their closing eyes, the robust winds sweeping in the wilderness ruthlessly, the lightning at the bottom of those rainy clouds below the distant horizon, and the thunder from the cloud burst, the shepherds wrapped with leather jackets confronting the hail storm calmly, and also the motionless yaks……an inexplicable sadness started accumulating deep in my heart...
Since 1982, I endeavored to express through my works the insignificance and vulnerability of human beings in the face of nature and the shortness of life. In the lonely, empty world, human beings are solitary and helpless. Basically I tend to use a blue-gray tone to convey a melancholic mood. This is what I considered as the so-called beauty of suffering, beauty of cruelty, beauty of hopelessness. A sense of hopelessness popped up in my head when I saw again the face of a lovely little girl whom I first encountered a few years ago had become so rough and unrecognizable due to the impact of alternative intense sunlight and strong blast. Thus I felt interminably sad and sympathized.
…Ai Xuan has an upbeat attitude and rigorous attention to details when he creates his ink wash paintings. Though it is an ‘impressionistic’ (xieyi) account, Ai has high expectations on the formation of character, composition, setting, etc. Ai always produces quite a few different drafts to consolidate ideas before he actually starts creating one piece of work. His impressionistic ink wash is absolutely not the style nor the approach to ink painting that is currently promoted by the majority of ink wash painters. It is a rigorous linear artistic expression of brush and the fusion between black ink, colors and rice paper…
…Although the theme of Tibetan people and custom remains, Ai Xuan’s ink wash painting is different from the conventional crafted realist oil painting. There is a relaxing feeling in the natural interactions and movements between the brush, color ink and rice paper. Realist oil painting is like the ‘hard’ quick sharp actions of Shaolin Kungfu whereas ink wash painting is like the ‘soft’ slow graceful movements of Taichi. Incorporating the two different disciplines allows the artist to exercise the most appropriate control. Ai’s life in art has achieved a new milestone with a balance of both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ disciplines after incorporating the ink wash techniques…
…Ai Xuan is devoted to ink wash painting in order to open up new territories for his artistic creation. His perseverance, anticipation and capability to draw precisely the characteristics of objects and situations remain unchanged. Ai Xuan is able to give full play of his talents and skills in ink wash painting which makes his journey in art more fruitful, complete, and even more enjoyable…
Excerpt from Ai Xuan: Brush and Ink Are Absolutely Not Equal to Zero by HSIUNG Yi Ching