“Chinese ink painting is the closest to Carnatic or Hindustani music, where practice is lifelong. However established the artist is, they have to do their everyday riyaz,” says artist and writer K.S. Srinivas Murthy.
A native of Bangalore, now living in Singapore, Srinivas is conducting a workshop on Chinese ink painting at the National Gallery of Modern Art here.
‘Demanding art form’
According to him, this “demanding” art form is different from the regular painting styles in terms of its tonal range. Besides, brushstroke is a predominant element and colour is an embellishment.
“It requires many years of dedication, serious study and self-discipline,” he says.
Basis in calligraphy
“The charm of watercolour is to let the colour flow into each other, but in Chinese ink painting, the beauty lies in each stroke being clear, clean and committed,” explains Srinivas.
“The brush is held vertically and the artist should work with the tip. The brush is designed in such way that it has to be used linearly,” he says.
Because of this style, artists are also familiar in calligraphy, adds Srinivas, who is himself practising calligraphy and ink painting in the Gong Bi method, under illustrious calligraphy artist Kee Meng Cheng in Singapore.
“Calligraphy is full of linear marks, hence it is a must that one should first learn it before moving on to learn how to paint.”
Poetry behind the image
“Typical motifs include flowers, birds, animals and landscapes,” he says, “but more important than the visual image is the message behind the painting — it expresses the inner spirit of the subject or the feelings of the artist.”
“In fact, the primary reason for my fascination with this art form is as it is intertextual. Most Chinese paintings have a calligraphic inscription, a saying, a beautiful poem, or poetic description of the subject.”
This text can be very simple, he adds.
“For example, Qi Baishi (Chinese painter famous for his watercolours) writes how a small girl who saw his painting said she liked it the best, and goes on to explain how every child has taste and a sense of admiration.”
Finally, the painter “signs” the painting by adding a red seal.
So, according to him, artists in China are also poets, calligraphers, scholars and seal makers.
Banker turned artist
A banker for 23 years, Srinivas changed profession and has been involved with the visual arts for the past three decades. He began training in Singapore in 2004 and has also studied at the University of Iowa in the United States of America.
Writing primarily in Kannada with a specific interest in art language, he has translated the works of Paul Klee (Adhunika Kale, 1991) and K.G. Subramanyan (Ata Mata, 2002).
His books include Jeeva Mela: Kannada Samskruthi Mathu, Rumale Chennabasaviah, Kanna Kaanike: Rajya Kalanniveshadalli Adhunika Samvedane and Ananda Coomaraswamy: Srijanasheelateya Samajika Ayama.
He also has contributed articles for various newspapers and magazines.
He may be contacted at email@example.com