Qi Baishi Chinese

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Qi Baishi's early mentor in Beijing, Chen Hengke (1876–1923), counseled him to abandon his technical training and strive for a new expressive freedom through a calligraphic approach to painting. The subsequent transformation of Qi's style is illustrated by this painting. Each crustacean—like a single Chinese character—is formed through the repetition of the same conventionalized pattern of marks. Released from the need to visualize each shrimp separately, Qi thus was free to explore the abstract expressive possibilities of structure, ink tone, and composition and to achieve the direct, childlike spontaneity and naturalness that are hallmarks of his work. Qi's exhilaration at the possibilities offered by this method are reflected in his inscription:

If you can forget painting theory, you will not suffer from its deeply rooted bad effects. Then your brush will fly like the heavenly horse moving through the sky.

(Robert H. Ellsworth et al., trans., Later Chinese Painting and Calligraphy, 1800-1950, 3 vols. [New York: Random House, 1987], vol. 1, p. 157)

Shrimp, Qi Baishi (Chinese, 1864–1957), Hanging scroll; ink on paper, China

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