School of Visual Arts (SVA)
Liu Dan is a well-respected Chinese painter who is creating a vast imaginary landscape inspired by a visit to the Frick Collection in New York City. At the Frick, Liu Dan had encountered a painting of the young, doe-eyed beauty, the Comtesse d'Haussonville, painted by the brilliant French neoclassical artist, Jean-Auguste Ingres. As Liu Dan stared deeper and deeper into the eyes of the princess – a vision came to him. Back in Beijing, Liu Dan turned his vision into a painting. When Liu Dan was a young student it was forbidden to study Western paintings. The only chance he had to view his favorite Renaissance painters was in blurry black and white reproductions that were secretly handed from student to student. This experience has inspired him to create works that take intense scrutiny before they give up their secrets. Because Liu Dan respects the great ink painters from the earlier periods of Chinese painting, he insists on getting the right materials before starting his landscape. Liu Dan treats his art, the craftsmen who build his brushes and create his paper, and the world at large, in the same way – with an almost Monk-like respect. On a sweltering summer day he supervises dozens of half naked men preparing the giant sheet of Xuan paper for his painting. Liu Dan also carefully selects rare weasel and rabbit-hair brushes from his favorite craftsmen. As Liu Dan explains in the film, ‘Realism is not the intention. To paint a cup to look like a cup. This is known. This isn’t the function of art. It’s to present the spiritual aspect, something besides reality.’ By the end of the film, not only do we see the painting he’s been creating in a new way, but we see the world itself afresh.