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Illusion and Reality

The ideals and reality of the artist-recluse are both close and distant. At first glance, the composition of his painting might look like any other, but closer examination of the details often yields incongruity and irrationality. In Wu Zhen's "Twin Pines," for example, a stream apparently winds through the painting only to appear disjointed and illusory upon closer look. Only by being able to suspend our expectations and understanding of the real world can we reach the landscape of the spirit constructed by the artist.

The blossoming trees in the foreground of Wang Meng's "Fishing in Reclusion at Cha-hsi" hint at a world cut off from the land in the background. "Proceeding along the edge of the stream, I forget the distance of the road I have walked. I suddenly come across a forest of blossoming peach trees that extend uninterrupted for several hundred paces on either bank. Fragrant grasses are delicate and petals fall in riotous profusion." The description from "The Peach Blossom Spring" by the ancient carefree spirit Dao Yuanming has long been considered by Chinese scholars as the prototype of a perfect world or utopia. A figure fishes below a tree as another dozes in the boat. This world is an extension of the ancients and follows in tradition, transmitting the yearnings and ideals of the painter in the process.