Irony, play and compassion

Fans and leisure

WAN Shouqi 萬壽祺 (1603-1652) creates an inventive and dispersed composition to accommodate the centrifugal force that lies in the twisting shape of a folding fan. The center of the composition is left open and unpainted to pool the unresolved forces, even as it may prosaically be interpreted as a rocky outcropping. Painted stones and plants edge this, providing a scale for perception.

The accompanying calligraphy is brief, with a concentration of larger and denser characters on the wide, upper portion of the fan. Here their slight inflation allows them to occupy the expanding space in which they lie.

That the fan is gold provides another challenge as such a surface is far less absorbent; the ink puddles and cakes, making even more marked a tension between representation and substance. Gold-surfaced fans may also be considered as ironic and indulgent, not unlike gold leaf applied to contemporary luxury pastries.

And Wan's fan was put to use, perhaps admired among friends on pleasure outings. Before it was ‘retired from service’ as a valued collectible, it was folded and unfolded many times as the marks between the segments make clear.

 WAN Shouqi 萬壽祺 (1603-1652)
Gazing west from Gold Mountain
Ink on gold paper
16.5 x 52 cm
Private collection