Wednesday, 27 March 2013

On the Map

'About the year 1215, a Zen priest called Mu Ch'i came to Hangchow, where he rebuilt a ruined monastery. By rapid swirls of ink he attempted, with undeniable success, to capture the moments of exaltation and set down the fleeting visions which he obtained from the frenzy of wine, the stupor of tea, or the vacancy of inanition. Ch'en Jung, about the same time, was noted for the simplicity of his life and he competence with which he fulfilled his duties as a magistrate... Finally, he was admired for his habits of a confirmed drunkard. "He made clouds by splashing ink on his pictures. For mists he spat out water. When wrought up by wine he uttered a great shout and, seizing his hat, used it as a brush, roughly smearing his drawing; after which he finished his work with a proper brush." One of the first painters of the sect, Wang Hsia, who lived in the early ninth century, would perform when he was drunk real tours de force, going so far as to plunge his head into a bucket of ink and flop it over a piece of silk on which there appeared, as if by magic, lakes, trees, enchanted mountains. But none seems to have carried emancipation further, among these priests, than Ying Yu-chien, secretary of the famous temple Ching-tzu ssii, who would take a cat-like pleasure in spattering and lacerating the sheet.'
                                                                Georges Duthuit, Chinese Mysticism and Modern Painting
Gospodin Stotinki's contributions to the visual arts have been discussed in these pages before. Inspired by the extraordinary approach of 13th century Zen painters, a near-fatal incident in which he was unable to withdraw his head from a wooden bucket of ox's blood, marked an inevitable change of course from active painter to art critic. Stotinki's interpretations were often unconventional and have been unfairly branded as 'nonsensical drivel.' In this extract he considers Coldstream's 1937 painting On the Map:

'In a haze of uncertain heat two figures are baffled by a landscape which does not exist, an absence of countryside that can only be represented by a map of nothingness held facing away from the one who reads it. These are not, as is often suggested, the artist's friends Graham Bell and Igor Anrep. Close examination shows that they are aspects of the same person. A man, standing baffled by the cartography of the void, is accompanied by his spirit body who sits, barefoot, spattered with the dirt of a desperate flight or furious pursuit through tangled woods and mud-mired tracks. Now he sits in exhausted contemplation of what? A towering spectre of horror just out of sight? Beyond the figures, the Mister Punch simulacrum tree feeds its hungry dinosaur brood with unseen arboreal plankton.'

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