摘要：春则花柳争妍，夏则荷榴竞放 秋则桂子飘香，冬则梅花破玉 瑞雪飞瑶。四时之景不同 而赏心乐事者亦与之无穷矣。 ——吴自牡《梦梁录》卷十二之《西湖》 在过去的十年里，严善錞成为了杭州西湖的画家与诗人。他在杭州出生，1982年毕业于浙江美术学院(现中国美术学院)，最近因家事又重回杭…
然而，由于干旱的反复出现及疏于治理，西湖水量愈渐减少，历代诗人描述西湖当时情境时常常表现出一丝凄婉。出身仕宦家庭的张岱(1597 – 1679年)见证了1644年明朝的灭亡以及满清入侵后的屠杀和动乱。根据张岱《西湖梦寻》的序言可以发现，此书著于清康熙十年(1671年)，刻于康熙五十六年。写在明亡之后，作者通过此书来缅怀昔日胜景，表达了作者的失落与绝望。他在序言中悲叹道，“余生不辰，阔别西湖二十八载，然西湖无日不入吾梦中。”他提及家中所有的土地和家业，甚至自家的花园，全都没了，并继续说道：“及至断桥一望，凡昔日之歌楼舞榭，弱柳夭桃，如洪水淹没，百不存一矣。余及急急走避，谓余为西湖而来，今所见若此，反不若保吾梦中之西湖为得计也。”
诗歌通常是通过明喻和暗喻的方式来产生对西湖的联想，而不是直接描述，画家则有许多选择，包括从有关地貌的工笔描绘到富有诗意的写意描述等各种形式。华盛顿弗瑞尔美术馆藏有的宋代李嵩(约生活于1190年–1230年)《西湖清趣图》，详尽展现了湖岸边形形色色的生活和湖上繁忙的船只交通。上海博物馆也藏有一件李嵩的《西湖图卷》(图1)[i]，画面的视角更高，虽然描绘的方式并不如前者详尽，但却表现了古代西湖的全貌。叶肖岩(约生活于1253 – 1258年)的《西湖十景图册》(图2)[ii]最早记载于1279年，其他的南宋画家马远，马麟，陈清波和画僧若芬玉涧等也都创作过同样的题材。甚至中国其它地方的景观，如牧溪(1220 – 1280年)的著作《潇湘八景图》(图3)[iii]，灵感都来自于杭州。
Yan Shanchun, poet/painter of West Lake
“In spring flowers and willows compete in beauty, while lotus and pomegranates bloom in summer. In autumn the fragrance of cassia floats in the air, and in the winter jade-like plums bloom amidst the whirling flakes of auspicious snow. The scenes of the four seasons are ever changing, and these things that gratify the heart and give pleasure proceed endlessly apace.”
In the last decade Yan Shanchun has become the painter/poet of West Lake in Hangzhou. He was born in Hangzhou, educated at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts from which he graduated in 1982 and in recent years has returned to Hangzhou for familial reasons. Almost without exception over the last decade his paintings and prints refer to West Lake and its environs. In the exclusivity of his focus on one motif, Yan might be compared with Western artists such as Josef Albers (1888-1976) who devoted the greater part of his life painting variations on Homage to the Square or Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) who spent his whole life in Bologna and found his greatest inspiration in still-life. Just as Albers used the square as a vehicle for exploring the mysteries of color and Morandi needed go no further than his studio, Yan Shanchun uses West Lake as a theme that is constantly transformed by variations in the proportions of his canvas/support and his ongoing experimentation with different techniques. An important development occurred when he began to utilize the same subject matter in copper-plate etchings.
Among famous lakes West Lake in Hangzhou is one of the smallest. Compared with the five Great Lakes of North America or the Italian Lakes – Lake Maggiore, Lake Como, and Lake Lugano – it is a fraction of the size. Furthermore, it is divided into five sections by three causeways and can be crossed on foot or circumambulated with relative ease. For well over a thousand years, however, it has acquired a remarkable aura through the uninterrupted succession of poets, painters, emperors and administrators who have praised its beauty, each one building on the accomplishments of his predecessors.
Although it is unnecessary to dwell on the history of West Lake in Hangzhou in these remarks on Yan Shanchun, it is important for an understanding of his recent paintings and prints to see what he has in common with the many generations of artists who have celebrated the lake and what it is that distinguishes him from them. In a discussion of the career of the Song dynasty (960-1279) official and poet Su Shi (1037 – 1101) Liping Wang notes that “if Su Shi the prefect physically saved West Lake, it was Su Shi the poet who elevated its landscape from the ranks of ordinary reservoirs and made it a unique site on the cultural map of imperial China. In the words of Ming-Qing literati, it was Su Shi’s writing that ‘made the landscape famous.’ Among the three hundred poems Su composed about Hangzhou many described his leisurely tours of the lake.” In one of his most celebrated poems West Lake is likened to Xishi, a fifth century BCE courtesan who was believed to have been born close to Hangzhou.
The shimmer of light on the water is the play of sunny skies,
The blur of colour across the hills is richer still in rain,
If you wish to compare the lake in the West to the Lady of the west,
Lightly powdered or thickly smeared is just as apt. 
Repeatedly, however, owing to recurrent droughts and neglect the lake went into decline and an elegiac tone is not unusual among writers who describe and lament its current state. Born into a wealthy and prestigious family Zhang Dai (1597- 1679) lived long enough to witness the fall of the Ming dynasty in 1644 and the turmoil that followed the Manchu-Qing led invasion. Search for West Lake in My Dreams, dated 1671 in the author’s preface although not published until 1717, gives poignant expression to his sense of loss and despair. “Born at an evil hour, I have been separated from West Lake for twenty-eight long years. Not a day passes, however, that West Lake does not enter my dreams,” he laments in the Author’s Preface. After naming all the estates including his own family garden that have vanished, he continues: “When I reached Break-Off Bridge and gazed out, I found that only one in ten of the fine willows and tender peaches that once stood there, of the singing pavilions and the dance terraces, had survived, the rest as if washed away by a great flood. I fled from the place, hiding the sight from my eyes and consoling myself with the thought that as I had come here to view West Lake only to find it thus, it was better to seek to preserve the West Lake of my dreams, for that West Lake at least remains intact.”
While poems generally convey the multiple associations of West Lake through simile and metaphor rather than direct description, painters have a number of options ranging from a topographical approach to a more poetic evocation. A scroll in the Freer Gallery attributed to Li Song (active ca. 1190-1230), The Panorama of Hangzhou on West Lake, conveys in great detail the varied activities along the shore of the lake and the busy boat traffic on the lake itself. Equally informative although the lake is seen from an elevated perspective and is depicted in a less detailed manner is another handscroll also attributed to Li Song, West Lake, in the Shanghai Museum. (Fig. 1) First recorded in 1279, the Ten Views of West Lake were painted by Ye Xiaoyan (active ca. 1253 – 1258) (Fig. 2)and are reported to have been painted by other Southern Song dynasty painters including Ma Yuan, Ma Lin, Chen Qingbo, and the monk Yujian Ruofen. Even views of other locations in China such as the celebrated Eight Views of Xiao-Xing by Muqi (ca. 1220 – 1280) (Fig. 3) were inspired by Hangzhou.
It is a bold artist who takes on the challenge of adding to this wealth of material. Yan Shanchun has taken on the challenge. Steeped in the history and lore of West Lake as he is, Yan found that the only way to accomplish this was to forget everything he knew, capturing the West Lake in his dreams in the same spirit as Zhang Dai in the 17th century and not the lake that he has seen on a daily basis for a good part of his life. The major accomplishment of the 2016-2017 paintings can be traced back to a small group of paintings dating from 2005 named after two important areas on the outskirts of Hangzhou, the Xixi wetland and Tianzhu, famous for three old temples. (Fig.4)The landscape format of the canvases and the use of acrylic on canvas resulted in a group of works that were primarily inspired by the tradition of Western landscape although the subdued palette revealed only qualified acceptance.
The following year he began experimenting with a much more calligraphic approach, virtually abstract as in West Lake #3 (2006), (Fig. 5)but the most important development occurred when he began using paper mounted on canvas as support, which he covered with multiple layers of acrylic, ink and color. The first step in preparation of the painting surface was to cover Korean vellum paper that he favored with plaster powder and glue to make a 1-2mm puttylike surface. Too much of an individualist, Yan already realized that he could not achieve his goal to make a meaningful contribution to the lore and visual representation of West Lake if he chose to work in either of the modes most characteristic of Western or Chinese painting, oil on canvas or ink on paper. Oil paintings of West Lake would almost certainly be retardataire while the long history of ink painting posed similar problems and its currently contested state was of limited interest to him.
He has described the effect he was trying to achieve as “comparable to the appearance of European fresco and mediaeval Chinese mural paintings. Both techniques share a sense of depth and the physicality of oil painting, as if the images exist in three dimensions, in fully realized space. Traditional ink painting lacks a sense of depth. The multiple layers of ink all seem to exist on the same surface, in this respect resembling watercolor.”Working intuitively, he began to create surfaces in which depending on the reaction between the pigment – acrylic or water-based – and the degree to which it was absorbed, and the sequence in which different layers were applied, he was able to create surfaces that range from opaque to translucent. Further ambiguities were achieved through applying thicker strokes or areas of pigment to the surface and allowing thinly diluted pigment to drip in multiple layers or be dispersed in energetic spatters.
Although there are references to specific locations on West Lake such as Ruan Gong Islet and Su Causeway in some of the paintings, their material presence is never more than hinted at through the use of thinly diluted washes of pigment. Delicate and atmospheric, the paintings of 2008 are remarkable accomplishments, worthy additions to the long tradition of visual representations of West Lake in classical Chinese art without making any stylistic references to it. (Fig. 6)
Working with evident delight and on a much larger scale in 2009, Yan Shanchun emphasized the physicality of the surface of his paintings, producing a series of works that he titled West Lake in my Dream, (Fig. 7) a title indicative of his desire to capture and convey a poetic atmosphere rather than specific locations. Abandoning the horizontal landscape format that had characterized most of his works so far he turned to a vertical format, unusual for landscape, and eliminated nearly all traces of color. Glimpses of the shore of the lake bisecting the canvas and of what may be Ruan Gong islet emerging through subtly modulated, nearly monochromatic areas of paint are just sufficiently evident to prevent them from being read as lyrical, abstract compositions. With their ivory tonality and smooth surface, these paintings are calm and dreamlike in mood, hovering on the border line between representation and abstraction.
His greatest achievement until then, these paintings were the last to have been completed before printmaking became his primary focus. The challenge of representing the multiple associations of West Lake on the diminutive scale of a copper plate, however, was bound to affect his painting once he returned to it with renewed enthusiasm as has happened in the last three years. Yan treasures the unpredictability of his unorthodox print-making technique, and the miraculous way in which the pools of olive oil and sulfur create spatial and atmospheric effects on the flat surface of a copper plate. As in many of his prints, in the medium size canvases that he mostly favored in 2014 and 2015, West Lake is evoked through details such as a single willow tree (Fig. 8) or even, as in the late Nymphéas of Claude Monet, through reflections on the surface of the water and distorted images of under-water plant life. The influence could also go the other way as in a group of canvases, experiments in layering and the use of color (fig. 9) that Yan Shanchun regards as studies for prints.
After five years of printmaking and a sparing production of paintings, in 2016 Yan had gained enough self-confidence to resume working on a monumental scale. Lake Shore # 1 (2016) (Fig. 10) and the sixteen large works that followed in the latter half of 2016 and early 2017 under the general title Over the Lake are the culmination of six years of musing and experimentation.
In the West Lake in my Dream series of paintings (2009) it was almost as if Yan wished to draw a veil over his working process, presenting the viewer with mysterious evocations of a vanished past. Currently he has the opposite intention. He has described how, after laying down the Korean vellum paper and covering it with the desired surface, he proceeds “to sandpaper the surface before creating images with ink and cinnabar pigment, gamboge resin (garcinia hanburyi), or tea. Depending on the design and composition, further layers will be applied to the surface, followed by sandpapering and further painting. In general a work will go through this procedure three or four times.” In the ten years that have elapsed since he first started using plaster powder as ground for his paintings, he has shown increasing willingness to let it appear in an unadulterated form. Whereas previously, it had provided a smooth, absorbent surface that largely disappeared beneath layers of pigment, it now figures prominently in the completed works, its matte surface contrasting with all the other materials he uses. There are indirect references to the topography of the lake in Lake Shore # 20, particularly in the right hand panel, but the primary means of conveying the poetic atmosphere is through the wide variety of means through which the pigments relate to the surface of the canvas, whether applied in thick, viscous layers that are scraped until underlying strata dimly emerge, or thinly diluted on the paint integument and allowed to drip.
In subsequent paintings the range of effects is dazzling. Accidents are welcomed and lead to new discoveries. Abandoning all caution Yan brings the familiar imagery of West Lake to life through his willingness to be guided by the behavior of his materials. In Over the Lake # 4 the faint indication of a horizontal line across the lower third of the panel and an accumulation of thinly-diluted, broad brush strokes on the right edge may indicate the shore line and an island but it is the unfailing interest of the painterly surface, full of surprises, of unanticipated effects including scratching, scraping and erasing, that first holds the attention of the viewer (figs.11, 12, details). The power of works such as these resides in the unresolved tension between the surface and the suggestions of landscape that come and go as the viewer stands in contemplation before them.
Yan Shanchun’s career as an artist has been an unusual one. Tentative beginnings in the early 1980s were followed by a long period in which he spent more time reflecting on and looking at art rather than producing it. The last fifteen years during which he returned to painting and printmaking have been extraordinarily productive, leading up to the remarkable paintings of 2016-2017.
[i] 认为是南宋李嵩(活跃于c. 1190-1230)所作，《西湖图景》，手卷，水墨纸本，25.8 x 81.6 cm，上海美术馆
[ii] 南宋画家叶肖岩(活跃于c. 1253-1258)，《西湖十景》，选集：绢本彩墨，23.9 x 26.2 cm，国立故宫博物院
[iii] 牧溪，《渔村夕照》，《潇湘八景》之一，立轴;纸本水墨，34.4 x 112.4 cm，根津美术馆，东京
[vi] 严善錞，《阮公墩之五》，2008，119 x 149 cm
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