烟壶随笔 | Snuff Bottle Blog
烟壶随笔 | Snuff Bottle Blog
The opportunity to design and paint a set of inner painted bottles on Master Hong Yi life strories 弘一大师 came from a bottle that I had sold previously, a bottle that depicted the sorrowness of Tang Dynasty last emperor, Emperor Li Yi, after he has lost the country. Initially, I was nervous about the assignment, this is because I have little knowledge on Master Hong Yi. The only thing that I know about Master Hong Yi is his famous tune: farewell (送别) and a well-known photography of him that show his melancholy and yet benevolent smile.
I took great effort and time to prepare myself for the assignment. I repeatedly watched and studied all the movies, books and articles that I could find on Master Hong Yi. It took me more than 6 months of preparation before I feel that I have gathered and understand enough of the Master life journey to start designing and painting the bottles. Master Hong Yi life was filled with extraordinary experiences: His early days are characterized by his talents in many artistic area like music, western oil painting, theatre and drama, Chinese calligraphy and seal carving. Yet, when Master Hong Yi decided to become a monk and practice Buddhism, he became one of the most respected abbot that had brought Buddhism to another height in his era. The only artistic pursue that Master Hong Yi never let go even when he became a monk is his love of calligraphy. Master Hong Yi’s calligraphy is always recognized as one of the best in Chinese history because of the simplicity and calmness that it portray. Looking at his calligraphic work, the audiences can experience the Zen, simplicity, peaceful yet powerful inner strength of Master Hong Yi achieved through Buddhism.
For the first painting for Master Hong Yi’s life, I drew inspiration from the Diamond Sutra characteristic verse: 如梦如幻, meaning life is an illusion and revelry. The Diamond Sutra is Master Hong Yi’s most familiar sutra since young. As a child, Master Hong Yi has already had the ability to decipher the teaching of Buddha much more profoundly compared to most people. Through his life journey on calligraphy, Master Hong Yi has always include this four words, 如梦如幻, as part of his work. I believed that the Master must had a more profound understanding of these phrase and words compared to a normal person like me…… as I tried to understand the true meaning of these words with my limited knowledge on the Sutra as a commoner.
For the second side of the first bottle, I choose the handsome and multi-talented image of Li ShuTong as the subject. Li ShuTong is the name of Master HongYi before he became a monk. At his teen, Li ShuTong was already a well-known name in poetry, calligraphy and seal carving. Li ShuTong is also a member of the 5 talented friends who called themselves the “Friends of the Worlds’ End”. They performed in numerous Chinese opera and the drama houses in various theatre in ShangHai. Li Shutong talent and interest in art is the driving force for him to further his studies in Japan. Upon his return to China, he became the first person to include nude painting classes in schools and colleges in China. He is also instrumental in introducing western classical music, drama and plays into China.
The next bottle started with the love story of Li ShuTong when he was studying in Japan. I thought that his romance with the Japanese lady that eventually became his wife is a chapter that cannot be ignored in his eventful life. One the other side of the bottle, I draw Li ShuTong with his piano and a backdrop of a class of Chinese students painting with a male nude model. Li ShuTong was instrumental in introducing Western music and Art into China. He is the first to start nude painting as an art class curriculum in famous college and school in HangZhou and Nanking. Although using only male nude model, the act of painting nude in China at that time became a sensation in the art circle in the country. Li ShuTong tutored a few famous artist and musician of that era, the most famous being the cartoonist Feng ZhiKai and musician Liu ZePing. The famous cartoon series 护生画集, was initially a series of drawing by Feng ZhiKai and short novel by then Master HongYi. After Master HongYi deceased, Feng ZhiKai remain committed to carry on drawing and writing as a memoir for his teacher. The final collection was a compilation of 46 years of work from Feng and Master Hong Yi 弘一大师 and is published into 7 books. HuSengHua Zi became an important and representative book that descript the Chinese society in the early to mid of 1990s through Feng’s cartoon drawing and Zen, Buddhism teaching through Master Hong Yi 弘一大师 novel.
The Third bottle started with the scene of Li ShuTong deciding to put everything he had achieved behind to go into monkhood. I painted these page in a dreary mood and showing his crying Japanese wife at the backdrop when she found him in the monastery in HangZhou. Li’s wife begged him to go home with her and when all her effort seems fruitless, she asked him the last question…… “What is Love?”Li ShuTong answered her that “Love is benevolence.” With that said, Li ShuTong never turn back and became Master Hong Yi 弘一大师. He whole heartedly put all his effort into the study and research of the most difficult and strictest sect and teaching of Buddhism. Master Hong Yi 弘一大师 travelled around the country to teach in various monastery and became one of the four most famous monk in the Republican time.
The most familiar and famous portrait of Master Hong Yi 弘一大师 must definitely be represented in this series of bottle. This page is also titled 悲欣交集 (a labyrinth of gladness and melancholies), which is the last four word that is written by the Master before he passed away peacefully in the monastery. Lastly, I used Li ShuTong most famous song and verse 送别 (farewell) as the theme of the last painting of this series of bottles. The lyric and the painting of two parting friends under the setting sun gave me a fulfilling ending to the different types of emotion and feeling as I walked through this experiences of creating this series of bottle. The titles of all the painting are also carefully selected from various words and phrases that was used by Li ShuTong or Master Hong Yi 弘一大师 through his lifetime. I am sure that for those people that are familiar with the life of Master Hong Yi 弘一大师, these simple verse will bring back meaningful, happy and fulfilling memories of him.
I know that my effort will never be adequate to represent even one tenth of Master Hong Yi 弘一大师 life time achievement. But I am grateful that I am given this opportunity to embark onto researching, studying, designing and finally painting this series of bottles on Master Hong Yi 弘一大师 life stories. The experience has undoubtedly help myself to learn and better my own artistic level and gradation. It’s a humbling, fulfilling and beneficial journey.
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