Red Walls & White Snow - On the Lacquer Painting of Bai Xiao Hua
by Qiao Shi Guang, Founder of the Qinghua University Lacquer Studio
At the 10th National Juried Art Exhibition awards ceremony in October 2004, I saw a lacquer piece of the Forbidden City. The painting was a section of the Wu Men gate tower. The depth of the building was flattened and the two-dimensional, geometric divisions of horizontal and vertical lines, emphasized. Even though the painting didn’t depict the grandeur of the palace, the solemnity of the Imperial Garden was nonetheless impressive. The red walls and white snow made everything look to be in perfect harmony, which greatly enhanced the beauty of the snow scene. That piece was the winner of the Silver Prize and was painted by a young lacquer artist named Bai Xiao Hua. It was called, “Wu Men Snow”.
In 1989, Bai Xiao Hua’s lacquer piece “Yang Xin Men” received the Bronze Award at the 9th National Art Exhibition. In 2002, his painting “The Snowing Forbidden City” was awarded the Excellence Award at the National Lacquer Exhibition. He received three major awards in five years, each award given to pieces themed on snow and the Forbidden City. It is thus that his name has been connected to snow, and the Forbidden City has become his business card.
Yet, it was even earlier, at the China/Korea Exchange – Lacquer Exhibition in 1986 that Bai Xiao Hua’s piece, “the Moonlight”, received high praises and was collected by the Museum of China. The subject of the piece was a white yulan magnolia set in the background of the Forbidden City and marked the beginning of his ten-year passion. I suspect it is the success of “The Moonlight” that inspired a successive series themed on red walls, white snow and the yulan magnolia – perfect subjects for the eggshell inlay technique.
To combine these subjects shows the cleverness of the artist. It should not be a surprise that Bai Xiao Hua would choose the Forbidden City as a primary subject matter for his paintings, seeing that he lives in Beijing. However, we often ignore the beautiful things around us, just as many Beijing people ignore the beautiful scene of the snowy Forbidden City. It is the artist who has the sensitivity to take notice of such beauty, bringing it out to the public with a new perspective after creatively and methodically painting the reality. Bai Xiao Hua gives new life to ordinary things. Not only does he effectively represent what he sees, but he also breathes life into his work thus filling it with meaning and emotional significance.
The cohesive language between theme and material choice is yet another attributing factor in Bai Xiao Hua’s success. Generally speaking, it is very hard to make a range of cool colors – such as blues and purples – from the dark brown of natural lacquer. Due to its brilliance and archival quality, the most reliable color (and thus most frequently used) is red. Similarly, because white cannot be produced by natural lacquer, the eggshell plays an important role in lacquer painting and its irreplaceable color and added texture gives reason to the frequent use of the eggshell inlay technique. Bai Xiao Hua has perfected the combination of the two distinguished colors has deemed it his personal signature.
The third reason behind his success is attributed to his patience and perseverance. When exploring and applying lacquer techniques, Bai Xiao Hua’s passion and sincere love for lacquer encourages him not to give up easily. In the past, he has spent much time diligently studying the eggshell technique and has taken it to its highest stage of refinement. One time, I saw him painting a white magnolia with a reference image of chaotically entangled flowers and branches; I worried over how he might visually untangle the mass. After a few days I revisited his studio and was both surprised and impressed. With much patience, he had cleverly managed the composition, beautifully presenting each of the elements in strong order. Since then, I no longer worry about his ability to manipulate composition, colors, shapes, etc.
Bai Xiao Hua’s work has always remained realistic in style. When he sees his contemporaries’ varying work styles he often struggles to discern whether or not he should change his own. Whenever he asks me what he should do, I always give him the same answer: “If it’s the right time, then change. If not, don’t force it. Follow your passion, don’t follow others.” Though steadfast in stylistic focus, Bai Xiao Hua has never halted his exploratory studies, for example his recent interest in antiques, art critique and art theory. I believe that all these will enhance his understanding of art and eventually lift him up to even greater success!
二零零二年三月十三日于东旭新村 大漆园 乔十光