Faces of the Dao
Ink and Brush Painting © Yang Jian
Poet and painter Yang Jian was born in 1967 in Ma’anshan, Anhui Province, China, and worked in a factory for over a decade. He began studying and writing poetry in 1986, and is a practicing Buddhist. Among his literary awards are the Liu Li’an Poetry Prize, the Rou Gang Poetry Prize, the Yu Long Poetry Prize, the China Top Ten Pioneer Poets Prize, the Poetry Prize of Media Awards for Chinese Literature, and the Luo Yihe Prize. His poetry collections include Dusk (2003); Beside the Ancient Bridge (2007); and Remorse (2009). His work was selected for the 2011 Copper Canyon anthology Push Open the Window: Contemporary Poetry from China, sponsored by the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts.
In 2008, Yang Jian began painting. Three years later, an exhibition of his ink and wash paintings was mounted by White Canvas Gallery in Nanjing. Beijing’s Today Art Museum opened a second exhibition in 2013.
Yang Jian’s technique, called shui mo (水墨), literally “water ink”, employs ink and brush with water wash, the frequently diffusive effect on paper resembling watercolor. While “Faces of the Dao” is abstract and expressionistic rather than representational, these paintings nonetheless honor the shan shui (山水) or “mountains and waters” aesthetic/philosophical tradition, a style first prominent in the 5th c. Liu Song dynasty.
Yang Jian says “I paint to express my deep connection to mountains and waters. Of course poetry and painting in China were long related, diverging only in modern times. From Wang Wei (8th c. Tang dynasty) to Gong Xian (17th c. Ming/Qing dynasties), landscape painting by poets was revered. Part of the Chinese pantheon, such art was placed at the center of the house, and venerated. When I paint, I arrive at moments when my soul seems to slip from my body. Landscape occupies a deeply primal region, to which in the end we all return. In writing, poetry holds the highest position. Landscape is likewise the summit of Chinese traditional painting. These are their proper places.”