I’m always suspicious of books that claim to be “made easy”. All too often, it means that they’re either nothing of the sort or that they trivialise what can be quite a complex subject and miss the point of it entirely. The more honest form of words would be “made accessible for the non-specialist”, but that’s not something that’s going to sell a lot of books, so maybe we can extend the olive-branch of understanding and stop being so damn picky.
This is, in fact, Rebecca Yue’s third book for Batsford and she has previously tackled both Chinese Flower Painting and Chinese Calligraphy and when a publisher commissions number three, you can be fairly sure they’ve found an author who sells.
What this book is, is a very well presented and accessible (see?) guide to most of the aspects of Chinese landscape painting, but written from a distinctly Western perspective – Avebury stone circle à la chinoiserie anyone? – so you get the usual mountains, trees, leaves, water etc as well as the simplification that’s essential to the philosophical approach that’s at the heart of all Oriental art. Actually, it’s at this point that the book does start to get a little unstuck. There are two related things at the heart of Chinese painting: simplification and the carefully-considered brush stroke. The application of paint or ink is not just a means of getting the medium onto the paper: it becomes an essential part of the image, and hence the composition, itself. However, when you look at the finished results here, there’s, I think, a slight over-complication that leads to a certain messiness. The brush strokes are there, but there are a lot of them, perhaps too many, and they seem to stand out, obscuring the image rather than defining it. In a true Western style, the brushwork wouldn’t be immediately visible in quite the same way, it wouldn’t draw the eye to itself and start to detract from the overall image.
If this bothers you, you may not be able to get to grips with what is otherwise a useful and helpful book. If not, then this is an excellent primer for anyone who wants explore the Chinese style of painting without having to buy into the whole philosophy thing or learn a completely new way of painting. It’s a substantial book (176 pages) and Rebecca covers a great deal of ground with her demonstrations clearly laid out and annotated with brush strokes and colours. There’s also a handy guide to materials including a wide range of brushes and their care and the different types of specialist paper available.
The popularity of Rebecca’s previous two books suggests she speaks to a lot of people, so there’s a good chance you’ll find this book helpful too, in spite of my slight reservations above.
First published 2007