Confucius says, “I set my heart on the Way.” Zhuang Zi also says, “Pervading all Heaven and Earth there is Virtue; stirring all life is the Tao.” The unity of Art and the Way is essentially the unity of Art and Philosophy. Art is the purveyor of the Tao and the Tao is the soul of Art. This is precisely the spiritually rich and profound power of Chinese art that fascinates and moves people emotionally. This is also the emotion that bound Fan Chang Tien who though based abroad had staunchly adhered to and studied Chinese traditional art.
Fan Chang Tien had long been known to many in Singapore as one of the nation’s most important and respected artists. Never one to seek fame and fortune, Fan was dedicated to nurturing a younger generation of artists and helping them develop. Born in Jieyang, Guangdong, he studied art at Xinhua Art Academy and Changming Academy of Fine Arts under the Shanghai school master Wang Geyi, and others such as Wang Yiting and Pan Tianshou, and was especially steeped in the works of Wu Changshuo. Fan’s poetry, calligraphy, painting and seal carving all bear a strong character of the Shanghai school. His works show an inclination for calligraphic brush strokes that hark back to the robust style of ancient masters, supple and vivacious. I particularly like his orchids and bamboo where the stems and branches appear swaying gently and the leaves luxuriant and lush. His painting exudes a misty Taoist ambience which draws the distant viewer near and looks as though it blows breezes into the viewer up close. It displays a character no lesser than that of Zheng Banqiao just as what he writes in the poem he inscribed on a orchid-bamboo painting: “Painting randomly a new bamboo much in the old way, With some hidden orchids appearing as elegant, Unending remarks I hear about the right and wrong of my paintings, Who knows how difficult it is to command the ink tones of a millennium?”
When painting orchids and bamboo, Zheng Banqiao focused on the nobility and purity of the image to symbolise his own aspirations. So did Fan Chang Tien in his diligence in learning and perseverance in his pursuit of the Way so that Art would become almost Tao itself.
Fan Chang Tien understood thoroughly the Tao of the Art of xieyi (painting the idea) be it landscape or human figures, flower and birds, calligraphy, poetry, seal carving, all of which would lead the viewer to the wonderful realm of expression of idea, wit and emotion.
The essence of Art blending with the Tao in Chinese culture is brilliantly reflected in Fan Chang Tien’s works.
(Chen Guanglin in Beijing, October 2019)