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Fu Baoshi’s Sympathetic Ink

In China’s wartime capital of Chongqing, under siege of terror bombing by the Japanese air force, Fu Baoshi (1904–65) painted an image of the ‘Cursive Script Sage’ Huaisu (act. 730–80) (Fig. 1). In the painting, titled The Inebriated Monk (Zuiseng tu), the monk sits cross-legged beneath an arched canopy of pines. A visitor and his attendant stand by, transfixed by the larger-than-life figure before them. Huaisu is indifferent to their presence. A sense of solitariness emerges from the ring of trees encircling him, as well as from the different scale of being that he inhabits. His eyes look neither to his visitors nor to the brush and scroll in his hands, but inwards. However, the mottled slate greys of his robe merge with the shelf of rock on which he sits, and the mossy dots on his neck are picked up in the bark of the pines. Fu’s brush technique unites Huaisu’s body with the landscape. The sage is distinctly alone, yet is one with his environment, camouflaged, vanishing into the trees and thence into the surface of the painting.

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September/October 2020
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