illuminated chaconne


In Search of Tao-Chi

Sandra DeanComment

On a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston a few years ago, I discovered that paintings by my seventeenth-century Chinese art hero, Tao-Chi, were all in storage awaiting the completion of the new museum building. Many other excellent painting and calligraphy pieces were available for viewing however, and I passed the afternoon in blissful study. In the photo, I am following my usual custom of physically recreating the artist's calligraphic brush movements in order to feel the rhythm of the work even better.

 It had been an in-person encounter with Tao-Chi's paintings in the British Museum many years ago, that had placed me on a path of artistic pilgrimage to search out his work wherever I could...

On that first, unexpected Tao-Chi “meeting” (via real art!) in the British Museum's Asian Art gallery, I was initially surrounded by large, formal, monochromatic brush paintings of mountains and streams created by traditional artists with orthodox sensibilities. As I stood before example after example, I could appreciate the mastery in each piece, but kept longing to experience more of the vibrancy I had seen in my beloved book of Chinese art back home in Seattle: The Wilderness Colors of Tao-Chi. 

As I turned to leave the room, I noticed a glass case in the center, dimly lit and filled with a magnetic presence I could feel from far away. When I mentioned this excitedly to the museum guard, she replied (with a shrug) that the glow was just from the lighting inside. But as I came closer, I saw that this was not entirely accurate. There, inside the case, were several small, incredibly lovely and yes, glowing paintings by my hero, Tao-Chi, the seventeenth century free spirit, artistic innovator and deep thinker whose ideas had influenced me so greatly.

I stood for a long time before that case, drinking in the unique Tao-Chi “vibrancy” that had been missing in the subdued and scholarly paintings on the walls. I vowed to infuse this quality into my own work which was just starting to find a voice of its own.

I returned home comforted and already looking forward to my next Tao-Chi pilgrimage.

For more about this extraordinary artist, see The Wilderness Colors of Tao-Chi, by Marilyn Wu and Wen Fong, published in 1973 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.