On the incident of the “Bird’s nest in the style of Cubism” (2008)

Zhang Hongtu's painting Bird's Nest in the Style of Cubism was seized by Chinese customs in July 2008.

There were three reasons from the Customs which stopped this painting into China: 

1. The colors of the painting are too dull;
2. The image of the Bird's Nest is no good;
3. The words on the painting are not acceptable.

Zhang Hongtu wrote six questions on this incident:

1. Can an artist have views different from those of the government?
2. Is it a good or bad thing if an artist’s views are different from those of the government?
3. Do people have a right to hear voices different from that of the government?
4. Artistic works which harm national security should be restricted.
   Does “Bird Nest in the Style of Cubism” harm national security in any way?
5. Is it wrong to have words such as “Tibet” and “human rights” on the painting?
6. Is it the business of the Customs what colors an artist paints with?

On Shan Shui Today (2008)

Dong Qichang said that to make a painting, one must "travel ten thousand miles, read ten thousand books". I once envisioned the ancient Chinese Shan Shui painting masters traveling to late 19th century Paris. This thought was one of the original motivations for my hybrid Shan Shui painting series which I began almost a decade ago.

Dong Qichang also said that to make a painting, one must " Take nature as teacher " and " reveal the soul of mountain and water. " I tried to envision how the ancient Chinese Shan Shui painting masters would face TODAY'S mountain and water? For example, if Ma Yuan (ca.1190 - ca.1225) were to stand before today's rivers and lakes, fouled by chemical toxins and industrial waste, would he still be able to paint his twelve-part "Water Album?” This kind of consideration guided my new series.

On On-Going Shan Shui Series (1999)

For this On-Going Shan Shui series, I go back to tradition - Actually I never thought I broke from tradition-but these paintings are really very, very traditional. The colors and brush works are impressionist and post-impressionist, the images are from the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, the media are oil and canvas.

To recycle an old style is considered a good thing today. To copy a masterpiece was a tradition in China. It is fun to face the past as my art move toward the future.

What is shan shui?
In Chinese characters "shan" can be written as:

and "shui" can be written as:

Got the meaning?
Yes, "shan" is translated as "hill" or "mountain" and "shui" is translated as "water" or "river".

In the Chinese-English dictionary, "shan shui hua" ("hua"=painting) is translated as "Chinese landscape painting" and for many English speakers, "Chinese landscape painting" means all ancient Chinese paintings with mountain and water images.

I believe that all ancient Chinese paintings with mountain and water images should only be called "shan shui painting." When Chinese painters work on shan shui painting, they do not try to present an image of what they have seen in the nature, but what they have felt, thought and imagined about nature. No one cares whether the painted colors and shapes look like the real object or not.

So, "shan shui painting" can not be translated as "landscape painting". I want everyone to call ancient Chinese paintings with the images of mountains and water "shan shui painting" instead of "Chinese landscape painting". Besides, "shan shui" is not too difficult to pronounce, just follow me loudly read this word three times, you will never forget it.


Writings on Shan Shui paintings

Thank you for coming so close in order to read this calligraphy. You must be able to understand Chinese, right? However, have you noticed something truly unfortunate has happened? When you come close enough to be able to read these words, which is to say just at this moment, you lose the possibility of enjoying the painting as a whole. So . . . please step back five or six steps (but be careful not to bump into anyone or anything behind you!) Find what you feel to be an appropriate distance and angle, and shift your attention from these words to the painting. Thank you for your attention.
---Zhao Mengfu-Monet (Noon)

The reworking of this painting is based on Monet's original work which now hangs in museums and my personal impressions experienced thirty years ago in the countryside outside of Suzhou.
---Mi Youren-Monet

February 1888, Van Gogh first arrives in the south of France. He describes the scene of the snow:
“…there's at least 2 feet of fallen snow everywhere, and it is still falling…And the landscapes in the snow, with the summits white against a sky as luminous as the snow, were just like winter landscapes done by the Japanese.”

Well, Van Gogh has never seen the “Picture of a cold forest in snow” by Fan Kuan. This painting was completed in February 2006. While painting this, there was at least 2 feet of fallen snow everywhere in New York City.
---Fan Kuan-van Gogh (Winter)

Shan Shui after Fan Kuan, 9.4" x 10" in Fan format by Anonymous (Song Dynasty),
Collected by the Princeton University Art Museum.
Re-done based on Van Gogh's Saint-Remy Starry Night (1890).
While working on this piece, I was disoriented; I didn't know where I was and what era I was in.
---Anonymous (Song) - Van Gogh. PUAM

This painting by Dong Qichang has been circulated overseas, which is a great fortune for the Chinese people as well as everyone else in the world.

Three years ago I had planned on re-doing the painting, and have just now completed this. It does have some resemblance.
---Dong Qichang - Cezanne #11

Dong Qichang would understand the most about my concept of Re-Do.
First of all, Dong copied old masters, I copy Dong. What is the difference.
Secondly, Dong said; An artist should "read ten thousand volumes, travel ten thousand miles".
If Dong is alive today, he must have read all the modern art history books and traveled all through France. Dong would not only understands my Re-Do concept, he would invite me to Hua-Ting for drinks and to chat about art.

Believe it or not.
--- Dong Qichang - Cezanne #6

On Material Mao (1992)

I believe in the power of the image, but I don't believe in the authority of the image.

If you stare at a red shape for a long time, when you turn away, your retina will hold the image but you will see a green version of the same shape. In the same way, when I lived in China, I saw the positive image of Mao so many times that my mind now holds a negative image of Mao. In my art I am transferring this psychological feeling to a physical object.

Sometimes the hole in my work might remind you of the Nothingness of Taoism or the negative space of traditional Chinese ink painting, but the visual inspiration of my work comes directly from a bagel.