Saturday, March 29, 2008

Original Chinese Watercolor with Tibetan Antelope and Shepherdess

The title of this painting is “The Song of the Shepherd,” as inscribed in Chinese characters along the top of the painting. The sharp detail of the inks and sparse use of vibrant colors creates an evocative scene. The animals in the painting appear to be Tibetan antelope, a threatened species widely poached for valuable skins and wool. By pairing the shepherdess with these endangered animals, the artist makes a comment on China’s disappearing traditions. This beautifully rendered painting pays tribute to the history and folklore of China’s West.

From the northern Gobi rangelands to the southern Tibetan Plateau, the western reaches of China are home to nomadic ethnicities and cultures. Geographically the area is characterized by arid grasslands, deserts and towering mountain ranges. The summer heat can be oppressive and the winter chill is routinely sub zero. For centuries, survival in the region depended on nomadic traditions of herding livestock and journeying from established homesteads to distant pastures. To this day the area has the largest sheep and goat population in the world. Even in the dark ages, before "Walkmans" and "iPods", music and song was an important part of local cultures as they traveled with their livestock. Throat singing and tunes played on a Dombra, a traditional instrument stringed with sheep intestine, were mainstays in the ears of local populations.

The style of this painting, a one of a kind original, employs a unique combination of simple “fast brush” work with isolated areas of finer detail. The grassland and animals are almost mere blotches of color fading off into the bare white background of the rice paper. In contrast the figure is created with dark defining brush strokes and brighter colors. The result is captivating. The shepherdess stares out at you from her fading environment. She is not quite pleading or desperate, but simply observing. Both the character and viewer are paying witness to a tide of progress. The painting does not seem to stage an abject protest but only seeks to make record and prompt you to ask yourself if this is the right path for civilization to take.

You can view more vintage and contemporary watercolor paintings at

No comments: