Zeng Xiaolian Artist Statement

Somehow, through a bit of luck and destiny, a scribbling kid ended up on the path of the painter.

I drew illustrations for Flora of China with wax paper specimens as a guide. Others have no regard for this, but I find it quite satisfying. I can climb the highest mountains as I sit on my cold chair. I often sit as still as a statue, quietly watching as the flowers bloom and wither, seeking the fertile soil of inspiration between motion and stillness. I have made up for lack of sophistication with diligence, always persevering to build skills out of nothing. Gazing at the birds, flowers, trees and plants at the tip of my brush, I console myself, and give the viewer a little something on which to ruminate. I have always found a way to fit where I end up, and have always tried my best, remaining calm and collected, and finding joy within.

Newton said that every action in nature has an equal and opposite reaction. The actions of animals and plants are driven by their drive to survive. Flowers are the greatest, most magnificent expression of the profusion and evolutionary drive of plants. It is meant to attract insects and other animals to spread their pollen, and it has incidentally filled the world with color. Flowers do not bloom for humans. Humans are overthinking things, but they have also found inspiration for love and beauty within

Everyone has a spark of love for flowers within their hearts. The beholder of flowers derives joy from their shapes and colors, and finds the magic of nature and mystery of life within the unique bearing of each flower. The projection of emotions on flowers, and their use in expression, have formed into a flower culture. In the eyes of the Chinese, the plum blossom stands for purity of character, the lone tree blooming before the others in spring; the orchid stands tall and fragrant, even when there is no one to appreciate it; the camellia is bright and vivid, its countless blossoms like flames on the branch; the chrysanthemum stands proud against the autumn frost, maintaining its fragrance to the very end; the lotus stands clean and pure as jade, unblemished by the mud from which it springs; the peony has an elegant poise, presenting the colors of the nation and the fragrance of heaven; the China rose is refined and proper, proud to be the queen of flowers; the rhododendron spreads a riot of colors across the mountainside; the Himalayan blue poppy radiates tension, brilliant colors among the snow; the primrose carpets the ground, unafraid of the cold; the lily is clean and pure, and symbolizes eternal matrimonial harmony. As people have attached their feelings to flowers, flowers have in turn become carriers for human ideals, thoughts and emotions.

Painting botanical illustrations is a lonely endeavor. You must endure long periods sitting on cold benches, with no one to keep you company. When you interact with plants in their myriad forms, it is almost as if they can talk, but you cannot hear them, only intuit what they are saying. I quickly grew used to the silence and solitude.

Solitude is an essential lesson in life. Once we taste its sweetness, we are often unwilling to leave. Noise and excitement belong to everyone, but solitude belongs only to yourself. Schopenhauer said, “A man can be himself only so long as he is alone.” When we are alone, our thoughts are at their clearest. Alone, we accumulate, alone we reflect, alone we are enlightened, alone we are elevated. Solitude is a great bounty in life. No matter how much excitement we encounter on the path of life, we must find tranquility amidst the clamor, and from that tranquility, solitude. We come into this world alone, and we leave it alone as well. In the quest for semblance, we find truth, and in the quest for truth, we find life. Life is beauty. Beauty stems from life. If you can paint thriving vitality, recreate life and evoke the viewer’s sense of affinity, then you have entered into the free kingdom of botanical art.

Use your eyes to observe, and your heart to perceive. The process of painting is the process of melding with the object and feeling it with your heart. When your entire spirit is absorbed in perception and expression, you will forget all entanglements and vexations, and enter into a pure realm, a realm of unity with nature.

Zeng Xiaolian