Museum's exhibition shows lives of ancient 'rockaholics'

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Part of Ming Dynasty painter Wu Bin's long scroll entitled Ten Views of a Fantastic Rock. [Photo provided to China Daily]

A long scroll on display at Beijing's Poly Art Museum is showing visitors how obsessed ancient Chinese intellectuals could be over rocks.

The highlighted work, around 28 meters in length and titled Ten Views of a Fantastic Rock, was painted by Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) artist Wu Bin over one of his friend Mi Wanzhong's Lingbi stones.

Lingbi stone is a kind of ornamental rock with rare textures and shapes found in the county of Lingbi in East China's Anhui province. During the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties, these rocks gradually became tributes for the royals.

Wu portrayed the rock from 10 different vantage points, and Mi wrote the introductions for each of the views. The painting was created in the early 17th century and Mi's literary friends named it "Feifei Rock", indicating there are abundant possibilities to interpret the rock's special shape.

Afterward, calligraphers and painters including Dong Qichang, Chen Jiru, Huang Ruheng and Xing Tong that were contemporary with Wu and Mi, and Qiying of late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) also left messages and stamped signatures on the painting.

Mi, calling himself a "rockaholic", was a descendent of Mi Fu, one of the most renowned calligraphers in Chinese history and a rock lover himself.

According to calligrapher and painter Xiao Ping, Wu applied rich changes in color, shade and lines to portray the rock and left blank cracks to represent the rock's "tendons".

Xiao said the artist was largely influenced by Zen thoughts and his living environment at his mountainous hometown of Putian, located in today's Fujian province. The artist included all his feelings toward nature into the work.

Xiao was speaking at a conference held in Beijing during the weekend to discuss Wu and Mi's life experiences, and the features, techniques and artistic values of their work.

The practice of appreciating the rocks at home, whether putting them on tables or holding them in their hands, was a substitution for trekking into the real landscape to seek an ideal life path, according to Shao Yan, a Chinese painting history professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.

She said Wu used the techniques of drawing clouds, fire and water—— elements often applied in Taoist paintings —— to paint the rock.

Zhu Wanzhang, a researcher at the National Museum of China, pointed out that Mi himself was good at drawing Taihu stones, another kind of well-known ornamental rocks mainly found in the Taihu Lake area in today's Zhejiang, Anhui and Jiangsu provinces, while Wu especially focused on Lingbi stones.

During the late Ming Dynasty, Zhu said, the Chinese were living in a turbulent society where there were acute social contradictions. As the rocks are firm and hard, intellectuals of the time would take stones as a showing of their perseverance.

Previously, part of the work was exhibited in the United States and Switzerland. This marks the first time the whole scroll is on display. The work will go up for auction at the 15th anniversary celebration of Beijing Poly Auction on Oct 16 to 20. A preview will be held through Oct 13 to 15.

The exhibition runs through Oct 8.

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