Traditional Chinese Paintings

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                      Thoughts of Li Xiangping                                                      Bai XiaoJun



Professor Huang Weilin and his Thoughts


Take a Firm Foothold in Modernity while Keep the Tradition in Mind
My Understanding and Appreciation of Bai Xiaojun's Paintings


At the very first sight of Bai Xiaojun's paintings, I would think that they are somewhat different from that I am used to having a look at in terms of my own artistic taste.

I am in favour of a taste in the traditional Chinese paintings that tip the scale of aesthetics to the side of the free and natural style with no intention to present too complicated a design on the picture appearance. But the appearance of Bai Xiaojun's paintings seems to be in a substantial way well arranged in designs. If Guilin's landscape is linked to a beautiful Chinese Ink painting, the water course of the Lijiang River from Yangdi to Xingping in the misty rain will provoke a sort of feeling that I am more familiar with. With such a picture of ink and wash coming into your sight, you will feel as if the whole picture appearance were enshrouded by the main component, the misty rain in which peaks and mountain summits, where vaguely visable, producing an effect of then being interspersed on the picture. In the misty rain, everything is in the state of natural stillness, no sound and no desire of the secular world. Bai Xiaojun's painting in form of ink and wash represents another style, a style much closer to that of the landscape at Xing'an or Lingchuan, two Counties under the direct jurisdiction of Guilin Municipal Government. In the style of painting, the dominant component of the picture appearance has become mountains while waters are vaguely visible whereby the picture appearance will let you feel that it is so fully loaded with designs as to be forcefully wild, vigorously simple, vast and extensive. There may be such scenic spots as the civilian residences, mountain trails and stone bridges, which will obstinately display themselves in the picture, as if to show the existence of mundane affairs going on there.

I was deep into a repeated appreciation of Bai Xiaojun's paintings time and again. At first, this sort of appreciation was an act a bit purposeful. However, with days passing by, I must admit that I have gradually developed an affection for his artistic works the way I have done for a person, who is a stranger to me at first but after a certain while of daily intercourse with him, a close relationship has been established between us. This kind of metaphorical affection for Bai Xiaojun's paintings has been activated by my repeated study and appreciation of them. It is justified for me to say that a solid foundation can be discovered in Bai Xiaojun's works, which carries on an old tradition, a tradition that i haven't come into a close contact with for a long time. In my mind it seems to have died out but it still saturates Bai Xiaojun's works. Take his pictures with mountain villages of the northern part of Guangxi as the subject matters for examples. The appearances of those pictures often display a river, neither so deep nor so shallow, which seems to drop a hint to the effect that it runs to somewhere. I've come to realize a subconsciousness connecting the old tradition has been revived.

For the clarity of what stated above, we may also turn to Guilin's landscape for an analogy. We are quite familiar with Guilin landscape paintings depicting the mountains and waters that shut Yangshuo in, a small county within easy reach of the city­proper of Guilin, for the landscape within Yangshuo is the marker of Guilin's landscape. And yet, if we arrive at the interior of
Guilin's landscape, we will find the other side of it. lf Yangshuo's scenery gives Guilin's landscape a prominence of the mood created by misty rain in which you would feel as if you were an immortal living in a fairyland, then the scenery of northern Guangxi will represent another taste in Guilin's landscape, imposing, magnificent and imbued with a spirit originating from a distant source.


In order to make a better understanding of Bai Xiaojun's landscape paintings, I toured the mountainous region on the upper reach of the Lijiang River, which is geologically situated in the northern part of Guangxi. Different from the land forms of a forest of peaks on the spacious lower reach of the Lijiang River, the district on the upper reach of the Lijiang River presents an imposing view of rolling mountains covered by woods of various trees that will be deep-dyed in late autumn, which looks like a landscape painting composed in the same style as that of Bai Xiaojun's painting, and the appearance of such a nature ­created landscape painting is also as forcefully wild, vigorously simple, vast and extensive as that of Bai Xiaojun's artistic works.


It is obvious that Bai Xiaojun has a clear idea about how to depict the landscape on the upper reach of the Lijiang River. In 1976, upon his graduation from senior middle school, he joined the last group of high school graduates dispatched to countryside and settled down there. Over one year's farm work in Lingchuan Country as an educated young man settling down in rural area, a chance for him to come into a "zero distance" contact with the land and people of northern Guangxi occurred and this kind of contact proved to be of great significance to his career of art creation. He has not only discovered the side of the naturally imposing, extensively wild and vast view that the upper reach of the Lijiang River has presented his discovery is shown by his paintings in which the rolling mountains and dense woods can be regarded as his accurate expression of the natural scenery of the mountainous area in northern Guangxi, but has also arrived in the inner world of the aborigines whose destiny inclusive of happiness, prosperity and troubles in life are all indispensable with the mountainous area all these are expressed in Bai Xiaojun's paintings by the civilian residences, the mountain trails and the stone bridges. They seem to be a sort of existence in tranquillity but it can be felt that they imply and emit a sort of cry and yearning from the hearts of the aborigines. I've also directed my attention to those works of Bai Xiaojun, which depict the spaciousness over the Lijiang River. It's reasonable to say that the appearances of those pictures stand for the typical scenery that the reach of the Lijiang River within the boundary of Yangshuo County presents. But at the point of Bai Xiaojun's painting brush, the still spaciousness has given way to the wind rising over the Lijiang River, and the strong wind which can bend the branches of old trees at that. Bai Xiaojun has put this mood in his paintings, either intentionally or unintentionally. So, it has made a forceful deconstruction of the tranquil mood in Guilin landscape paintings, which we would habitually intend to feel when we taste any painting that belongs to this category. I've noticed that Bai Xiaojun loves to sketch with simple strokes or lines the moored boat and reflections in the water of the buffaloes leisurely strolling along the banks of the Lijiang River and the views of this kind are often neglected by the majority of the landscape painters. Furthermore, my special attention is paid to the colours that often occur in Bai Xiaojun's landscape paintings. The appearances of his pictures are often tinged with colours, bright red in particular, which come out from the view of the most tranquil woods deep in the mountains or from the most rough strokes and lines. What do all these really mean? To my own understanding, they could mean that we should not always be bewildered by the atmosphere of tranquillity and the mood of transcending the secular taste, which a view of the Lijiang River in the misty rain has conveyed to us, simple because in truth, it is not the whole of fact. We should be aware that the Lijiang River and her people have also had their original desires and simple dreams.


What I抳e said above is a mere interpretation of the internal logic of Bai Xiaojun's artistic works, nature and life itself. But I know well that such an interpretation is far from being enough if it is intended for the works of an artist who has inclusive views on his or her aesthetic pursuits.

As a matter of fact, the rural life in Lingchuan, Bai Xiaojun underwent as an educated young man settling down in the countryside has made him a man endowed not only with the experience of the simple life itself in the northern part of Guangxi but also with the character of an artist und the impact of an artist's aesthetic orientation.

It may be the arrangement of predestination to let Bai Xiaojun become an artist. During the period of time when he was living a farmer's life in Lingchuan, Li Luogong, a renowned artist, was transferred to do manual labour as a demoted cadre by sheer coincidence in Lingchuan, too. At that time, Bai Xiaojun, in search for the teachers and friends who could help him to make progress in his painting skills, happened to meet Master Li Luogong, whose artist's reputation is described as "a gifted man of complete integrity with supernatural accomplishment in the field of art". Besides, another painter, who is famous for his inflexible will or tenacity in the artistic pursuit, was also in Lingchuan. His name is Tan Zhengrong and he is the father of A Xi, a talented child-painter well-known to the public at that time. So lucky was Bai Xiaojun that he found the right road leading to his future career, entered the pure realm of art and acquired the essence of a real artist's character under the tutelage of those rnasters he met in the chaos of "the cultural revolution". Shortly after "the cultural revolution" was brought to an end, social order was established out of chaos. In 1978, Bai Xiaojun passed the national college entrance examination and was enrolled to study at Guangxi Academy of Arts and became a student of its Art Department in 1984. Two years after his graduation from the college he got the chance to continue his education and became a graduate student of the post graduate program run by Guangxi Academy of Arts majoring in the traditional Chinese painting under the guidance of the supervisor Professor Huang Dufeng, a very famous painter.

厖According to Chen Chuanxi, Lingnan art school has its unique style, that's because it is under the influence of land configuration characterized by "sea and coastline". Generally speaking, his opinion is right. As a layman in art as I am, I can see the difference of Bai Xiaojun's paintings from the works of art that we're familiar with. But it is the difference that attests the fact that Bai Xiaojun has acquired the essence of Lingnan art school and the road he has taken is the one the laymen like me are not familiar with, quite traditional though it is. If we appreciate his pictures from the perspective of artistic effect and form, I'd like to say, on the basis of my own understanding, that Bai Xiaojun has chosen to depict the scenic spots in northern Guangxi in his landscape painting and the reason for his choice can be interpreted as follows: He is so familiar with the mountainous area with so many nature-born scenic spots that he has made a well thought-out plan for an expression of the beauty of this area in his pictures, and what is more important, the style of Lingnan art school has a potential impact on his choice of subject matters in creation. Different geological environment is conducive to the formation of different artistic disposition. The magnificence of Zhongyuan, the fine delicate features of Jiangnan and the mystic and tranquil recesses of Lingnan - each has its own distinction. Lingnan - the regions south of the Five Ridges - is developed rather late in terms of our history and is situated in the subtropical zone. To a large extent, its ecological environment is still in a primitive state with less traces or signs of humanist activities. So, in such ecological environment, dense forests and a variety of animal and plant species have given rise to the mood of abundance, tranquil recesses and mystery. Geologically termed as "south", the southern part of Lingnan differs from the southern part of Jiangnan in that the?.

                    Traditional Chinese Ink and Wash Paintings

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