Appreciating Zhu Xuanxian’s Works /By Yang Keyang
Appreciating Zhu Xuanxian’s Works
——Preface to Collection of Woodcuts by Zhu Xuanxian (朱宣咸)
By Yang Keyang
Advisor to China Graphic Artist Association
Some time in the past, woodcut was regarded as an inferior “small trick” in China. However, many people were just fascinated by it, and developed lifelong attachment to it, and Zhu Xuanxian (朱宣咸) was one of them. Zhu Xuanxian was a student attending the second-session correspondence courses sponsored by the National Woodcut Association of China in 1949 just before the liberation. Actually, before that, when he was in his hometown at Taizhou, he had begun to make woodcut works with his rough knowledge on woodcut art, and the first several woodcut works finished in 1946-1947 in the front of the collection are some his early works retained till now. After he attended the correspondence courses held in Shanghai in 1948, besides learning woodcut harder, he took part in the various activities held by the then National Woodcut Association of China and became an activist in the woodcut circle.
In May 1949, Shanghai was liberated, and he joined the army advancing toward the Southwest and came to Chongqing, and then stayed there thereafter. In the dozens of years later, Zhu Xuanxian always followed the needs of revolutionary work unconditionally, and worked conscientiously for whatever needed. Although he never went out of the artistic field, he had little chance to work on woodcut and became even an amateur, even without using the gravers for years. From the date of the works in the collection, we can see clearly such intervals; however, we can also find that he worked diligently on woodcut as long as it became possible. Particularly, the last several works in the collection were just the unfinished ones in 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, but dozens of years later, he finished them with his great enthusiasm to woodcut. This is what I mentioned beyond his lifelong attachment to woodcut art.
The woodcut works of Zhu Xuanxian created in the 3 or 4 years before the Liberation in 1949 have some rough signs, which were often seen in most new woodcut works in the early period. However, it should be acknowledged that most of such works were based on his true feelings, and some even on his own experiences, which was also a common inclination of early woodcut for its close relation with life. Therefore, although they are a bit rough, they are the reflections of the numerous miseries of the society and the unique trace of the time, and thus a true evidence of life.
Zhu Xuanxian worked on and off in the creation of woodcuts, but he had a lot of ideas and was very enthusiastic in this pursuit. For example, the artistic conception, temperament and interest of Swatting Flies in 1958 and Night in 1959 are completely different. One is childish but lovely, lively and untrammeled, the other quiet and kindly, tender and exquisite, both of which permeated with strong flavor of life. Still, the paintings of Early Spring in the Mountain Area in 1961 and Reading Aloud in 1963 are in sharp contrast and their effects are quite different. One is concrete, meticulous and presents a picture of busy preparations for spring ploughing in the suburb, while the other is concise, epitomized and gives a picture of attentive lesson review on the campus. Each of them is endowed with poetic and picturesque meanings, provoking people’s thought. Some others like Hongyan in Early Summer, On the Jialing River, Autumn Dusk of the Suburb and Enthralled, etc. are of all different interest, being simple or plump or vast and intelligent. Zhu Xuanxian’s spirit of pursuit and exploration is further commendable due to the small quantity of his woodcut works.
His latest work Midsummer in the South——My Hometown describes the beautiful countryside scenery in south China, a decorative representation of the actual situation, with a flavor of graphic art, and particularly the white space in the picture with green theme, which makes the scene refreshing. Such arrangement of blank space is also well reflected in The Banyan Lake in Dripping Green and Beautiful Mountain Area. Such a skill owes much to the successful application of his “ink-thrifty” experience in traditional Chinese painting to the graphic art.
This collection seems to be Zhu Xuanxian’s farewell to the woodcut work, and he would spend more time on traditional Chinese painting. For a man of senior age and decreasing vigor, it is tiresome to work on woodcut. Therefore, it is natural for him to do so; yet I am not that absolute, and I still expect that he would incorporate the essence of traditional Chinese painting into woodcut work, and also use the unique flavor of woodcut to visualize the traditional Chinese painting works, so that through the complementation of different types of painting, he will make even greater achievement.
Wish the early publication of the collection!
In Shanghai, China, September, 1993