Unveiled in Christie’s Hong Kong autumn sale and sold for HKD 460 million, “Wood and Rock”, a 1,000 years old ink-on-paper painting by the preeminent Chinese scholar Su Shi, is the epitome of Song Dynasty’s aesthetics marked by simplicity and elegance.
text: Michelle Siu
歷經塵世的紛擾，始知美的極致就是簡。中國古代美學到宋代是一個文明高峰， 宋代美學就是極簡的代名詞，書畫器物皆要求質感的絕對單純，色彩純淨，古雅質樸，而且十分內斂，不追求無謂的雕琢裝飾，跟唐代的華麗風格大相徑庭。宋代著作不勝枚舉，例如宋徽宗的書法詩帖、範寬的《谿山行旅圖》、郭熙《早春圖》，或是宋汝窯的天青、卵青、粉青瓷器，而本來燒壞了冰裂紋，宋人也把敗筆視為美，甚至用火溫去燒出開片。其實現在很多人推崇日本歌頌不完美、殘缺美的“ 侘寂”美學，都是起源於中國宋代，足見宋代文化的影響力。簡約美越看越有韻味，為生活增添一份優雅。
出身於這樣一個時代背景下的文壇泰斗蘇軾，更是悉數發揮他的才華，成為文學史上一代風雲人物。蘇軾是世人敬仰的文人、作家、詩人、畫家、書法家和政治家，才高八斗，藝術造詣極高，在宋代文壇獨領風騷。相信大部分人，沒有讀過都必定聽過他流傳千古的《水調歌頭．明月幾時有》和《念奴嬌．赤壁懷古》。然而說到他的書法和繪畫作品，流傳在世的可謂鳳毛麟角。唯一留下的手稿《寒食帖》字體雖顛顛倒倒，蘇軾甚至自嘲這是“ 石壓蛤蟆體”，但因完全表達被貶時生活淒苦的感傷，蒼勁沈鬱，被譽為“ 蘇書第一”。因此《木石圖》這幅宋代文藝最高成就之作在消聲匿跡八十多年後重回市場，立即引來萬眾矚目，最終更以4.6 億港元的天價成交。
Simplicity, as the ultimate form of beauty, is one of the intrinsic values advocated by Song Dynasty aesthetics. Unlike the particular sense of extravagance associated with Tang Dynasty, the aesthetic preferences demonstrated in Song – no matter in the forms of ceramics or paintings, epitomize subtlety and restraint. Artworks from that era such as calligraphy by Emperor Huizong of Song, “Travelers Among Mountains and Streams” by Fan Kuan, “Early Spring” by Guo Xi, and Ru ware especially those with “broken ice crackle” are considered most valuable treasures in the art world. Even the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-sabi celebrating imperfection and incompleteness was originated from Song, showcasing Song’s cultural influence.
It was during that period when Su Shi was born. As an esteemed scholar, writer, poet, painter, calligrapher and statesman, Su Shi was unparalleled amongst the Song literati. His artistic accomplishments made one of the most reveredliterary figures in Chinese history. Su Shi produced plenty of work of cultural and historic significance including the famous poems, “Prelude to the Water Melody” and “Charm of a Maiden Singer – Memories of the Past at Red Cliff”. Only a tiny number of paintings by his exist. The well-known calligraphy, “The Cold Food Observance” is one of them, the size of characters in which ranges considerably, seeming to vary rhythmically according to the emotional downfalls he experienced during a long period of political exile. Therefore, “Wood and Rock” which has been categorized as “location unknown” for more than 80 years is set to become one of the most important works ever auctioned in world history, and finally sold for HKD 460 million.
“Wood and Rock” was created when Su Shi was an official in Runzhou, which has a thousand years of history. The 543-cm ink-on-paper scroll depicts withered tree branches standing dignified alongside a curiously-shaped rock, resembling, as one renowned critic put it, giant creatures and dragons appearing and disappearing from stormy seas. The painting is part of an extended scroll which is complemented with four colophons, including calligraphy by Mi Fu – a renowned painter and calligrapher in that period. Both Su Shi and Mi Fu are amongst the four most celebrated calligraphy masters of the Song period.
In Song iconography the withered tree and ancient rocks have been imbued with many meanings. It is associated with notions of imperfection and restraint, as well as surviving difficult situations, such as the one Su Shi found himself in, but still being able to thrive and leave the world myriad art and literature legacies.