Tao Chi’s Single Stroke

April 18th, 2010

A painting by Tao Chi collected in The Wilderness Colors of Tao-chi (1973).

Mountain-Blocked Clouds, ca. 1700 (plate 10). Click for larger version. The inscription is a couplet by Du Fu followed by a commentary by Tao Chi: “It is good not to have any houses here, / Yet to have mountains blocking the clouds. / These words are unusual, and this painting is also raw! There is a feeling beyond feeling, and yet no hint of an ordinary painting.”

“The unifying principle Tao-chi advanced for the understanding of painting as well as cosmic creation was called i-hua, which means both ‘the single stroke’ and ‘the painting of oneness.’ I-hua was at once the symbol and realization of primordial growth—the process of nature in both the general and specific senses. I-hua also constituted the very practical operating procedure in painting: the completed design depended on the direction and configuration of the first single stroke from which everything else grew. The accidental effects that Tai-chi sought in his work were directly related to this concept of ‘single stroke’ painting, or painting of ‘myriad strokes that are ultimately reunited in oneness'” (Fu’s & Fong’s introduction).

Said Tao Chi: “When the brush is united with the ink, yin-yün (cosmic atmosphere) is created. When yin-yün is undivided, it is like chaos. In order to open up chaos, what else should I use except the ‘single stroke’? Even if my brush is unlike the usual brush, my ink unlike the usual ink, and my painting unlike the usual painting, there is always my own identity in it. It is I who use the ink, the ink does not use me; I who wield the brush, the brush does not wield me; I who grow out of the womb, the womb does not discard me. From one, ten thousand thing come, yet from ten thousand things I must come back to one. By transforming the ‘single stroke’ into yin-yün, all things under heaven may be accomplished” (Hua-yü-lu, chapter 7).

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