Unwilling to Leave the Sky of Memory

My Reading of Gulistan

The art of painting is the emotional reflection of human beings towards nature and ourselves. It is the material reflection of the spiritual life of man. Although now with the extension of media, the manner of our expression has been liberated on an unprecedented scale, painting is still the deepest and most sensitive way of expression in the mental and psychological exploration and emotional experience of life.

The development of Chinese oil painting usually omits knowing ourselves and nature, the stretching of our nature and the performance of our spirit because of its focus on realism. Some Chinese artists like Xu Beihong did not learn all the skills of western classicalism, so their realism cannot be called knowing nature in the real sense. Some modernist predecessors in the circle of oil painting like Lin Fengmian and Wei Tianlin did not know themselves or successfully show their personal spiritual world in a real sense, either. The current Chinese oil paintings are now placed in an era of open globalization. Fresh, young oil painters inherit the tradition of the centuries-old history of Chinese oil painting in a relaxed and free environment. They create the possibility of knowing nature and ourselves through colorful oil paintings to explore and reflect our feelings.

The works of female artist Gulistan fully show this point. Her works are elegant and psychical. Her paintings show the sensitivity and psychological foundation of a young woman. Her paintings contain religious pureness and poetic atmosphere. All these reflect the state of the emotion and psychological workings of a female artist. “I only use a little color to paint. When the color is done in a proper way, the paintings bring about limitless illusion and the cohesion of feelings.” Yes, many of the works of Gulistan show this to us. The hue of the series such as Nuwa’s Dress and The Essence of Memory is a bit yellow. The architectural works, birds, and head portraits, etc., can be vaguely distinguished. Although the colors in the hue of yellow and orange are few, the paintings still appear to be colorful. The illusory images and the subtle changes between the colors of yellow and orange make the painting intangible and elegant.

Her pictures are formed through the combination of modern ideologies. Although the artist is very young, the paintings do not show fickle, immature, or abnormal emotion like most young artists do today. Her works are partly poetic with foreign flavor. It is a surprise that I can feel the artistic conception of poems of the Song Dynasty when reading her pictures, which is hit-and-miss. It is mixed with the charm of European classical culture. She once mentioned that “history is long, but there is no distance between you and history, which can be touched at any time.” Her paintings are not just the combination of some historical images, but they are the result of the communication between souls and history.

You cannot use a simple way to read the works of Gulistan. What you should pay attention to is the atmosphere in her paintings, which expresses her emotion. To artists, the picture is not the tracing of objects but the expression of complex and subtle feelings and moods, which cannot be described in words. For example, “In the memory of sky, there are clean white clouds… still, collective, scattered, flaming and meditative…. Observing nature calmly: stars, the moon, trees, flowers, and chalk lying in a chalk box…. It would be good if stars could be countable like eyes,… both can see a pure white path, from heart to heart,… both transparent. When did the sun rise? When did the grass turn yellow? When did bloomy flowers wither? When did the trees grow tall? When did fallen leaves sigh…?” Hence, her works are worthy of being read carefully. From visual psychology, not all the works of artists are narrative; they are sometimes expressive or abstract.

Gulistan is different from most artists today—different from those who criticize the state of the world directly and are radically against tradition. She has full passion for her surroundings, and she uses pureness, sensitivity, musing and memory to express her feelings about real life, history, and culture, which is shown in her paintings. They are filtered by her own world view and artistic emotion, worth reading calmly and slowly. Gulistan reveals the world in her eyes. This kind of modern manner of creation is not like the traditional way, which relies on oil paintings, creation, sketching, extraction and summarization. Her paintings show her personal emotion first, using the modern idealistic way to create.

Gulistan does not have the endurance and confinement in ideology, art, and psychology like the older generation of oil painters. Her environment of creation is relaxed. She was born at the foot of Tiantan Mountain, which is located in the remote and boundless Xinjiang. This region of China was an important trading channel between the East and the West in ancient times, and it was also the meeting place of four ancient world civilizations (The Yangtze River Valley peoples, Indian River Valley peoples, Western River Valley peoples, and Mediterranean Valley peoples). There are 13 ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. Although different ethnic groups have their own histories of development, they all have made important contributions to the civilization and culture in this region. They created their own immortal works. Gulistan was brought up in the Uyghur ethnic group—a people who are good at singing and dancing. She has two mixed bloodlines in her body, which gives her a special temperament. Two different cultures were blended into the mind and heart of Gulistan, so she can experience life in a special way because of it, at levels which cannot be felt by others.

When reading her works like The Essence of Memory Series, The Oriental Wandering Series, The Walking Series, Contemplating the Middle Ages, etc. We can see that she, from such a remote place, is the successor of an excellent traditional culture. She has a good sense in modern art because she was nurtured by both Chinese culture and Western culture. Furthermore, thanks to her edification in traditional domestic and foreign art since her childhood, she was born with a natural link to present-day art. The present European and American art styles of many kinds and some important artists, such as Marc Chagall, Giotto, Piero Della Francesca, Tapies, Simone Martini, Rogier Van Der Weyde, and others, have all been absorbed and experienced as her artistic nutrition. They have melted into her thoughts and become her own, which makes her works mellow rather than flirtatious; elegant rather than stiff; modern rather than barbaric; and fantastic rather than morbid. For example, the traditional signs of eastern Asian culture, the traditional Chinese Qinghua vase, the classical furniture of the Yuan and Ming Dynasties, the fresco figures in the tombs of the Han Dynasty, and the masks from the western fields in The Oriental Wandering Series were not simply thrown into the picture without the impression of her artistic thoughts, but they were endowed with her own thoughts and recreated into the paintings; and these show new artistic conceptions and light. In enjoying these paintings, the readers follow Gulistan’s eyesight and travel through various times and spaces to reread and understand history and culture. Another example is The Essence of Memory Series, in which both the elements of domestic and foreign cultures, such as the flowers and birds painted in the Song Dynasty and the sculptures of ancient Greece, were freely applied by Gulistan and exhibited in the neighboring pages of an open-faced book. With the flow of time and space, with the birth and death of life, only the traces of culture were left. In spite of the flowers, insects and birds outlined by royal painters of the Song Dynasty with powerful brush strokes on flowery silk and brocade and the exquisite ancient sculptures by the Greek artists, all the lives and affairs surrounding these objects have faded away. However, the traces of their culture flow into the hearts of artists, forever left in the sky of their memory and entering into their spiritual worlds. They have become inspirations and conceptions, expressed by artists, painted into pictures. Creation of this kind fits the basic rules of art as well as the original attributes of human beings. The centuries-old history of the development of Chinese painting and the study of foreign art styles and skills are important, and training at the college level is necessary. But we should never forget the nature of art, nor should we ignore the easy and basic original intention of painting: to express people’s feelings. Gulistan’s paintings succeed in developing and preserving her ancestor’s painting traditions. Her environment is free and her artistic prospects are bright. The European Renaissance produced easy and free, heroic or elegant, and accurate artistic styles and exquisite true-life paintings.

Traditional Chinese painting is the reflection of profound Chinese culture. Gulistan’s artistic style and painting skill will be gradually uncovered with the improvement of the quality and quantity of her works. Pursuing skill alone, however, will lead one away from the nature of art.

As a creative painter, Gulistan has had different experiences combined with her multicultural background, which makes her works different from the styles of her contemporaries. The differences are also due to her inner thoughts and careful understanding of domestic and foreign history and culture. They are of this kind: “We can list it clearly…. We can all see a white trail from heart to heart….” Gulistan has not shown the sharp confrontation with traditional culture as some other young painters have done to seek out new artistic roads and styles. On the contrary, she has a natural and gentle feeling towards traditional history and culture. Her works also show the sense of long-lasting and elegant cultural aroma, which is quite unusual and full of reverence compared to other young painters. In short, it is impossible to learn the sense of art (and culture and history) from college textbooks or experiences alone.

The difference between great artists and average painters is that the latter observe and record the world with their eyes, brains and hands, while the former do it with their soul and passion. “I still remember that in the sky of memory, there are clean white clouds. I really don’t want to leave the sky of memory, which is completely pure, just like me…, flowers quietly bloom together, and the remote memory is suffused…. Lines and colors in my paintings completely deviate from the function of recording natural shapes. They are the mirror of heart and the nerve of matter. The delight of creation is the process of pursuing one’s present state of mind.”

Gulistan’s artistic inner essence thrives in wandering in her own sky of memory, while her feelings are expressed in her painting. The spirit becomes art and the art becomes spirit. Yes, she will build the house of her artistic spirit into a kind of greater “reach” within her sky that will not leave the sky of memory.

Dong Jie
Art editor