Fang, Ding - VM - David Jeffrey 2
Ding Fang: The
by David Lyle Jeffrey
Ding Fang is one of the leading painters in
If it is a universal truth that ‘the heart of man ascends,’ we should expect to find symbolic visual language for it in various strains of philosophical art and poetry. Among these, as many have observed, one stream of thought in China which in many respects bears harmonious comparison with Daoism is Christianity. In the biblical religions mountains are likewise places of transformative spiritual encounter. We may think of Mount Sinai,
The mountains Ding surveys are barren of vegetation, yet tantalizingly suffused with light and colour. Rather than the softness we associate with traditional ink and brush, we feel almost palpably the course texturing of ageless rock. The counter-play of colour and light lifts up the viewer to hope and expectation. These mountains have majesty, their projected presence is formidable, yet Ding’s paintings almost magically invite intimacy, urging us to move in closer. When we do, we may even have fleeting illusions of a human presence. In the second painting what looks like a tiny white-robed figure stands on the barren ridge, in others what might be small figures move toward a great cleft in the rock. This may remind us of an ink painting from more than a millennium ago, The Inhabitants of Lung-su, by Tung Yüan, in which one must peer closely to discern the faint presence of tiny human figures under the shadow of the vast mountain landscape. What, we may ask, is the artist suggesting?
It seems more than possible that, like Chinese artists over the centuries, Ding Fang looks up to the hills, the mountains from whence comes his sense of enduring trustworthiness. Yet he does so also with Christian eyes. Human beings flourish, he seems to be saying, when they live close to the Rock. This figuration is powerfully expressed in his most recent work through a frisson not only of modern and traditional techniques – ink, brush and acrylic pigments together – but also of spiritual resources both Chinese and West Asian, Taoist and Christian. That juxtaposition is a re
Ding Fang: The Kingdom of Heaven in the Morning, 60 x
Ding Fang: Untitled, 60 x 120cm, synthetic materials (nepheline glue, plasticized paste, lithopone powder, linen, AVC emulsion, propylene) and paint on canvas.
Ding Fang (1956) is Deputy Director of the Department of Studio Art at
David Lyle Jeffrey is Distinguished Professor of Literature and the Humanities at
ArtWay Visual Meditation January 4, 2015