Less is More
In my college time I took lessons in Chinese traditional ink painting – Guo-hua on rice paper. There are two main styles of painting: Gong-bi and Xie-yi. Gong-bi, the old style, expresses its subjects using contour lines of various quality: short, long, wide, thin, light, heavy, strong, weak, diluted, concentrated and so on. Mineral colors are added after all contour work is done. The paper used has a lot of binder in it and it is not porous, does not absorb the ink. Sometimes the support can be a piece of silk, frequently covered with several washes of concentrated tea for an antique look.
The second style, Xie-yi, freehand style, a dynamic style, is expressed fast, while holding respiration, by transmitting concentrated energy from a fully controlled body to the surface of work. There are no lines for contours, there are mostly shapes, patches of ink full of energy and rich in controlled shades of ink. Every time the brush touches paper must leave a mark of necessity, energy and beauty. No empty marks allowed. This style emerged in Qing Dynasty and was promoted
by rebel artists who wanted freedom of expression. It uses rice paper of very strong absorbency on which everything needs to be done fast in the most energetic way. At first seems to be an impossible task, no escape from running ink. Looking at the work of well known artists and having my own first hand experience, I understood how much coordination and experience are needed to be successful. But the value and beauty of Chinese ink painting does not reside just in the skill of the artist, it resides in the powerful message from a finely balanced composition in which always ” less is more”. My professors insisted on the importance of always applying this concept. A painting is finished only when nothing can be taken away and nothing can be added.