July 25, 2024


Art Is Experience

Far Eastern Painting – Shan Shui – The ‘Mountain-Water’ Chinese Painting Style

Shan Shui – The Concept
Shan Shui is a Chinese painting style that uses brush and ink to create natural landscapes or scenery. The literal translation of the word is ‘mountain-water.’ This form of painting first became popular in China in the fifth century, during the reign of the Song Dynasty (420-79).

The Details
o Components: As the name goes, mountains, rivers, and waterfalls are the basics in every painting under this style. These paintings may include trees, valleys with lakes or rivers, boats, & bridges, mountains partially hidden by clouds, and even huts besides a river.
o Tools & Techniques: The material, techniques, and the evaluation of the artwork used in Shan Shui is the same as that of calligraphy.
o Features: In this style of painting the painted objects and shapes need not resemble the actual scenery. Shan Shui painters do not portray what they have seen. They paint their thoughts, as they perceive them.
o Colors: Unlike common paintings, Shan Shui does not have shadow & light work, or many colors for that matter.
o Elements: In this Far Eastern Painting style, the placement of various elements and the usage of colors are based on the Chinese Elemental Theory. Each direction is associated with a particular color (or colors) and elements, such as metal, wood, earth, water, and fire. Elements that interact negatively with each other like water and fire are not used together and therefore, color mixing is done accordingly.

The Components
The following three essential complex and meticulous sets of requirements for form, balance, and composition, characterize Shan Shui:
o Paths: Paths should never be straight. The pathway can be a river or a path alongside a river, but it should meander as a stream of water does. This aids in the deepening of the landscape through the addition of layers.
o The Threshold: The pathway should lead to a threshold, which exists to symbolize welcome and embrace to the viewers. The mountain, the shadow of the mountain on the ground, or the mountain’s cut in the sky, can be the thresholds.
o The Heart: This is the central point of the painting and all the elements should lead towards it. The heart signifies the meaning of the painting.

The Correlations & Symbolism
Like most other Chinese styles of painting, Taoism influenced Shan Shui as well. Whenever human figures are depicted in this style, they are usually quite small, indicating human triviality in nature. Elements often have Symbolic meanings here, with bamboo representing loyalty, plum blossoms showing purity, and pine trees & cranes representing long life.

The Artists
‘Early Spring’ by Guo Xi (1020-90 – Northern Song Dynasty), Chinese Landscape Painter Zhang Zeudan (1085-1145 – Song Dynasty), Gao Kegong (1248-1310 – Yuan Dynasty), Shen Zhou (1427-1509 – Ming Dynasty), and Wang Hui (1632-1717 – Qing Dynasty).

The Essence
Shan Shui Paintings are used as the artistic depiction of philosophy. They are more about the incorporation of tranquility and movement, yin & yang, and time & space in art. Shan Shui has immensely inspired poetry, Films & Animations (since 1988), and construction zones.