Thoughts on purchasing my first Chinese painting

If there’s one thing I LOOOVE about Chinese New Year, it’s the fact that Vivocity invites professional artists to set up shops in the mall for their Chinese New Year fair.

I’ve been wanting to get my hands on a Chinese wall scroll painting to hang in my room for inspiration. Unfortunately, the ones that you can get cheaply aren’t so good. They can cost a bomb, but the quality of the materials is terrible.

So yesterday, I went down to Vivocity to check out the fair. It was there that I befriended one particular artist. His name is Mr. Zhang and he’d be here for a month to sell his artwork. Inititally, I didn’t know that he was an artist. I thought that maybe he was just a salesperson. But we had a good chat and I told him that I have a keen interest in Chinese calligraphy and art, and that I was currently learning calligraphy. Since we shared a common interest, he picked up his brush and started painting and writing on a piece of board. Immediately, before my eyes, he was already making quite an awesome piece of art – and that was just a demonstration!

Anyway, I told him that I was interested in bamboo painting. In no time, he took out two very breathtaking paintings of bamboo. But there was only one painting that caught my eye. It was like love at first sight.

There is a saying about Chinese art. It’s romanticised, but it’s nice and beautiful anyway. The saying is that the artworks that have landed in your hands were the ones destined to be in your possession. You and the artwork has this special connection, which the Chinese refer to as “yuan” (緣) – a pre-destined relationship. Then again, I know other cultures that say similar things about other items (like religious products). But anyway, it’s a nice and sweet thought.

There are some tiny blemishes, but I’m more than willing to accept this. The element of imperfection is a very important reminder for me. I’ve been reading up a lot on Japanese aesthetics, and one key lesson I took away from it was its emphasis on imperfection (both intentional and unintentional). It’s part of the wabi-sabi aesthetic principles, otherwise known as “austere beauty.”

If you look at Japanese art, there will always be some kind of imperfection. For example, the bowl is not perfectly round, or there’s a deformity in its shape. The point behind it is to remind us that life IS imperfect, and yet beauty can still be sought and attained despite those imperfections. In fact, there IS beauty in imperfection. But it is our futile quest for beauty in perfection that makes us blind to the beauty already present before us.

The blemishes in the art, though not very obvious, can be a sore thumb to me because of my perfectionist tendencies. But it serves as an important reminder: Life is never perfect, and yet it can still be beautiful, just as how this painting is beautiful. In fact, it is the presence of these blemishes that make the painting itself more in touch with humanity – the fact that we have our own imperfections does not make us ugly. We already are beautiful. And perhaps the most important thing to do right now is to stop whatever useless strivings for perfection and to open up our eyes to realise the pre-existing beauty within us.

Beautiful, isn’t it? I love the lessons in Japanese aesthetics. I do highly recommend reading up about it. It’s life-changing.

Anyway, I didn’t have enough money with me yesterday. But I did promise to come back today. And I did, bringing along with me the agreed amount (he gave me a student discount) and samples of my artwork. Mr. Zhang is amazing. He saw some of my art and began giving me pointers on how to improve. I made the mistake of coming down on a busy Sunday evening. But he was still more than willing to take a break to demonstrate how to perfect my painting of bamboo. He told me to come again on weekdays so that he can teach me even more! WOW! Amazing!

After a short lesson on how to paint bamboo (the proportions of the stem and the shape of the leaves), I made the purchase, thanked him and left his booth so that he could continue with his business.

And now, I am the proud owner of this most awesome bamboo painting. I hung it above my desk where I normally do my calligraphy and painting. I call this my little Chinese cultural corner:

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Beautiful, isn’t it?

If you are wondering… Those are my calligraphy brushes and one of my tea sets, which I use quite regularly.

Anyway, there’s a little phrase written on the painting. It says:

竹報平安

Literally, it means: “The bamboo(s) announce [a message] of safety and peace.”

It’s a clever word play. Originally, the phrase refers to a letter, sent from someone staying abroad, to his/her family at home, reporting that he/she is well and good. Why bamboo? Because letters used to be written on bamboo scrolls. That’s why!

Here, in the context of the painting, the bamboos are supposed to be wishing you safety and peace.

Wow! It’s so beautiful. I’m glad I got this. =)