A churning waterfall cascades over cliffs in Wu Yi’s Mountain Landscape, with his dry brush strokes defining flowing water and rough rocks. A void creates an ambiguous “white rainbow” that overshadows two miniature figures standing at the cliffside, engulfed by the expanse.
In Li Bai’s The Cataract of Lu Shan, the narrator climbs a peak to view a similarly “mighty waterfall” mixing with mist as it falls from the heavens, illustrating the insignificance of humans in relation to nature. The poem not only vividly depicts the momentum and beauty of the waterfall, but also captures the poet’s desire to escape from a corrupt society and “leave the world of man forever.” This famous Tang-dynasty (618-907) poet depicted distant, illusory worlds like this landscape to reflect his bold personality. Centuries later, Wu Yi pursued traditional landscape paintings in secret under the artistic restrictions of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
Dissatisfied with their current conditions, both poet and painter boldly explore the boundaries of human imagination in their works. The painting captures the essence of the poem and enables the painted figures, the poem’s narrator, and contemporary viewers to immerse themselves in nature and vanish into the “mountains of renown,” separated from society and awed by the power of nature.
Poem selection and label by Ava Busto Schiff ’18, Xiaoqing Luo ’18, and Erin Sulla ’19