The “Omega” Ink and Wash Painting from He Canbo

Dr. Rasko Radovic has called the mysterious human image in He Canbo’s ink and wash painting the “Omega person”, meaning the post human on Earth. Then, can we say He Canbo’s paintings have showed us the scenes of the last world or the posthumous world?

In terms of ink and wash painting, He Canbo has indeed made great innovations. It’s even no exaggeration to call his paintings the ultimate ink and wash painting in the world. The traditional ink and wash painting was a production of agricultural civilization, suitable for depicting mountains and waters, birds and flowers, as well as rural life. After entering the 20th century, the Chinese traditional ink and wash painting was influenced by western art ideology and Chinese revolutions, with painting techniques improved a lot and themes showing the spectacular scenes of wars and industrial construction. After the 1990s, with the rapid development of Chinese urbanization, a kind of metropolitan ink and wash painting came into being. Later, various kinds of experimental ink and wash paintings sprang up. Till now, abstract ink and wash painting has become an important branch of abstract painting, and is playing a critical role in reviving the abstract painting. As to He Canbo’s ink and wash painting, he has really reached the highest level in ink and wash painting and the contents of his paintings have dug into the deepest place of human existence. 

The mysterious human image in He Canbo’s works can be seen as a representation of human being or a pure symbol. Turning human being into a symbol is in itself a feature of the posthumous world. This human-shape symbol, together with geometrical patterns and numerals, seems to be ending traditional ink and wash painting. As we all know, ink and wash painting has developed into several forms and introduced some abstract factors, but there mustn’t be too many symbols or geometrical images in a painting, because symbols and geometrical patterns are seen as lifeless for ink and wash painting which requires vitality. But He Canbo has proved that symbols can also be vigorous. He still uses ink and wash and xuan paper to do painting, but adds symbols and geometrical patterns to his paintings. This is a reform on ink and wash painting, so He Canbo’s ink and wash painting is unique and can be seen as the ink and wash painting of the posthumous world.

He Canbo’s paintings reminded me of the oil paintings by CY Twombly, whose scribbles on the canvas almost ended oil painting. Donald Judd criticized Twombly’s works by saying: “there are a few drips and splatters and an occasional pencil line. There isn’t anything to these paintings.” The letter “e” scribbled by Twombly looks very much like the “Ω” painted by He Canbo, only with Twombly’s messier. In fact, not only does He Canbo’s painting look tidier than Twombly’s, the geometrical patterns in He’s works also make He’s works more reasonable than Twombly’s. however, the effect of He’s works on ending ink and wash painting is similar to that of Tombly’s on ending oil painting. He Canbo has used abstract geometrical patterns to end ink and wash painting. If we say Twombly has used the eastern way to end oil painting, then we can say He Canbo has used the western way to end ink and wash painting. Due to the difference of art traditions and media, ink and wash painting needs a different way of being ended from oil painting.

Although there are still mountains and waters and pavilions in He Canbo’s paintings, they are different from the mountains and waters and pavilions in previous paintings. They are actually the scenes of deadly posthumous world, making viewers dreadful or desperate. 

Some people may argue that we are still far away from the end of the world described in science fictions, but in the eyes of ink and wash painters, the world we are living is quite near its end. Do we need to prepare for the either slowly or quickly coming end of the world? Shall we bravely face it or do something to prevent it from nearing? He Canbo has left us a lot of questions. These questions not only arise from ink and wash art, but also arise from humanity and future. 


Weixiu Garden, Beijing University

Mar.5, 2012

Peng Feng

Academic Degree: Doctor of Aesthetics
Position: professor and dean of Arts Department of Peking University, deputy director of the Aesthetics and Art Education Research Center of Peking University, executive member of the International Aesthetic Association, as well as designer of the Chinese Pavilion of 2011 La Biennale di Venezia (International Art Exposition, 2011 Venice Biennial)
Main Research Areas: art philosophy, art criticism, atheistic principles, Chinese classic aesthetics, western modern aesthetics, comparative aesthetics between China and the west
Published Books: Introduction to Aesthetics (Fudan University, 2011), Return to the Eleven Problems of Modern Aesthetics (Peking University, 2009)