烟壶随笔 | Snuff Bottle Blog
烟壶随笔 | Snuff Bottle Blog
(by Wang Jin Peng, 王金鹏 – Grandson of Wang Xi San)
Self-portrait, is an expression of an artist’s inner world and his spiritual belief at that point of time. Therefore, one of the best way to understand an artist’s journey is to study his self-portrait.
My grandfather is Mr. Wang Xi San (王习三), he is the founder of the Ji style inside painting. He lives an extraordinary life with many ups and downs. During the 60s, just when he was making progress as a promising young artist, he was repatriated to his hometown and left penniless. Instead of giving up, he led the villagers to prosperity with his initiatives of setting up sideline businesses. However, luck was not with him. His house was raided three times by the red guards, arrested twice and he was tortured almost to death, it was a miracle that Grandpa managed to survive through all the hardship.
After the cultural revolution, life gradually became better. My grandfather was invited to give lectures and graced many international snuff bottles exhibitions. He became well known internationally through his art and lectures. One such occasion is when Mr. Ford, chairman of the International Snuff Bottle Society, announced his appointment as the first honorary member of Asia. This was during the 15th ICSBS meeting in Toronto, Canada in 1983. More than 300 collectors from various countries stood up during the occasions and cheered him on., Holding hands and shouting “Wang Xi San! Wang Xi San! Wang Xi San! Number 1 Number 1.”
Grandpa’s was overwhelmed by the support that was given. To him, the honor given was not just a personal honor, but also a testimony of Chinese traditional culture. From my grandfather’s experience, I realized that it is most important to have self-confidence in our own cultural vitality and creativity. I am also confident that Chinese traditional art and culture will be a shiny star internationally.
Self-portrait is a dialogue between the artist and himself. It also expresses his attitude towards his art, his dedication to life and the society. The three self-portraits that Grandpa made were good representation of these attributes.
Grandpa created his first self-portrait in 1982. In this bottle, he proudly gave an account of the story why he adopted “One Bottle Studio” as his studio name (一壶斋). The studio name came from a banner that was given to him by an old Tian Jin scholar named Gong Wang (龚望). It was a verse taken from a late Han Dynasty article He Guan Zhi (鹖冠子): “When a boat capsized, a gourd bottle that keep you from sinking is worth a thousand teals of Gold” (中河失船，一壶千金). The blank used for this piece of self-portrait was an old glass bottle. The self-portrait, painted in monochrome, show grandfather’s proud moment when he was given the Chinese arts and crafts masters gold medal. This award was a major milestone in his life as it usher in a huge turning point in his career as a snuff bottle artist.
The second self-portrait had many similarities to the first. The only changes were the highlighted lips, the medallions painted with gold powder and his right-hand posture. In this portrait, Grandpa appeared to be more demeanor, relaxed and confident. In his hand, he was showing one of his landscape snuff bottle.
This bottle was a gift to the well-known American businesswoman in Hawaii, Mrs. Su Li Min (苏利民). During grandpa visit to Hawaii in 1983, Mrs Su spend many hours watching his exhibition and demonstration. She brought a collection of his artwork and hosted grandpa in various occasion during his stay in Hawaii. Before returning back to China, my grandfather specially created this self-portrait as a gift to Mrs. Su. That was to thank her for her hospitality and support. He also composed a poem for the bottle: “小中蕴大，壶里乾坤，丹青妙笔，一壶千金””. A universe can be created within this small bottle, using my brush and ink. And it is worth a thousand teals of Gold.
My grandfather met Mr Liang Zhi Xing (梁知行) at the Hong Kong Exhibition and Fair. At that time, Mr Liang was a well-known entrepreneur and the chairman of Hong Kong snuff bottle society. Mr. Liang’s love and dedication to the art of Chinese snuff bottles quickly struck a note with Grandpa and they became the best of friends.
Mr. Liang made frequent trip to China to support the four major schools of inside painting. He collected a vast number of bottles and carefully catalogued them. In 1986, he published his research in a book titled “Snuff bottle new look”. In his book, he introduced the genre and system that he used to classify different schools of painting. Upon its publish, the book was immediately regarded as one of the authoritative book of inside painted snuff bottles. In 1987, Mr Liang teamed up with Mrs. Agathe, a famous American collector, to publish the English version of the book. The book became a important publication to enhanced the international reputation of inside painted snuff bottle.
In 1986, with the help of Mr Liang, Grandpa and his students were able to hold their exhibition at the Hong Kong Arts Center. The event was very successful and well received in Hong Kong.
Mr Liang invited Grandpa to his home many times. On one occasion, Mr Liang’s wife told Grandfather that only a cracked Wang Xi San bottle would cause Mr Liang many sleepless nights (The cracked bottles were due to improper annealing process during manufacturing of the blank). Upon hearing this, Grandpa immediately started work to reproduce and replace the damaged painting with natural crystal bottle for free. Returning the favor, Mr. Liang gave Grandpa three cars in separate occasions. Grandpa, in turn transferred all the cars to the relevant state departments.
Grandpa drew his 3rd self-portrait as a gift to Mr Liang, using a rock crystal bottle. He composed 2 poems specifically for this bottle. The first poem was titled “Best of Friend” (知音). In which, he wrote: “The hooked brush can paint a universe within the small bottle. After thirty years of painting, I have found my best friend Mr. Liang”. (方寸烟壶内，勾笔绘乾坤。丹青三十载，知音数梁君). The second poem is titled “My Wish” (心愿). In this poem, Grandfather wrote: “For half a century, I have worked hard to perfect my painting skill. My wish is to see that the art of inside painted snuff bottle flourishes in the hands of my students” (蹉跎度半世，只求技艺真。呕血育新秀, 唯愿玉壶春)
Grandpa believe that the purpose of art is to awaken and enlighten the spiritual needs of people through its beauty. It should also help a person in his relentless pursuit of truth, goodness and beauty. With these belief, he has created an everlasting and legendary story for himself and the art he so loves !
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