Pan Dehai - A Wandering Painter
Source:Artintern Author:Dong Xue Date: 2008-07-23 Size:
At the first sight of him, I knew that he was a lonely and wandering painter; wherever he goes, his heart is always wandering, feeling lonely and painful, and the existence seems to have evolved into a kind of pain.

Silence. Always silence. Nobody knows what he is thinking about. But it seems that you can see something from his eyes. I know there is not a person who really understands him, including me, for language never can truthfully reflect inner heart. You cannot see his passion and impulse in the heart; what you can see is his paintings, and his silence.


About him, people only know that he is always suffering on the verge of loneliness and puzzlement, only know that he is a man of few words, and only know that he is always deeply hidden in the abyss of weariness and dullness. But people never know what they themselves are concerned about are actually meaningless and worthless things. He is always indulged in those old warm feelings of life in his earlier years. Yet, to the present life, he feels strange and hesitant. He cannot but hide all his ideas and words deep in the heart, until some day he bursts out all of them on his art, making people stunned.

At the first sight of him, I knew that he was a lonely and wandering painter; wherever he goes, his heart is always wandering, feeling lonely and painful, and the existence seems to have evolved into a kind of pain. While people are indulged in comfortable life and forget about pains, he is careful and earnest to feel a deep loneliness and painfulness of his own. And this loneliness and painfulness deep in his heart is not to be violated by other people. I can’t help asking myself: Is he happy? Has he ever felt the happiness and pleasantness of life, even once by chance? However, the pursuit of dream is so hard that he is always drifting and wandering, without knowing where it is his final destination.

Such is a wandering painter. Look at his eyes, and you will feel his vicissitudes and sufferings. What a heavy pressure he used to shoulder on, struggling for survival in strange places! But he never spoke it out. Perhaps, he is destined to accept some unavoidable things, taste all the hardships in life, and fight the real and non-accidental fate which is hidden in his heart.

Perhaps, only from his paintings can you feel his indignation and unrestraint, his calmness and meditation, his eccentricity and peculiarity. In his wild and unconventional early years, you can see a free release of his intrinsic spirit. That is a kind of indignation, a strong furor without any restrictions. It is hard to imagine that a taciturn man like him should produce such works. From his surface you are never able to feel a man’s inner-heart craze and vigor, his grievances and sufferings, for you can never touch a man’s fantasy in the depth of his soul. If you ask him or glorify him, he may only answer you with a silent smile.

Don’t think of him as a cold-hearted person. In fact, if you return to the most secret world in his innermost heart, or return to the state of his real “self”, you will see a kind, pure and affectionate man. In his brain, he is full of mysterious, eccentric and generally incomprehensible fantasies about the composition of universe and the meaning of life, and besides, he cherishes a memory, a memory of bits and pieces of the past things.

When I walked into his simple house for the first time, I saw many things that would have been left unused by other people: old abacus, old chopping board, porcelain jars, broken bowls, old-fashioned radios, bamboo-made water jugs… At the sight of them, I could not but feel sorrowful. These objects, which accompanied us in our life for many days and many years, have long been forgotten and discarded, but he still keeps them as treasures. Today, such daily necessities are various and beautiful, yet who will think about them? Modern, popular and fashionable, all these objects are so cold-faced that we can no longer find a bit of sensibility and warmth. The old merry days in the 70s and 80s, poor yet happy, hardships yet passions, are never to be recalled. The spirits, passions and fantasies in those years are irreplaceable by anything today. Everything has changed, and changed so suddenly. But he has remained unchanged. He will never change. He is still missing those old merry days.


In his endless memory he thinks of his native land, the vast expanse of cornfield, the people there and everything he was once very familiar there. Looking around in his memory, he vaguely sees the aged face of his grandma, the hills behind the old thatched house, the crop lands, and a little girl. Is she a playmate of his at childhood? Everything is extending bigger and wider in his memory. He sees himself, his playmates, their voices and their faces. He smells the horse manure in the stable and the burning firewood in the kitchen. He misses the bitter taste of plums and the nice sweet taste of hazelnuts in the bushes. He remembers sitting on the hilltop, eating the hazelnuts they have just picked and overlooking at a train which is creeping like a small green insect down the hill. In those days, the sun was golden yellow, shining over the vast field and penetrating into his heart, turning into a memory that he would never forget all his life. Scene after scene of the past years rushed through his mind. “Corncobs” exposes a naked and powerfully beating heart before your eyes, full of true love and affection. He has really moved everybody and shocked everybody’s heart, and our hearts are burning together with his. We cannot erase something deeply rooted in everybody’s mind, no matter where they are and where they will go. Even one day when you leave this world, it will never vanish.

Slowly, it comes to this day when materialism and commercialism run rampant, and everything seems to be in a rash. The wild and passionate days in the past are just like the burning of a meteor, left in a quiet corner of the memory. It is in such an era that artists are trying hard to retain a bit of quietness in their inner heart, paying more attention to themselves. Some of them are enjoying the benefits of the times, or become somewhat averse to this vulgar society. What he sees in such an era is that we people have gradually lost something personal or individual; in such an era we have lost thought; and in such an era we no longer need pains and beliefs. He sees his former friends have one by one become fatter and fatter, and are talking about similar things, just like a group of people collectively falling into a filthy pond, or like a saturated frog patting on the belly and sticking out the tongue. People’s desires are swelling, their living conditions are better and better, their foodstuffs are more and more abundant, and their bodies are fatter and fatter. Yet, they have no more thoughts, no more wishes and no more breath of life. The desire for survival, in itself, is very pure, but people add too many worldly things to the originally pure life. We are losing things, losing weight and self. We have gradually forgotten many things, and even forgotten a true self. What will be our future? Where shall we go? In “Fatties” are a group of taciturn fat people, as fat as balls, with the same clothes and the same facial expressions, yet without thought and without self. Looking at these fat people, you will find them a little bit funny or lovely, and meanwhile, somewhat sad. They are slowly falling down, but they themselves do not realize it. They are like balloons in the air, without knowing where to drift. We never feel the presence of crisis. We live only to satisfy our desires. Yet, what is the real meaning of human existence? He has restored to the original state. In his paintings today, you no longer see impulses and passions; what you can see, perhaps, is only coldness and sadness. However, the memory of the past still hovers in his brain and makes a vast difference from everything present. They interweave with one another and stick together, so he feels disordered and confused, which he never felt before. Thus, in Laborers, he is still unable to avoid and forget the past days, returning to the original point, returning to the most truthful self. He wants to present the most truthful part of his heart to us. This is the only thing he can do now.

No matter how the world and the society change, this wandering painter always retains the truest and the purest aspect of him. Just like a child, no matter how he grows up over the passage of time, he retains his pureness and kindness. With his curious and observable eyes, he looks at all this, and the change of all this is always in a memory of the past.

Ever since the day I decided to live together with him, I have been ready, myself and my soul, to follow him in his wandering life, sharing his painfulness and loneliness, for his wandering life is in pursuit of his dream and his art. I know that he cannot give me the worldly happiness, nor will he bring me a pleasant melody. What he can give me, perhaps, is only a small and shabby attic, and a window facing the north so that I can see the stars……

[Editor] Mark Lee