Untold Beauty and Liu Yanfeng


Classic philosophy helps painter Liu Yanfeng perceive and capture 'untold beauty' of nature.

Renowned Chinese philosopher Zhaungzi wrote 2,300 years ago that nature itself has an "untold beauty".

For Chinese ink and wash painter Liu Yanfeng, the process of artistic creation is a journey to discover the essence of unspoken beauty and represent it in his own style.

Born to a family of scholars, Liu began to read ancient Chinese philosophy and literature when he was a child, studies that provided valuable depth to his career as a painter.

Even today, he spends much more time on Chinese classics than he does painting because he believes what the ancient sages said are a source of inspiration for fresh artistic perception.

What makes Liu different from many other painters is that his work not only pleases the eye, but also touches one's soul.

Yet he learned technique like other aspiring painters.

"When I was young, I concentrated a lot of effort in improving my skills, trying to present things exactly as they appear," Liu said. "The process took about a dozen years until one day I realized that artistic creation should be an interaction between the soul and nature, and the painter and his audience."

"An innovative painter should always be guided by his soul and heart rather than eyes and hands," Liu explained. "Only when you use the strength of your soul to perceive the subject can you master its spirit and 'personality'."

Flowers, plants, birds, animals, rocks and water are the subjects of Liu's work. Once in his paintings, they have their own stories to tell.

"It's not an easy thing to present the spirit and personality of subjects. It requires close observation and long meditation," Liu said.

He recalled his experience drawing withered lotus leaves several years ago.
"Sitting by the pond, I was deeply touched by their faded beauty because of the desolate season of autumn.

"But every time I started to draw, I stopped and hesitated. For a long time I gazed at the leaves silently, only to listening to the murmurs of these old friends and sharing their deepest feelings.

"I don't know how long I stayed until two birds stopped at the leaves, which had a seedpod full of lotus seeds.

"I suddenly felt my eyes brim with tears, realizing the stark contrast of death and life was the untold beauty I perceived at that moment.

"Blooming lotus flowers in summer are not only a grand display of life, but also preparation for a new generation of life. When the flowers fade and leaves wither, the seeds mature and are ready to carry new life." Liu said.

He expressed that in his painting Lotus Pond in Autumn, one of the most successful works of his career.

The spirit and personality of subjects is also captured in his other paintings like Bamboo in Snow, in which bamboo displays its dignity even in the harshest environment.

Though weighed by heavy snow, the bamboo remains upright, showing its unwillingness to bend and bow under any pressure.

Liu is a member of the Association of Chinese Painters and a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Calligraphy and Painting. Some of his work has been selected by State leaders as gifts to foreign counterparts.