Born into a poor farming family and coming of age during China’s century of civil strife, Qi Baishi rose to become one of the most widely recognized Chinese artists of his time. His distinctly modern art broke through class and cultural barriers through use of expressive “carved” brushwork, juxtaposition of vibrant colors against deep and rich ink tones, economy in form and composition, and selection of emotionally resonant subject matter. He is credited with transforming the brush art of China’s educated elite into a more universal art form, appreciated by people of all social backgrounds. Qi Baishi’s paintings featured rugged, expressive brushwork based on his practice of the related arts of brush-written calligraphy and seal carving—the art of carving characters in stone. Can you spot the relation between his calligraphy and seal carving, and the “carved” brushwork in his paintings?
Much as a poet strives to communicate deep meaning with few words, Qi Baishi simplified his rendering of his subjects to a minimum number of brush touches. In this way, he integrated representational elements with abstraction in an attempt to capture the spiritual essence of his subjects.