Sunday. A dark day at noon. The snow and rain were both falling at once, a scene almost reminiscent of Dostoevsky’s St. Petersburg, but this was Toronto in April. At the corner of Bloor and Bay, I spotted this lonely glove – probably one of the last orphaned gloves of this winter – and again I felt a bit sad: gloves should have come in pairs; they take care and are expected to be taken care of by a pair of hands. But everyday in Toronto’s winter I spot lonely gloves abandoned by careless hands and lying desperately at street corners. I always wanted to take pictures of them and keep an album as their virtual funeral home. However, in the end, this is the only picture I took this winter.
The last paragraph and its sentimentality do come as mannered and unnatural, but it is so only because I, an anonymous person, put them into words – and words are things, words are objects, words are inevitably artificial. It takes a real artist to unify “objective” lyricism with philosophical aloofness.
There are two ways: aesthetics of anecdotes and aesthetics of drama. Feng Zikai’s art belongs to the former category, probably consistent with a Chinese tradition. In relating his failure to go into details, Feng said:
“At times a vague and fleeting vision would appear before me. I would take up my brush and immediately set to capturing it in ink, but I would only manage to sketch an outline before the vision faded. All I had caught on paper was a rough impression; the face [of the figure depicted] would be incomplete. But that is why it was a true expression of my vision, and there was no need to add any more details. Once I tried altering a painting that I had done some earlier, but I only succeeded in making a very different picture from the original that had come to me; the painting was ruined.” (see Geremie R. Barmé An Artistic Exile: A Life of Feng Zikai)
Realism (or naturalism), I believe, is the result of dramatic passions very particular to the time and space they are allowed to be practised. Feng Zikai claimed an disinterest in and ignorance of science, but he did manage to depict objects sympathetically, either in image or in words. His feelings are those of small ones, and they show up in his art as humorous anecdotes, but I doubt he is very far from Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey where gothic architecture and myriads of details are ruled by drama, passion and history but come down to lyric humor of modern life.