The subject is a massive tree, the bends, breaks, and textures of which visually recount the long history of its existence. The verisimilitude of the presentation, the myriad details of the image, might convince one that this is photo- realism, hyper-realism, and of course the painting shares some characteristics with those approaches to creation. But when compared to an actual photograph, say of a giant sequoia, the reality is far different (fig. 1). First of all, in nature we are unable to actually see the crown of such a tree other than when hovering in a helicopter immediately in front of it. Secondly, even on a fair day, the upper reaches of such a tree are not crystal clear but rather blurred by distance and atmospheric perspective. Thirdly, it is impossible to see such a magnificent example in isolation, since in the painting there is no background, no supporting cast as there would be in nature. It is salutary that the outside world does not intrude here, for thus it is that we concentrate solely on the single tree, and rejoice in the glory of its growth and artistic embodiment.
The Confucian Temple in Beijing, the second largest after the one in Ch’u-fu, the hometown of Confucius, was founded in 1302 under the Mongols and enlarged during the Ming and Ch’ing dynasties to its current, very ample size. In addition to the stellar examples of later Chinese architecture, including the Hall of Music where our daughter Amber first learned to whistle, and the stone steles which provide valuable historical information on Imperial Examination graduates, as well as a set of carved stone drums and other carvings, the complex includes many old cypresses (fig. 2). The differences between this image and the painting are roughly equal to those distinguishing a snapshot from a portrait, the former capturing surface reality, the latter probing deeper for personality and character. But it remains noteworthy that the best comparisons for this work are not paintings but rather trees that actually exist in nature, an indication of the artist’s intentions and a measure of his great success in achieving his aesthetic goals.
For a brief biography of Luo Jianwu, the artist, please see the preceding entry, catalogue 20.
Fig. 1. Crown of General Sherman, giant sequoia, ca. 3200 years old, after National Geographic, December, 2012, p. 32.
Fig. 2. Old cypress, Confucian Temple, Beijing, after www.jeffreylott.files.wordpress.com