Studio Visit: Yufeng Wang
We join producer Susan Byrnes and meet Yufeng Wang, a professor of history and Chinese language at Sinclair Community College who is an accomplished artist in the ancient tradition of Chinese brush painting.
When I arrive at Yufeng Wang's house in Springboro, [Ohio] I notice a small stand of bamboo growing in her yard. In Chinese brush painting, bamboo is a traditional subject, along with landscapes, figures, animals and flowers. Pictures are painted on rice paper with black ink and sometimes with color. The brushes used to paint them are also bamboo, with tips shaped like a teardrop, fat on the bottom and tapered to a fine point. As I study an ethereal landscape painting hung in your Feng studio, she sat down some brushes and a small bowl of ink on the table where she works.
"(...) We're gonna do the bamboo. We're gonna show you how this is done," Yufeng said. "Here."
She pulled a lot of ink upward from the bottom of the paper, and with a flick of her wrist, made the joints in the bamboo stem. The strokes are fluid, and she moves rapidly across the page until she's painted several stocks.
"So these are the leaves," Yufeng said. "But the leaves will look nice. The Chinese use the ink, different shades of ink, to create kind of three dimensional space. So I will use a lighter one to show that is further away. So to finish, you'll have to write calligraphy, poetic calligraphy. And I'm going to write a morning song."
Then she pressed her red chop mark or a signature stamp into the paper. She's painted bamboo many times, but each time is different because the art form is not about copying from observation.
"Whether it is a line, a leaf or paddle, a bird or rock, those are expressions of the artist's inner spirit, your inner energy. So you're making a dialog with your object, you are making a dialog with your ink and paper," Yufeng expressed.
She calls that dialog a kind of "meditation in action."
"People know that the ink wash Chinese brush painting is connected to Zen Buddhism and Daoist ideals of total concentration in the act of the moment," Yufeng said. "So enjoy the moment. And also, the tradition is related to Confucian culture, which is focusing on learning on harmony. It is really kind of integral part of educated individual to enjoy art, learning nature and outer beauty and inner beauty. Objective observations and subjective feelings. They are all connected."
To encourage other people to make that connection. She started doing workshops often for free.
"It doesn't take a very long to complete a piece," Yufeng stated. "So that gave people a sense of accomplishment. And that's why I enjoy teaching my students."
It's easy to start, but takes discipline to master.
"Behind every stroke is the long, strenuous work that you have done, the preparation you have done years and years after two years through your practice, years after it," she said with conviction.
If art is not a quest for enduring realism or even for perfection, it's a lifelong journey to be present in the moment.