Chinese painting especially flower and bird planting can be classified into two main categories :
- Gongbi (工筆).
- Xieyi (寫意)
Gongbi (工筆) is a detailed realist technique in Chinese painting. The name is from the Chinese term gong ji (工技) meaning ‘tidy’ (meticulous brush craftsmanship). The gongbi technique uses highly detailed brushstrokes that define the objects very precisely and without independent or expressive variation. Usually the outline of the objects is precisely drawn and layers of colours are filled within the outlines. The paintings are often highly coloured.
The following six paintings are typical examples of Gongbi paintings. The paintings were unsigned and undated. Mr Ip painted these paintings as demonstration during my private lessons with him in the 1980s in his studio.
Xieyi (寫意) is a freehand brush work style. Xieyi literally means “writing ideas”. It was formed in a long period of artistic activities and promoted by the literati (文人). This kind of artwork does not chase for the exact resemblance of the objects. Instead the artists emphasize on the beauty of the brushstrokes. Outlines are not drawn and the object may be painted with a single brush stroke or with a limited number of brush strokes. Good Xieyi paintings can grasp the most essential spiritual characteristics. Through the inheritance and development in the past dynasties, freehand brush work has gradually become the most influential and popular genre.
Master artists like Mr Ip can paint flowers to a very high degree of likeness even in Xieyi painting.
In the painting above, the tip of the brush was charged with two or more colours. The stem was painted in a single stroke but shades of more than two colours can be seen. This demonstrates a very high level of skills.
The beautiful demonstration flower paintings of Mr Ip can truly tell the stories of the two different styles.