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Imagination – the Soul of Painting

Imagination – the Soul of Painting
Li Man’s World of Flowers and Birds
Xia Shuoqi


  Li Man is a painter trained in the Army.  She even prefers the Army uniform to the colorful clothes of normal civilians.  Ever since her early years, she has always worked for the Chinese Armed Police Force.  Li Man’s interest in art began when she was young.  She learned dance, vocal music, sculpturing, decorating and painting, but it is her personality that made her choose painting as her major.
  In order to learn the best painting skills, Li Man has many teachers such as the famous painter Yu Zhizhen, Han Meilin, Zhu Xiukun, and Yang Ruifen.  She also attended the academy of fine arts of Tsing Hua University, Central Academy of Fine Arts of China, Beijing Painting Association, and Fine Brushwork Seminar of Culture Department of China.  Li Man’s general painting idea is cultivated by different styles and systems in teaching.  Her accomplishments in other arts nourish and enrich her creation in paintings just like rain and dew, and cultivate her imagination in paintings.
  Li Man gave me her two collected works of art.  The People’s Art Press published one of the two artworks in 1989, and the Literature and Art Press of PLA published the other in 1998.  It seems as though two different people painted the two collected artworks.  She has achieved and showed great progress over a nine-year period.  I believe the fundamental difference between these two great pieces of art lies in: the former takes others’ works as a model, and gets its inspiration from the magical nature.  The inspiration stimulates her mind, passes through her subconscious, wakens her female self, and motivates her artistic talent.  By using her skills in colors, lines, modeling, and composition, she expresses her aesthetic feeling to the mysterious, secret, beautiful, and fascinating nature.  Using imagination as a guiding principle, she forms the tones of the pictures, and creates her world of art.  Imagination plays an important part, and is the soul of Li Man’s artistic creation.  This can be seen clearly in her paintings such as “Symphony” and “Trail”.  “Symphony” describes the hanging of the golden-bell flowers.  Inspired by the shape of this flower, she associates in her mind two ancient Chinese musical instruments – the bell and the trumpet.  Thus, in this painting, she arranges each and every flower orderly and in different groups.  This, besides the beauty of shape, also resembles the arrangement of the bell and the trumpet while they are being played.  The stereoscopic golden-bell flowers seem like they are flying with clouds spreading all over that constitutes a space of image and sound all surrounding you.  “Trail” can be termed as the sister painting of “Symphony” in which Mrs. Li uses similar painting skills.  She breaks through the traditional painting skills of dividing the flowers into three of five by dividing, unifying, and endowing life with the flowers, leaves, and branches.  Li Man uses shadows, lights, and darks to weave in, sets off by contrast, and adds shading around the flowers to make them stand out.  With the special atmosphere and stereoscopic sense of the painting, the viewers get a sense of being in fairyland with trails turning into fairies dancing in the company of green leaves.  This is a natural scene and also the reflection of her feelings.  From the dancing flowers, you can also see Mrs. Li behind the scene.  Li Man learns her painting skills from Master Yu Zhizhen.  Mr. Yu is good at Peking Operas and attaches great importance of the use of personification in paintings.  The flowers painted by Mr. Yu, just like the actresses in Peking Opera, have beautiful figures, attractive looks, rich feelings, and seem to be looking at the viewers.  Li Man truly mastered these skills.  In addition, the Peking Opera turns into group dancing in her hands, and the nature of art is modernized.
  In 1996, Mrs. Li held an exhibition of “Li Man Traditional Chinese Painting and Folk Songs”, which was warmly welcomed by the American audience.  Li Man is good at singing and dancing, so if you view her paintings carefully, you can see her pursuit of music and the image of dancing.  Examples are “Symphony” and “Trail” as mentioned above.  Her painting of “Bird of Paradise” is another representative.  In this painting, the petals of the crane flowers really have graceful bearing and lasting charm of dancing.  The color is laid evenly and changes gradually.  The vivid green suggests of life full of energy, and strong, youthful atmosphere.  “The Sacred Tree”, her other painting, describes part of the giant tree in Malaysia with flowers of bright color blooming on the old branches.
  In Li Man’s paintings, there is a special female taste of being exquisite and sensitive.  While enjoying Mrs. Li’s paintings, not only can you see the natural flow of her feelings, but you can also see her thoughts and extraordinary imagination.  This imagination, thus, turns into the delicate, charming, fragrant, dissolute, graceful, slim, and dancing flowers.  In her paintings such as “The Source of Life”, “The Flower of Life”, “Patrick Orchid”, and “Madonna Orchid”, she implicitly portrays the natural life, reflecting her candid attitude towards sex.  These works of art display a strong sense of traditional idolization of the natural process of life reproduction and her deep respect towards the mysterious phenomenon of nature and life.  This, likewise, constitutes strong characteristics of her art.
  Li Man has a very vivid artistic sense, and she has her own pursuit of art and a rich imagination.  I suggest for her to learn more new skills while at the same time attach importance of learning and return to the old tradition such as studying our ancient painting skills, especially the fine brushwork and the flower-and-bird painting in the Song Dynasty.  If she can learn the spirit of the above-mentioned paintings, I believe it will greatly help her find a new start in her artistic creation.  I wish her much more success.