In traditional China, painting was revered as “silent poetry,” while poetry was seen as “painting with sound.” Both art forms found expression through the medium of calligraphy, which was considered the “art of handwriting.” Scholars and artist-scholars incorporated calligraphic brushstrokes into their paintings, viewing their artworks as vehicles for self-expression. Consequently, painting was not only regarded as an art form of equal purity and lyricism to poetry and contemplative thought but also as a means to evoke sensory experiences, emotions, and a holistic engagement with the world.
For Western observers, it may be intriguing why Chinese artists incorporate writing in their paintings and what significance the characters hold. By examining some of H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III’s paintings, we can gain insight into these questions and witness the embodiment of the concept known as the “Three Perfections.” This concept represents the harmonious fusion of fine painting, poetry, and calligraphy within a single artwork.
This painting, titled “Song of the Waves in the Three Gorges,” beautifully captures the grandeur of splash-ink technique alongside the charm of water and ink colors. Its overall tone carries a weighty presence. The brushwork employed in this artwork evokes a powerful sense of momentum, lively charm, and a vividness akin to the scene of a long, flowing river just passing by. The inclusion of a few small sailboats adds elegance to the water scene as they gracefully navigate through it. The combination of the mighty river and awe-inspiring mountains, enveloped in mist and holding sacred spaces, has a purifying effect on one’s emotions. This painting possesses a quality that is reminiscent of both poetry and calligraphy.
Notably, H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III has inscribed an elegant Chinese poem onto this painting, which can be translated as follows: “The song of waves echoes in the gorge. Hanging colors of rocky cliffs burst with charm. A few cloudy, misty mountains reveal shades of blue. The vast water’s melody sets the sails in motion.” This poem aptly captures the beautiful and misty landscape of the Three Gorges, where the water and sky harmoniously blend, and human emotions become intertwined with the scenery. This painting serves as an artistic paragon, showcasing the mastery of poetic, calligraphic, and painting skills.
This remarkable painting showcases a rare combination of splash-ink and splash-color techniques, displaying the artist’s bold and skillful brushwork. The resulting natural effect achieved through these techniques is truly indescribable. Within the bold and dynamic brushstrokes, one can discern countless intricate details and traces of charm emerging from the flowing watery ink.
The painting depicts a scene of mountains and water during the approaching dusk, conveying a profound message. The poem imparts the wisdom that we should strive to engage in virtuous deeds rather than harmful actions, treating all living beings with kindness and respect. By embodying such a way of life, one can transcend to another realm and grasp the truth of existence beyond the concepts of birth and death. This painting offers a profound contemplation on the purpose and significance of human existence.
The calligraphy in the two art works are executed in a cursive style, known for its swift and dynamic strokes. Cursive writing is often characterized by its rapidity and vitality, effectively conveying the artist’s profound emotions.
These paintings are in the permanent exhibition at The International Art Museum of America in downtown San Francisco. Admission of the museum is free.
The Three Perfections: Image, Poem, and Calligraphy in Chinese Painting
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