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Video transcript

[Music] we're in the freer gallery of art in a storage room looking at the work of an important 17th century Chinese painter calligrapher and poet bada shun rent was born Prince of the Ming Dynasty when he was 18 the dynasty fell to invaders from the north who founded the Ching dynasty which was the last imperial dynasty in China it had an enormous effect on the young man who fled and eventually decided to join the Buddhist church and because we know that he was a part of the royal family we know that he would have been versed in Confucian philosophy and ware of Taoist philosophy as well but he enters into a Buddhist monastery and he spends thirty years there when he left the monastery a story goes that he was found in the marketplace babbling had ripped off his monk's robes and lit them on fire Jiri emerged in the 1670s 80s as an artist and that's when he took the name Baba Shan ran he was quite an eccentric fellow maybe not quite as eccentric as some of the accounts would have it the large hanging scroll is from his most mature period later in life he takes one of his name's is the Lotus garden that lotus has particular symbolism in the Buddhist faith as something pure and that arises from the muck of the lake and yet comes up pristine and beautiful and flowers and that is a metaphor is for many different aspects of life including religious awakening and probably of all the flowers that bada paints the Lotus is one that he comes back to again and again although they're constructed just of two strokes of ink they create this full volume and a sense of lightness and preciousness that recalls the beauty of a lotus blossom with remarkable fidelity he's very calligraphic in his approach and in his use of ink and his use of the brush he specializes for a bit in birds and fish you often see them where the pupil is rolled up in the socket to show the whites of the eyes and that is the case in the large hanging scroll where you have one duck up on high one duck below you wonder is the one below looking to the one above but this comes from the idea that in early depictions to show the white of the eyes was to express anger so that anger is interpreted as being his anger at the loss of the Ming Dynasty the loss of the dynasty to which he was born now that interpretation becomes popular in the early 20th century with a transition from the Ching dynasty to the Republic but if you look at the division low and high the separation between the two with a wide swath of unpainted paper all of the flower stems coming up and rising the full length of the painting on the right side it's interesting to note that there are at the bottom four stalks that begin but they suddenly become five as they go up now lotus thoughts do not branch so is he saying something there that's another question to which we don't have an answer but we can see again with the leaves at the top and the way that he does the blossoms themselves Cala graphically usually with just a couple of strokes for each petal and the wash used to depict the leaves the different tonality zuv ink and the layering of the ink creating a sense of volume and three dimensionality what strikes me when I look at this large scroll is the ability of the artist with such an economy of line to produce an entire environment each of the Ducks are on a rock and the smaller of the rocks looks so much like the kind of scholars rock that would have been placed into a contemplative garden and so there is this philosophical aspect here as well well indeed are we in a garden or are we in nature a Chinese garden is an artificial recreation of nature created for the same reason that Chinese paint landscapes one of the great early Chinese landscape painters course he'd made the point that when you serve in government when you have to live in the city you become caught up in competition issues of money and status the proper place for mankind is with nature that's how you understand the great Dao the great system that brings us all together the universal principles so how do we avoid that how do we get back to the Dao well we paint and we look at paintings of landscape and the trick about a Chinese painting whether it is landscape or a piece such as this is that you're not observing it you are in it it's not you looking at the man walking on the little road you can see the waterfall that he must hear but can't yet see so you imagine yourself being that individual and you're about to turn the corner and see what you're hearing now there is that waterfall you are not the person looking at that person you are the person and the scale of this particular painting is such that it actually envelops me as a viewer and I feel as if I have entered into this scene the perforated rock at the bottom is most often associated with gardens of the literati and they're bringing in these perforated rocks from Lake time but they represent a microcosm of the larger cosmic mountain and so here you have the miniature cosmic mountain and there you have the full development of the large cliff face that opposite separated by the blank space because in Zen things emanate from the center out the center for all Zen is empty things come from nothing when you look at all of the album leaves you see that again the center is empty and all of the details all of the physical elements are at the edges in the corners and in some of these paintings from the album the form that I expect to see is largely outside even of the picture plane there's always some part that's left out that's at the edge that's beyond what you can see and you as the viewer you supply the rest you supply that larger context and that may be one of the reasons that these paintings which are more than 300 years old feel absolutely relevant right now bhishan Ren is without doubt one of the most popular traditional painters in China today he lived in a time of transition he went from Prince to a commoner living in a hut and a period of madness in February 1912 the imperial system in China came to an end and the Republican form of government came into existence and in the inscription on the large hanging scroll by wu qionghua one of the major nineteenth and early twentieth century artists and calligraphers he expresses that idea that we are now living in time similar to those of Bashan Ren and so we can understand his emotional meaning behind these angry birds but modern China also comes after 1949 and that was a major transition that led to a lot of dislocation for many Chinese and a lot of the social upheaval and change within China which has led to the modern state so there's a residence people feel that they're looking at someone who understands them and who expresses them [Music]