One can just imagine the speed and energy with which Qi Baishi painted this tangled, leafy gourd vine. Using a large, soft brush, he splashed ink onto the absorbent paper in big, floppy strokes to create the cascade of leaves down the scroll. Pale ink leaves and gourds were painted first followed immediately by darker and darker ink while the first was still a little wet. This broken ink technique causes the tones of ink to blur slightly into one another and produces soft, fuzzy edges. Then Qi added the yellow gourds, fitting them in around the leaves, before tying the composition together with a wild, calligraphic tangle of vines in the “flying white” technique. Practiced first by calligraphers, this technique uses fairly dry ink or sometimes extra pressure on the brush to create white spaces within the dark ink line.
Qi Baishi’s calligraphy down the side exudes the same outgoing frankness seen in the painting. At the end it says “The pliant bamboo and graceful flowers have all been sold. Who will buy from me some double gourds?” The red seals have been playfully stamped over spots of yellow. Perhaps you can see that the top one has red characters on a white ground while the lower one has white characters on a red ground.
About the Artist
Qi Baishi was a painter of the late 19th and 20th centuries. Working at a time when China was being deluged with foreign ideas and interests, he was one of the artists who chose to paint in traditional Chinese styles, looking back to a group of individualist artists of the early Qing dynasty (1644-1911) for inspiration. By means of his extraordinary natural talent and his fierce determination, he elevated himself from the life of a farm boy to a position of leadership in the Chinese art world in Beijing.