Starting out


how light is the heaven
the workshop is already dark

I worked on the year-end bookkeeping all day long. How many beautiful journeys are evoked by the madeleine scent of the hotel bills! I place them in air-tight bags, so in my old age they will provide me with the fragrance of Sicily and Georgia. It is two o’clock in the morning, the tabletop is bare. I drink strong Yunnan tea. In two hours I leaving for Rome, and from there, further on. It is only in the years of grace that the roads go in two directions, other years they just carry you away, like the rivers. I am leaving the year behind me.


Wu Zhen (1280-1354) was not particularly famous or successful in his life. Only after the years of Mongol rule, during the Ming era, will he be discovered by painters, and lifted up into the ranks of the Four Masters to be followed. He never obtained an office, he lived a hermit’s life, retreated to his small estate. He painted mountains and rivers, and the one small, cartoon-like figure appearing in his pictures over and over again is a lone fisherman (who, of course, is not as simple as he may seem: the old fisherman did have a social-critical connotation in the Taoist tradition). And in the emptiness, so characteristic of Chinese pictures, he wrote his own poems.

红叶村西夕照余,
黄芦滩畔月痕初。
轻拨棹,且归与,
挂起渔竿不钓鱼


Hóngyè cūnxī xìzhào yú
huáng lú tān pàn yuè hén chū.
Qīng bō zhào, qiě guī yǔ
guàqǐ yúgān bù diàoyú.

red leaves shining with the last light
golden reed’s shadow cast by the early moon
touching his paddle, it’s time to leave
putting away his rod, catching no more fish

The large empty space, which is to be filled with the viewer’s imagination, was already a convention in the Yuan era. It is nice how Wu Zhen plays with this convention. He does not put his figure in the middle of the space, as it is usual, but down to the bottom of the picture, so that the entire invisible spaciousness is above him. Only a small visible space remains in front of the figure, but, due to the convention, we imagine under him a spaciousness of the same large size. We do not see it, but we know for sure that it is there, just as the figure knows it, and entrusts himself to it when starting out.


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