Inscriptions: Title Slip: The Alchemist’s Companions With three seals of the artist, 水松石山房 Shuisongshi shanfang (‘The Water, Pine and Stone Retreat’), 莫 Mo, and 士撝 Shiwei Title Panel: The Alchemist’s...
The Alchemist’s Companions With three seals of the artist, 水松石山房 Shuisongshi shanfang (‘The Water, Pine and Stone Retreat’), 莫 Mo, and 士撝 Shiwei
The Alchemist’s Companions
Inscribed by the Master of the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat, 2016. With two seals of the artist, 水松石山房 Shuisongshi shanfang (‘The Water, Pine and Stone Retreat’), and石石狂 Shishikuang (‘A Fool for Stones’)
I met the Alchemist in a strange stone I discovered cast aside by the waters of an underground river which ran through the end of a deep cave beneath a cliff not far from my mountain retreat. Struggling home with it, I set it up by the hearth and spent a few days becoming familiar with its surface before noticing that it had an identical cave at the base of a similar cliff tucked away amongst its crevices.
The temptation was, of course, irresistible; settling comfortably in front of the stone, I followed my usual practice of deep breathing while focusing intently upon the point in the stone where I would enter, stilling the chatter of the birds in the birdcage of my mind. As ever I had no notion of how long the process took or when the transition, the transmutation, took place, I just suddenly found myself beyond the World of Red Dust - in the stone. Recalling every detail of the path I had chosen, I climbed it to the entrance of the cave.
Here there was no river, no sound of rushing water as it mindlessly carved solid stone into sculpture; only a distant glow of daylight. I trod carefully towards it and stepped out into an idyllic valley ablaze with blossoming peach trees where, by the bank of a broad river, the retreat of the Alchemist stood, the old man there to welcome me – expecting me.
Without fuss or query he invited me to join him. I remained in his retreat for a lengthy sojourn, its duration difficult to determine in a realm outside of time and unrelated to the ticking clocks of the Dusty World. He had a fine collection of eight strange stones when I arrived and while I was there we added two more and I made stands for them all. I have painted all ten before as cinnabar stones, suitable for an alchemist. I enjoyed recalling them to the brush, but it occurred to me that since they were stones from another realm of reality, it mattered not what they looked like, so I painted them again but without restraint, splitting the ten now imaginary stones into a pair of handscrolls, one to keep perhaps, although ‘possession’ is meaningless to an artist about his own work, the other one to give to a friend.
The alchemist claimed that one of the stones would occasionally levitate from its stand as if leaping free, although I cannot say I ever saw it do so, but here I have painted them all still settled into the simulated root stands I made for them from gnarled old peach boughs and the cypresses and pines that clung to the crags in the gorge that fed into his valley. Many of his stones were of attenuated forms and we discussed the orientation of each for weeks and months before determining which way to place the stone. He favoured creating a good deal of formal tension when placing them, so as to challenge me to balance his orientation with a stand that would make it look comfortable. It was an intriguing formal exercise and one I am glad to have entertained again as the focus for recalling an imaginary re-creation of his ten companions. Beyond the Realm of Red Dust perhaps all is imaginary but such a distinction has no meaning there. Perhaps it is the Dusty World that is imaginary. The two realms are like those of the mind: within the rational, reasoning realm of comprehension, the world of the Dao seems imaginary but once in the realm beyond the intellect, the intellectual realm seems imaginary. Or, perhaps, like consciousness itself, the two while incompatible are complimentary like our two legs – no need to discuss which is real, which is best; together they will get you to your destination.
Inscribed on a second set of five stones by the Master of the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat at the Garden at the Edge of the Universe in the new year of an unpredictable 2016 as the monkey emerges with his pouch full of mischief.
With ten seals of the artist, 攜杖老人 Xiezhang laoren (‘The old man who carries the staff’),石 Shi (‘Stone’), 意氣如雲 Yiqi ru yun (‘Spirit as high as the clouds’), 水松石山房主人Shuisongshi shanfang zhuren (‘Master of theWater, Pine and Stone Retreat’), 竹虛 老人Zhuxu laoren (‘Old man as Empty Inside as Bamboo'), and 有意无意 Youyi wuyi (‘Between intention and no intention’). 笑傲烟霞Xiaoao yanxia ('Smile haughtily among clouds and rosy mists') 人磨墨墨磨人 Renmomo momoren (‘Man grinds the ink; ink grinds the man’), 石狂 Shikuang (‘Stone Fool’), 山外山樵 Shanwai shanqiao (‘The mountain woodcutter who is not in the mountains’)