Saturday, October 22, 2011

How to Paint Obstinate Smelly Hairy Beast of Burden

One of my very early attempts at brush painting was this image, based on a black and white photograph from a very old book on China.
I'll Never Be Your Beast of Burden
Except for one person who thought it was a turkey, (who probably never has seen either a real camel or a turkey) most people like the painting very much. And actually, I like it a lot too, the camel and the coolie have a strange relationship, something like Bette Midler and Mick Jagger (click the caption link). Although now I look at it and see it is still very western watercolor style, not the technique taught in my new manual, "How to Paint Lifelike Camel," in Chinese, acquired via eBay from Shandong.  I was working from the manual today, and showed the Wizard some preliminary  camel studies.
The Singing Camels
"They don't look like camels," he said.  Then I showed him the manual. "They don't look like camels, either," he said.  "But they don't look like turkeys."  But I sorta think they do.

Camels and turkeys and ducks, also one of my favorite critters, actually have a lot in common.  They are irascible and walk funny. Like some of my favorite people.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Why This?

I knew all these people are nuts, on both sides, but this pushed the camel lover in me over the edge.  Why sacrifice a camel to celebrate the victory?

I am reminded of an incident after Desert Storm (1990-91), when a Kuwaiti farmer was delighted at the return of his camel after the fighting stopped (then). His farming area in Kuwait had been declared a military zone by the invading Iraqis and some of the camels were frightened away.  But after five years, she came home to him.  He wrote a poem in praise of his camel's loyalty.  "Praise Allah," he said.  "CAmels are known for their loyalty, but this is a miracle."  And not only that, she was pregnant.

I wrote a little poem at the time to commemorate the camel's homecoming:
I had a little camel
She ran away from me
She returned a bigger camel
Soon we will be three.
Now I write:
You've overthrown Gaddaffi
This we plainly see
But I'd rather the ship of the desert
Trample over thee.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

The Brush and the Sword

I like this Chinese wolf brush.  It has a slightly warped bamboo handle with attractive etched calligraphy, it has lost its hanging loop (if it ever had one), but the bristles are strong.  Or what's left of them.  It was losing hair, probably through my neglect, but I injected a little super glue into the base,  probably not a very orthodox treatment, and it seems to have stabilized. Although now that I study more closely the calligraphy on its handle, I see it is a shan ma (mountain horse) brush, although not as stiff and dark as my others.  A mountain pony, perhaps.

I was thinking about this brush a lot as I watched Painter of the Wind, a Korean drama very very loosely based on the lives of Kim Hong-do and Shin Yun-bok, two important Korean painters of the 18th century.  To think I ever would have given a second thought--even a first thought--to Korean painters of the 18th century!  Getting hooked on Korean sa geuk has opened up whole new worlds beyond delight in the incredibly attractive, talented and teary actors who turn up in these things.

Painter of the Wind is about a young woman who has been disguised as a boy to be apprenticed in the imperial painting academy and her teacher who is strangely clueless (but puzzled) concerning her sexual identity, as is the giseang (geisha) who is the young painter's best...friend.  The plot has all kinds of gender identity overtones, and is complicated when the young painter is "sold" by her adoptive father to the man who also has "bought" her BGF and killed her father.  Like in wuxia, we have talented orphans seeking revenge with their weapons of choice. But here, the orphan wields a paintbrush, not the less mighty sword.  In real history, Shin Yun-bok was not a woman, but in the drama and history, his/her erotic paintings (by18th century standards) turned the Korean art world upside down, like a Joseon Mapplethorpe.

I have yet to determine if watching this while engaged in my new brush painting class with a Korean nun has informed my studies, although it was a pleasure to learn some things about making color, and watching the brush in action, a character in its own way, as much as the original paintings which drove the plot.  And I haven't seen such poignant unrequited sexual tension since Witness, the 1985 movie with Harrison Ford set in an Amish community.

I started watching Painter of the Wind with a set of DVDs I got a while back somewhere I don't remember, possibly from my Chinese video vendor, but more likely online on the cheap.  The set has dreadful nearly incomprehensible subtitles, and in the middle of the second of nine discs it simply failed.  But it is available on the awesome (please to excuse shameless promotion of commercial site) with far better subtitles.

Here's nice commentary about the series.  Not martial arts...just art, and completely captivating.

Painter of the Wind