The art of fine brushwork on gourds by Gong Qiuqi
Based on the ingenious design that makes optimal use of the natural form of gourds, the artisan selects part of the gourd’s curvy surface for his artistic creation purely by hand which integrates the traditional techniques of Chinese fine brushwork with the shape of gourds, ending up with a novel and distinctive piece of painting.
Eighteen Arahants. According to Buddhist literature, the eighteen arahants are the original followers of the Buddha who were sent on earth to protect the Buddhist faith. There were only sixteen arahants in the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD) and the number increased to eighteen in the Song dynasty (960-1279 AD). By the vivid portrayal of each of these eighteen arahants together with the animals they ride, the artisan has created a solemn religious piece, by looking at which one may forget worldly affairs.
As yet another innovation in the gourd craft besides burnt-painting, needle-punctured patterns, pressed-motifs and lacquer painting, the fine brushwork painting on gourds, according to Gong Qiuqi, requires meticulous work including applying a foundation color based on scene design and division in line with the natural form of gourds,
Gourds have been a popular medium for folk arts among Chinese artists and crafters thanks to the various sizes and forms of the fruit as well as the hegemony of its name and “fortune” together with “high-ranking officialdom” in the Chinese language. The fine brushwork painting, known for its refined and meticulous brushwork in all the categories of traditional Chinese painting, requires extraordinary skills and full attention when it is applied to the curved surface of gourds.
Journey to the West. This gourd was divided into four distinct sections after the artisan’s ingenious handling of the already eccentric shape. The four well-known characters of the Chinese literary classic Journey to the West (西游记) were sculpted on the four prominent sections one by one, against the backdrop of mountains and clouds in the distance and the rocks and pine trees in the nearby. A flowing creek was also added on the dented area. The bulges and dents on the surface of the gourd coincide with the rugged road to the west, serving as an apposite symbol of the hardships the four will encounter. Thanks to the superb skills of the artisan, this artwork looks natural, elegant and harmonious although the main characters are in separate sections.
Battle of Red Cliffs. This is a miniature reproduction of the household story of “Battle of Red Cliffs” from the literary classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三国演义). By choosing the ten most dramatic plots from the story, namely, Zhuge Liang visiting the State of Wu to forge an alliance, Zhuge Liang debating with civil officials and scholars of Wu, Zhuge Liang tricking Zhou Yu, Jiang Gan stealing letters, Zhuge Liang borrowing arrows with straw boats, heroes having like minds, Huang Gai being punished, Cao Cao writing a poem with a spear, Zhuge Liang praying for the eastern wind, the fierce battle at Red Cliffs.
The Loyal Lord Guan. “Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles” is a household story in China recorded by the literary classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三国演义). After losing touch with Liu Bei in a battle, Guan Yu was caught by Cao Cao, who treated Guan Yu very well out of appreciation of the former’s talents. But Guan Yu was determined to return to Liu Bei after he got to know the whereabouts of the latter. Then Guan Yu travelled thousands of miles and overcame many hindrances by killing six enemy generals to escort Liu’s wife to reunion with Liu.
Eight Hammers Conquering Zhuxian Town. This piece of fine-brushwork painting on gourd is based on the book Stories of Yue Fei (说岳全传), the fictional biography of Yue Fei (1103-1142 AD), the renowned patriot of the Han people against invasion of the nomad ethnic minorities during the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279 AD). This artwork illustrates a scene of four young generals of Yue Fei’s troops, namely, Di Lei, Yue Yun, Yan Fangcheng and He Yuanqing, all using a pair of hammer-like weapons with a big metal ball on a handle, made of gold, silver, copper and iron respectively for the four people (eight hammer altogether), conquering Zhuxian Town, a place of strategic significance that had been seized by the nomad troops. Under the leadership of the four heroic generals, Yue Fei’s troops achieved full victory.
Fortune, Wealth, Longevity and Happiness. Using the technique of fine brushwork in traditional Chinese painting, the artisan illustrated on a big gourd four groups of patterns representative of fortune, wealth, longevity and happiness respectively. Against a background of “round heaven and square earth” on the curved surface of the gourd there locate four scenes of different themes, namely, immortals receiving prayers from mortals, achieving high-ranking officialdom and incomparable honor, Chinese zodiac animals celebrating birthday, and a happy wedding. Traditional Chinese auspicious motifs such as bats, gourds, golden toads, hoof-shaped ingots, lingzhi, ruyi, pomegranates, lotus seeds, etc., are used to express the artisan’s wishes.
In order to present flowing and powerful lines, the artisan would usually finish one brushwork in one breath, and employ a pigment with optimal proportions of water and acrylic and multiple coloring techniques such as flat-coloring, rendering, glazing, dotting, texture strokes, etc., to ensure a perfect appearance of colors after the penetration of pigments into the surface of gourds.