Art of the Iron Brush 鐵筆之藝術
Bamboo Carvings from the Ming and Qing Dynasties 明清竹雕
Essays by Benjamin Chiesa and Paul Pui Keung Yu 紀奕邦、余沛強 撰著
April 2019
116 pages
8.625" x 11.75", 71 color illustrations
HK$200 (Hong Kong, Macau, Mainland China, and Taiwan only)
US$30 (Other Countries)
Paperback 978-988-19025-6-6

Durable, flexible and abundant in nature, bamboo has been used as a material and a subject in Chinese art for millennia. Because it bends in a storm but does not break, it was particularly associated with the integrity and personal virtue of the scholarly elite, who embraced its symbolic value by planting bamboo in their courtyards, observing it in the wild, and by producing, acquiring and displaying delicate bamboo objects suitable for various scholarly pursuits, such as painting and calligraphy.

During the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), scholarly and imperial patronage transformed bamboo carving into a major art form. Scholar-carvers and workshops centred around Jiading (in present-day Shanghai) and Jinling (now Nanjing) produced large numbers of brush pots, wrist rests, miniature landscapes, figurines and other objects. Many bamboo carvers also worked in other materials soft enough to be manipulated with the ‘iron brush’—a term for knives and other carving tools used by literati to transfer their brushwork aesthetic to other media—including boxwood, rhinoceros’ horns and ivory, which shared a kind of loose identity under the heading of diaoke (‘carving’ in modern Chinese). Small in scale yet teeming with life, these works reflect prodigious technical skill and great imaginary involvement because of the unique shapes and contortions of the materials involved.

竹既耐用又柔韌,且產量豐富,以竹為藝術創作靈感和材料在中國已有逾千年歷史。即使遇上風暴,竹也不輕易折斷,其堅忍不拔的特性恰似文士正直而高尚的品德。文人會在自己的庭園內種竹、於野外觀竹,亦會製作、收藏和展示這些精雕細琢、又正好配合文人雅興如繪畫和書法的竹雕,來強化竹的象徵意義。

明代(一三六八至一六四四)的文人和宮廷對竹雕製作的贊助使其成為一種重要的藝術形式。位於嘉定(今上海)和金陵(今南京)等地的文人雕刻家和作坊大量生產筆筒、臂擱、袖珍山水小景、人物雕像及其他雅玩。許多竹雕家亦會以其他材質柔軟、能以「鐵筆」── 即文人製作富有書畫筆觸美學的雕品時所用的雕刻刀和相關雕刻工具── 雕刻的材料如黃楊木、犀角和象牙等來製造雕品。此等作品一概被統稱為「雕刻」。這些造型獨特、由不同材料幻化而成小巧玲瓏、卻又維妙維肖的雕刻品,充分展現出匠人的鬼斧神工和超凡的想像力。