Never Give in—about Qi Lan
Source:Artintern Author:Song Li Date: 2013-12-30 Size:
Qi Lan always kept his own pace with unbelievable ease and confidence in every aspect of his life—study,love, and painting...

Qi Lan's work

It is really hard to write about a person I have been familiar with for more than twenty years. It never occurs to me that I will write down a word about Qi Lan or his paintings, although I often talk a lot of nonsense in front of him, or have a fierce argument with him, or keep silent because of a certain secret reason. In fact, I can hardly write down any word to match his writing talent.  

He always kept his own pace with unbelievable ease and confidence in every aspect of his life—study,love, and painting. No one knew what he was doing in the drawing studio until they were shocked by his works at a certain moment. He had a strong sense of identification, lived by and large in the world of himself, and was often carried away in reading and painting. On a winter night in Nanjing, when we waited for someone at an alley entrance, he excitedly told us about the anecdotes and stories of Tao Hua Shan (The Peach Blossom Fan)。 Seeing that he stamped his feet and rubbed his hands, and the vapor from by his mouth was floating around under the dim-yellow streetlights, I suddenly realized in astonishment that Kong Shangren was once standing on this land.

One day, when I was painting in the studio, he came in with a light heart, opened the window and sighed that “ it is the right time to read A Dream of Red Mansions when the autumn wind rises”。 I didn’t look up and replied “sick as you are”。 He was hilarious with my reply and asked his friend Jin Dan to carve these four words on a stone seal. That was a stone of weird shape and dark color, and he has been keeping it as a precious treasure. He elaborated on the numerous details in A Dream of Red Mansions, challenging other people’s limit of memory about the book’s various editions and pages (He was most familiar with the edition annotated by Qi Gong and published by People’s Literature Publishing House)。 When we discussed about Shi Xiangyun in the drawing studio, he could keep talking for five hours as if he hadn’t talked to his heart’s content. To date, he still enjoys torturing his old friends by raising online questions and demanding answers in time-limits. No, he is not so much interested in showing off his knowledge as expressing his passion.

Though not good at sports, Qi Lan has swift feet. I had been for many times amazed by his mountaineering skills during the undergraduate years when we sketched in the wild. Once I was sitting for rest half way up the mountain, making out a figure moving like an ant on the path of the faraway mountain in white clouds. Then after a while he suddenly showed up behind me and pointed to the distance and told me that“I just went to that mountain”。 Afterwards, I was used to it and didn’t feel surprised at all. When I arrived in Nanjing for the first time and wanted to buy a writing-brush washer, he was glad to show the way. It was a long distance walking from Huangguayuan to Chaotiangong and then to Xinjiekou, and I had to get rid of my high-heeled shoes and ran into a shoe shop for a new pair to relieve my pain in foot. The similar thing happened when we went to the Nanjing museum another day. We got up early and entered the museum at around 9 o’clock. We kept talking and sighing, and sat on the floor watching Ba Da Shan Ren’ painting of the Sika Deer when we were tired, and left the museum when it was quiet around. He took out his Nokia cellphone from his pocket and said “well, it was over 4’O clock”。 At that time I found Nanjing’s cold grey twilight gradually unfolding behind the barren tree branches.

All the small memories have glowed with patina as time passed by. Qi Lan is a person who likes “patina”, and the word is used by him to describe the stones he often stokes in his hands, the stone slopes made smooth by kids sliding on them in front of Chaotiangong, some ambiguous secular attitudes, as well as the beautiful girls and his own painting works.

It was by the end of 2008 that I knew he began to paint oil paintings. The title of Artron’s interview with him is “Enjoy life to the full—let alone painting” and he painted Huang Binhong with a skullcap. This was his painting declaration, withstanding the acknowledgement and impression from all his teachers and friends that he was a traditional scholar who pursued perfect traditional aesthetics, and who was marked by “extraordinary retentive memory”, “accurate and numerous references” and “outstanding eloquence”。 It was his zest for classic works, fascination with poetry and interests in seal stones that made him often forget his sleep and meal. In those years, the cigarette smoke and the various tones of Peking Opera from the recorder were permeating the studio of the second floor at Nanjing Arts Institute. His classmates, who were more or less interested in philosophy or literature, were all put under his evaluations by him. He almost reached a limit of “oldness”, as he “refrained from reading the books of the contemporary authors in twenty years”。 Traditional as he was, he started oil paintings out of our expectations. I felt a sense of quietness after the lingering shocks and believed that he was what he was.

He bids farewell to the masters—Ni Zan, Wang Meng, Dong Qichang, Wang Yuanqi—whom he once greatly admired and tried to emulated in the drawing studio. This is perplexing enough to trigger off different speculations about him. What does Qi Lan want to do? When we center round the classic works, we often feel overwhelmed by the unfathomably high and deep road in front of us and try to secure a pitiful sense of security in a limited space. Qi Lan is extremely sensitive and critical to any discussion on water and ink paintings, puffing smoke rings with the nostril up, subject to nobody’s judgments, even those of his teachers. Probably, the history of painting is what it is, making the wise courageous, and the ignorant timid.

Qi Lan showed his rebelliousness in the time when he learned Chinese traditional painting, groping for something exciting again and again in the numerous and jumbled cases in history. Behind his scholarly manners, he disliked all the formula methods in painting, and experimented with free dotting, smearing, sketching, daubing techniques,releasing his most fresh emotions at will in the inhabited wilderness. The repeated and chaotic brushstrokes in his paintings turned into his electrocardiogram, showing his simplicity, devotion and free will. He had undefeatable courage and fighting capacity in his endless pursuit. He had been working repeatedly on a small-sized painting in the course of four years, and he ridiculed his own painting process as “practical jokes”。 For a person like me who knows little about the contemporary oil painting circle, he is probably the one painter who emphasizes greatly on the “patina” of paintings.

Afterwards, I found many critics used the words like “conflict” and “struggle” in their articles about Qi Lan’s paintings. Considering his talent and intelligence, Qi Lan doesn’t need to go through conflicts and struggles in real life. As long as he conforms to the rules, he can get the so-called accomplishments pursued by common people. However, he goes beyond this level. Exposed to the cultivation of old-style private school in his childhood, he is destined to form his own consciousness of traditional cultural context. He has distanced himself from this time’s machine mass production and dispelled the possibility that any pattern could suit him. How could he give in? His seeks for the extremes in aesthetics, emotions, and spirituality, rather than the vain desire and name in reality. All the impossible contradictions may go together miraculously in his disposition, and he even plays Tai Ji in a joking way between reality and ideality. When his friends raised eyebrows for the wonders he created, he calmly replied that “every artist is a complete planet”。

In this disintegrated times, Qi Lan is complete. When most students and scholars are complacent about their time-consuming work by filling forms and doing so-called researches, he has moved above, grinning slyly from his own atmosphere. His choices and his refusals have never been troubled by other people’s opinions, and he acts like a soldier who never gives in to make his dreams come true in the cement jungles. Indulging himself in the unbridled feelings in his heart, he withdraws from the ancient books of great obscurity and waves goodbye to the past. Bye, might be the bugle call for his starting on a new journey.

Song Li, in Yangzhou


[Editor] 孙雯