FLOWER-AND-BIRD ink-wash painting reached its peak in the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279) and was favored by artist-scholars, but today the subject matter of the delicate natural world and its inhabitants is less appealing.
Artist Wan Fei still pursues bird-and-flower ink wash, but they are nothing like the traditional works that ancient scholars would have recognized and praised.
They have a very different, modern feel.
"Tradition is good, but it is too far away from our modern life and aesthetic taste," Wan says of her exhibition currently underway at Duoyunxuan art house. "I adopted some Western abstract style in the background to distinguish the lovely birds surrounded by a natural, dim world."
"Wan broke away from the traditional flower-and-bird tableau, and rearranges a world of flowers and birds through Western constructivism," says Zhu Guorong, the former president of the Shanghai Artists' Association. "She also refers a lot to the light and shade in Western oil paintings."
"Wan is brave to use contrasting colors, warm and cold colors in her paintings," says Shi Dawei, vice president of the Chinese Artists' Association. "But she melds them in a very harmonious way."
On closer inspection, the birds can be seen depicted in traditional, Chinese realistic style; their feathers are so vividly rendered that viewers can almost feel them.
Having practiced the flower-and-bird painting style of the Song Dynasty, Wan says she is seeking another approach with a romantic touch.
"To paint a bird, I should first be a bird lover," she says. "I often talk to my birds and treat them like my best friends. They are creatures of spirituality."
Wan says that she has a very simple life: painting, raising birds and growing flowers at her home with a small backyard.
Unlike many other artists who network and socialize at many gatherings, Wan has secluded herself in her studio for several decades. This may account in part for the soothing power of her paintings.