Inscriptions on Painting (Bamboo)
I live in a two-room thatched house, to the south of which are bamboo groves. In the summer, the new shoots are green and succulent, and I place my couch beneath their shade to keep cool. When autumn and winter arrive, I make a window from a screen and then paste it over with thin, white paper. When the weather is fine and gentle breeze is blowing, you can hear insects drumming on it, and bamboos cast dancing shadows across it. Is that not a painting executed by Nature? I have never studied the work of others in painting bamboos but instead have learned a great deal from the shadows cast on the window paper and the walls by the sun and the moon.
Once, while lodging at a riverside hostel in early autumn, I got up in the morning to look at the bamboos and saws the mist, sunlight and shadows floating amongst their sparse branches and dense leaves. Greatly inspired, I wanted to paint them. However, the bamboos in my mind went not the same as those I had seen. After preparing my ink and laying out my paper, I lifted the brush to paint. Suddenly the bamboos had changed. They did not resemble the bamboos I pictured in my mind. Having a conception before starting to paint is a guiding principle; however, the potential for variation outside that principle is what is interesting, and this does not apply to painting alone.
When I make a large scroll of bamboos, I take great delight in the application of water, because water and bamboo are so closely related. Shaoling1 once said in a poem, “Indolent by nature, I live near water and bamboo.” He also said, “Water courses through the reflections of bamboos in the river.” Isn’t this proof enough? Around the Weichuan River is a vast expanse of paddy-fields, and around the Qiquan Lake are green bamboo. This is also true in the northwest, to say nothing of the area between the Xiaoxiang River and the Yunmeng Marshes and beyond Dongting Lake. Where there is water there must be bamboo. I studied near Mao Family Bridge in Zhenzhou and always used to take walks among the bamboos there. When the tide recede, soft, sandy land appears; when it comes in again, the lovely green reflections of bamboos can be seen in the rippling water. Sometimes dozens of little fish can be seen near the surface, darting to and fro among the bamboo roots and stubbly grasses, almost as though playing with you. I regret that I did not write a poem then. It has remained something I’ve wanted to do, so I will give way to my desire today:
Forests of bamboo bask in the noon sun and gentle breeze,
A stream roaming through their midst.
Gentle ripples disturb its still surface,
And tiny fish dart to and fro, chasing one another.
Suddenly the sun emerges,
Shining over the green branches and leaves.
I cup some water in my hands and drink,
And my benumbed heart becomes green again.
Spreading out my paper, I paint a large scroll,
Three metres long, needing three pecks of ink.
The days are short and I must continue by candlelight,
On autumn nights I hear the wind, bamboo and water
1. Another name for Du Fu, the Tang-dynasty poet.（Song Shouquan 译）