Spangler Painting is a Fusion of Styles

This time of year, Spangler can be a pretty pleasant place to spend time. The fires are roaring, lots of people are milling about and there is a ton of amazing art on the wall.

I have too frequently found myself racing down the long corridor to secure one of the comfy couches, but this week I made sure to pause in the hallway outside the Meredith Room on the main floor where there is a beautiful work of art by Zhang Hongtu. This oil on canvas painting, “Wang Juan-Cezanne,” is part of a generous donation by Gerald W. Schwartz (HBS ’70).

Zhang Hongtu graduated from the Central Academy of Arts and Crafts, Beijing, in 1969, and moved to New York in 1982. He has been widely exhibited in the United States and abroad, and he has received many awards including the National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artists Fellowship.

The work on display is part of a larger body of work made up of many pieces titled “Repaint Chinese Shan Shui Painting.”
The painting “Wang Juan-Cezanne” calls to mind two very distinctive styles of art. At first glance, you could be deceived into thinking this is purely an impressionist work. The coloring would be your first clue as the artist uses the pallet of French landscape painters such as Monet and Cezanne. The hues contrast vividly as the oranges of the rocks and mountains make the blues of the water and sky almost pop off the canvas.
In addition to his use of color and contrast, the artist also applies the paint with distinctive brush strokes. This not only adds texture, but also breaks the scene into more geometric and linear shapes.

As your eyes adjust to the piece, you will notice your line of view following the river up toward the looming mountain where it meets the blue sky. The subject matter is that of classic Chinese landscape painting, known as shanshui (“mountain, water”).

In each corner of this sky there are Chinese characters taken from older ink paintings of the 16th Century. Hongtu uses a brush and thinned oil to make the calligraphy look like the ink of the originals. This very clear and skillfully painted lettering is set off even further by its positioning against the stylized back drop.
That the artist’s juxtapositon of these two styles is not arbitrary. Many of the impressionists spent time studying Chinese art and borrowed heavily from the masters. Hongtu is also very deliberate in selecting the two artists he brings together in this piece. In his own words “I have matched Dong Qichang, a Ming Dynasty painter who uses a lot of geometric shapes, with C‚zanne,” another painter known for this ability.

Another way to look at this piece is to appreciate the message the artist is trying to get across about combining art from different periods. He is essentially uniting the new with the old to create something beautiful and dynamic. The message should not be lost on anyone here at HBS that traditions and the past play an important role in shaping the future.

January 23, 2006
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