Why I Paint

The world is so vast and varied, why do I choose painting, rather than something else? This question really has no end. To be honest, it was just the will of heaven.

Heaven being divine inspiration, and will being love.

Everything happens for a reason. The first time I became intensely interested in art was when I was in high school in the late 1970s. My neighbor and friend Tian Gu signed up for an art class at the district culture center, and came back with a bunch of drawings of figures, plasters and still lifes. I was amazed. How could a pencil make a piece of paper so beautiful? I was awestruck, as if hit by an electric shock. I told my father I wanted to learn how to paint, and he said okay. After that, Tian Gu introduced me to some painter friends, and I grew even more interested. To my surprise, when my father went on a work trip to Beijing, he actually bought me a set of painting materials and tools I could have never imagined getting. I am so thankful to him. That easel and painting board had me mesmerized for a long time. It was also at that time that my father solemnly introduced me to a teacher named Mr. Peng, who taught me drawing and colors. He was my first formative teacher.

After graduating high school, I went to work in a factory, something for which I had zero interest. The foremen there saw me as completely useless. I did nothing but draw all day. I remember my first month’s salary as a workman’s apprentice. It was exactly 12 yuan. After work that day, instead of going home, I ran straight to the Kunming Art and Craft Store at Xiaoximen, where I promptly spent all my money to bring home the plasters and geometric solids I had long yearned for. Now I could look at them all day and arrange them however I wanted. I drew so much excitement from watching how the light changed them. I never grew tired of drawing them.

In the early 1980s, Minzu University of China came to Yunnan to select students, and I was one of the lucky few to join their Fine Arts Oil Painting Department. At that moment, the will of heaven descended on me once again. Painting became my life, and I naturally gave my life to painting. I have been fortunate to find in my life something on which to carve away the time.

The question of why I paint the way I do remains unknown and unresolved. That is because experience tells me that whenever I approach creation, everything is in constant flux. To try and rein in this change is impossible, but in this change, in this process, all of the joys and sorrows of creation naturally come into being. The end of the artwork comes only because my energy is used up, my perceptions, rhythm and even breathing grow weak, bringing the process to a natural close. So my demands of the artwork can never be fully fulfilled, and I can never reach a state of so called perfection. When that feel is awakened again, old works can become new works. This is not an act of repetition, but a rebirth of perception. Every time I finish a painting, it is like a great weight has been taken off of me. But after a brief moment of enjoyment, new anxieties arise. It has almost become a kind of cycle, and I have grown used to it.

When I finish creating an artwork, I don’t feel like saying much, let alone explaining it. The image itself exists. The language of painting is all there is.

I believe in goodness and in the language of painting. It brings transcendence to contradictions and obstacles. An outlook of being-towards-death defines my sense of existence, my worldview and my thoughts on painting. The question of why I paint has naturally become my individual religion and faith.

The perfection of language is my ultimate goal in painting, and it pulls me closer to the world.

The cultures of East and West follow different paths up the same mountain.

Ma Yun