Ma Paisui, one of the great masters of contemporary color ink and watercolor, devoted 27 years of his life teaching at National Taiwan Normal University; it all started when he resigned from his teaching position at the National Jilin Changbai Normal University and began travelling across China to paint, and one of his stops in 1948 happened to be Taiwan. When Ma had a solo exhibition at the Guangfu Auditorium in Zhongshan Hall in Taipei City in 1949, the students of NTNU’s art department (one of them was Yang Yuyu) saw Mai Paisui’s watercolor landscape paintings in the then only ideal exhibition space, and became keen to learn from Ma; they thus asked the chair of department to extend a proposal for Ma to teach at the university, which now proves to be pivotal.
Landscape painting itself is quite unexceptional, but what are some unique qualities of “Ma Paisui style” landscape painting? What historical significance does it entail? Ma Paisui wishes to “construct a bridge of color ink through painting that embodies both Chinese and Western traits”. This ambition is evident in his brilliant use of colors, defined vigorous large blocks of color, as well as his exceptional ability mastered since the war of weaving together Chinese traditional ideas and forms with the West’s modern use of colors in his works, exemplifying the prowess to be “both color and ink, Chinese and Western”.
China Outdoor Painting Period/ Nature Descriptive Period (before 1948)
Ma Paisui travelled to various places in China on a bike to paint outdoors during the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, and a desire to travel the world budded. He journeyed to Taiwan from Shanghai during his painting expedition in December of 1948, and he spent two months to paint and travel around the island on foot.
Ma Paisui’s watercolor works of this period reveal exquisitely elegant hues while both his observation and expression appear precise and rigorous; he expertly maneuvers the ratio of water and paint to fully express the characteristics of watercolor paintings.
Taiwan Expressive Period / Nature Freestyle Period (1949-1974)
While it was by complete chance that Ma first came to Taiwan, he has lived in Taiwan for 27 years since his 1949 “Mai Paisui Traveling Exhibition” at Zhongshan hall and the teaching career at the NTNU that soon followed. Ma Paisui once said, “I love Taiwan, and I dedicate my life to portraying Taiwan,” confessing his most genuine feelings. We see splendid southern sceneries in many works created in this period; as Ma Paisui’s use of colors grew more exubrant, he began painting themes outside of landscape: cityscape, still life, portrait and more have all been the topics of his diverse practice. Ma Paisui’s creative ideals are simple and precise. “Paint of its form, express of its life,” he once said; thus, he seemed even more at ease during the Taiwan Expressive Period, also known as the Nature Freestyle Period. A pivotal change in Ma Paisui’s work occurred in the late 1960s: his Western subjects were originally created using watercolor, but he began utilizing ink, xuan paper, calligraphy brush and other traditional ink painting tools to overthrow the confines of established forms, giving the works an appeal and charm that is unique to ink. Art scholar and famed watercolor painter Lee Quan-pui described it as “boldly and decisively stripping away all the inessentials to preserve the most indispensable, breathing new life into form, color, line, and plane.”
New York Creative Period / Nature Creative Period (1975-2003)
Ma Paisui introduces the concepts of “yongmo” (ink application) and “liubai” (to leave blank) into the creation of watercolor works. His works have matured in this period and seemed layered with a touch of firmness from the use of ink. After relocating to New York, he grew bolder in his use of color ink in hanging scroll compositions. The tonality of ink and color allow his works to take on greater substance and piercing strength. The viewers seem to be peeking through a thin veil of fog as the rocky cliffs, shorelines, clouds and the magnificent nature subtly emanate muted poetic qualities. These works of later period reflect his life after retirement – he seemed to have gradually settled and begun self-exploring after some travelling and quiet meditation. Most of the works in this exhibition are of Ma Paisui’s most mature “New York Creative Period/ Nature Creative Period”, positively exhibiting the three realms of life – “Perception is belief; perception is suspicion; perception is realization”, the ultimate expression of his life’s final chapter. For an artist who has lived in the U.S. since the mid-70s, his heart remained in Taiwan as he continued to create many works with Taiwan as the main subject during this period.