The great tradition of Chinese painting is one of the earliest forms of picture-making, which should come as no surprise considering that China is one of the planet’s earliest civilizations, providing the world with a noteworthy culture that produced significant inventions, including silk, porcelain, gun powder, umbrellas and paper making, as well as exquisite Chinese scroll painting, brush calligraphy and dreamlike landscape paintings.
Early forms of art in China are found in the Neolithic Yangshao civilization, which dates to the 6th Millennium BC. Archeological findings such as those at the Banpo have revealed that some of the first drawings appeared on ceramics.
Chinese art occurred as early as the Neolithic Age (New Stone Age), dating around 7000 BCE. Xu Wei (1521-1593), a Ming Chinese painter, poet, and dramatist, is considered the founder of modern painting in China. Over time, as artmaking was refined and new techniques were discovered, artists continued to explore communicative imagery for the masses. Different forms of art have been influenced by great philosophers, teachers, religious figures, and even political leaders, such as George W. Bush, Prince (now King) Charles, Winston Churchill, Jimmy Carter, and Queen Victoria.
The arrival of Buddhism and modern Western influence generated a fresh way of picture-making and a newfound freedom for individual artists to express themselves in the fine arts, folk art, and performance.
Art, throughout most of China’s rich history, was meant to express the artist’s good character and not merely be an expression of his utilitarian art skills including calligraphy. During the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), landscape painting (shan shui) became highly developed and continues to be an important cultural influence on modern Chinese painters today.
Early landscapes, usually monochromatic and sparse, were not intended to replicate the exact appearance of nature but to evoke an emotion or ambiance and capture its “rhythm.”
The oldest known classical landscape painting is a work by Zhan Ziqian of the Sui Dynasty (581-618 CE) titled “Strolling About in Spring,” in which mountains are arranged to show perspective. Painting in the established method involved essentially the same techniques as calligraphy and was created with a brush dipped in black or colored ink on paper and silk. The finished work was then mounted on scrolls that could be hung or rolled up. Conventional painting was also done in albums and on walls.
Dong Yuan, a distinguished painter of the Southern Tang Kingdom, was known for both figure and landscape paintings and exemplified the elegant style that would become the standard for brush painting in Chinese provinces for the next 900 years.
The impressive works by Sanzi on view at Taglialatella Galleries courageously follow the great custom of Chinese art in a powerful fusion of classical painting and philosophy with a delightful and often passionate viewpoint that combines open skies and lively cloud formations above fragments of small depictions of rock configurations, often occupied by a couple or in some cases a small boat on a lake with a single person. Foggy cloud patterns are an idiosyncratic design element in most of the artist’s work, which often conjures up a mysterious dream-like composition that balances the narrative with the surreal.
All the works in the show offer a richly fantastical landscape, which as a theme is the highest form of Chinese painting, and often portrays glamorized mountains and water environments that form a magical harmony with the natural world and are grounded in the ancient traditions of Chinese culture. The juxtaposition of the old and the new provides the viewer with an exciting visual journey where impossible landscapes seem plausible, and provocative vistas continue into deep space. In addition to presenting dynamic clouds that reveal mysterious and heavenly skies, Sanzi, born in 1965, has developed over the years a distinctive painterly manner that is both intriguing and contemplative. His compositions are meant to entreat the spectator to be enlightened and gratified and inspired to fully appreciate the inherent beauty of our surroundings and the deep positive impression that he offers through his work.
Along with an obvious innate gift, Sanzi decided to polish his inborn abilities by enrolling in the Fine Arts Institute of Hunan Normal University in Changsha in 1983, where he studied traditional Chinese fine art, calligraphy, and European oil painting. After receiving his degree, he was granted a post-graduate research scholarship and was assigned to teach art to newly enrolled art students. Sanzi gained recognition in 2005, and as he combined his career with a love of teaching and dedicated studio activities, his work intuitively matured into a convincing and appealing approach that is now recognized throughout the world.
One painting in particular, titled “On the Sky,” stands out as a great example of the artist’s repertoire. The work possesses all the honorable qualities that have been discussed here, but also it is one of the most memorable. Surrounded by misty clouds, a cliff gradually floats into view with a mighty waterfall cascading over it from high above. The composition is exquisite with romantic overtones and a nearly spiritual flavor created by the artist, who clearly has coupled Chinese visual culture with a traditional graphic articulation of our beautiful planet. In addition, there is an impressive line-up of works that retain the same perpetual glow celebrating nature and the atmosphere.
As the reputation of Sanzi continues to grow as a recognized international talent, this painter continues to enhance his unique style with invention and polished visual poetry, which is unmistakably apparent in his latest show at Taglialatella Galleries in Palm Beach, which continues through January 2023. The exhibition will travel to Tella Fine Art, which is located at 4421 Annette Street in West Palm Beach and is available to view by appointment only (T. 201 458 4290).
Bruce Helander is an artist who writes about art. His reviews have been published in ARTnews, The Huffington Post, and Forbes, among others. He is the former Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at the Rhode Island School of Design, a former White House Fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts, and a member of the prestigious Florida Artists Hall of Fame.