A disciple's lot: laying stones along a very long road

By Zhao Xu | China Daily | Updated: 2019-09-07 10:33
Mount Hua Album from the Bounded By Mountains series, 2005.[Photo provided to China Daily]

The Chinese were less preoccupied with the faithful recording of what they saw than with the expression of feelings these views had aroused inside them, he says. In doing so they were assisted by the brushworks they had "borrowed" from nature and kept refining.

"It's about capturing the essential rather than the ephemeral, the transcendental rather than the transient," says Cherney, who over the past 20 years has traveled all over China in search of scenery that overlaps with his mind's rubbing of those age-old traces of ink.

Google Maps and GPS facilitate the preparation, but help from locals has been critical once he is out in the wild.

"When I was photographing the Three Gorges as part of my Ten Thousand Li of the Yangtze River series (one li is equivalent to 0.5 kilometers), a local farmer who has lived his entire life atop the peak overlooking one of the gorges cut a path for us with his machete, through the last several hundred meters of foliage to a rocky outcropping. It was directly above the gorge, somewhere he himself hadn't visited in quite a number of years."

Not all surprises were pleasant ones: what appears in an ancient scroll as a mighty, mist-wreathed mountain may in reality just be a hillock.

Another time, Cherney traveled a long distance to the warm-weathered southeastern China, having seen a Yuan Dynasty masterpiece depicting a swath of water and the corrugated, tree-interspersed mountains along its bank. What he found, instead, was a lush green that carpeted the entire landscape. (Another example of the ancient Chinese landscape artists' tendency to paint as much from imagination as from observation.)

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