Inner landscapes, the atmospheric world of Peng Meiling  

Simone Schuiten and Xiaoman Li

Taiwanese-born Peng Meiling left her homeland almost 30 years ago to live in Brussels. With her husband, she pursued an additional training in painting at La Cambre, École Supérieure des Arts where they will be friends, among others, with the painter and engraver Gabriel Belgeonne. The couple has been looking for intercultural concordances, engaging in Western modernism while taking into account the fragmentation of points of view.

Peng Meiling examines the relationship between painting and writing, both fundamental elements of Chinese culture. Her questioning of traditional Chinese aesthetics in relation to Western criteria, allows us to return to the phenomenon of transference. During her studies at La Cambre, she understood more deeply that drawing is not used to describe. The teachers gave her numerous opportunities to experiment with space and light. Under the influence of the emphasis placed on the circulation of the gaze in relation to the space, she paradoxically discovered a possibility of returning to a primordial sensitivity.

This way, the contribution of Western painting allowed her to renew her approach to Chinese spirituality. She realized that it is necessary to make connections between the two cultures because we do not conceive art or religion in the same way, we do not speak of the same thing, we don’t see the same things. This recognition of the Other as being an Other, invites us to open up a dialogue and to look for places of convergence because what especially characterizes us today belongs to our capacity for exchange.

From 1997, Peng Meiling teaches Chinese painting at the Belgian Institute for Advanced Chinese Studies at the Cinquantenaire Museum. In the library of the Institute she tries to find new sources and develops her chineseness with her students whom she introduces to the Far Eastern aesthetics. She feels the urge to immerse herself in poetry, calligraphy and traditional painting. Through reading and listening, she gets acquainted with writers and calligraphers who lead her back to the sources of her culture and let her experience a certain delight provoked by absence or distance.

In her person, the concept of chineseness finds its full meaning, because in search of her roots, her imagination and her memory drive her and stimulate her to rediscover the places she spontaneously occupied as a child. She now finds satisfaction in being Chinese in the sense that she is able to increase her cultural heritage by sharing the same aspirations with the great masters. Through painting and literature, as in a diary, she finds the means to express her interiority. Seeking to nourish her spiritual life, she became a Christian and her faith develops in a dual direction, both religious and aesthetic, both Western and Far Eastern.

Her work is characterized by a primary intention and a desire to deploy the fundamentals of Chinese aesthetics. And yet her work is not unrelated to the registers of the Western system of representation because its abstract features manage to reconcile the points of view. The idea of abstraction therefore finds its full meaning in her work. It allows us to make a connection between Chinese calligraphers, painters, poets and musicians who, since the Song dynasty, have sought to go beyond the visible to present the invisible.

Peng Meiling managed to deepen her research in abstraction by seeking in the art of allusion the pursuit of a balance that is both precarious and masterful. Responsive to the energy of the oriental line, she uses a few strokes to give life to the harmony that resides between substance and form. The act of painting allows her to compose spatial tensions where emptiness is celebrated for its inalienable founding presence.

She uses light and transparent inks to reflect the intrinsic dynamism of traditional aesthetics. These invite her to pay her full attention to the space and the atmosphere she manages to stage. This ambient world is that of cycles, seasons and cosmic rhythms which the artist integrates into her work. It must capture the spirit of nature in order to find a language, in which forms can appear or disappear, a language in search of the perpetual movement of the meaning of life and of constant development.

Conducive to meditation and detached from figurative painting, Peng Meiling’s speak to us, they let us participate in the continuous flow of life, they accompany its movements and rhythms. The artist fulfills her mission by transmitting her spirituality focused on the inner impulse. Subjective landscapes appear on the paper screen, they initiate a process that continues along the scroll or accordion-style notebook. This dynamic of expression materializes the deployment of intention. Whether through calligraphy or painting; Peng Meiling summons the invisible. She invites the unspoken, the unspeakable to present itself in an ephemeral manner. The ink traces which the brush releases suggest the passage of a breath on a surface favorable to movement and becoming. There is no downtime or acquired purpose, the ink stains continue to activate their presence and to unfurl in the balance of emptiness and fullness.

As for the colors, they emerge through atmospheric tensions. They belong to the register of Chinese scholars. The colors disperse and gather according to the breath produced by the brush containing in reserve the energy of the “empty” wrist. They give life to the surface on which they appear and invite the spectator to an encounter. The support activated by the colors and the gesture of the painter appear in a plastic dynamic allowing the gaze to find appeasement.

The classic Chinese landscapes with mountains encircled by mists and cut across by the torrents have lost their silhouettes and gained in abstraction. Geographically separated from Chinese nature, Peng Meiling reappropriates the essentials through color, movement and rhythm which she inspires in her creations. The landscapes she calls “interior” then negotiate singular approaches to the support. It is no longer a matter of wanting to recognize something but rather of being drawn into the momentum of the brush that talks with the paper. It is only through gesture and color that the atmosphere of the landscape reveals itself. The appearance of color as well as its dissipation keeps the dialogue with emptiness and silence open. The movement of the ink marks reminds us of the constant shift from heavy to light. The stone mountains immersed in the clouds can fly off and reveal their geological dynamics.

Peng Meiling’s work is carried out in a quest for the essential, which, not being particularly Chinese or Western, must develop our level of humanity.