Ink Tales, the title of this exhibition, refers to two related aspects of Chinese painting—its distinctive materials and its rich narrative content. In the Chinese tradition, painters use a flexible brush to apply ink and colors to silk or paper, transforming inert substances into revealing images. Drawn from the museum collections of Bowdoin and Colby Colleges, the paintings in this exhibition are eclectic. Nevertheless, the group of paintings offers an opportunity to explore a common theme: narrative.
Many narratives are lodged in the paintings’ subject matter. However, another way of understanding the narrative dimensions of Chinese painting is to consider the social contexts of creating and consuming the artwork. Images of auspicious plants and animals, for intance, would have been appropriate gifts for occasions such as weddings and birthdays. In some cases, the story of the scroll's creation, preservation, loss and rediscovery is just as fascinating as the narrative content of the subject.
The varied formats of Chinese painting also help determine how the viewer perceives the scroll's narrative. While large hanging scrolls may be viewed all at once, albums and handscrolls insist on a more extended episodic experience, like reading a book. Traditionally, handscrolls are unrolled to reveal a series of partial views, while albums are turned page by page.
Ink Tales represents collaborative work between Bowdoin and Colby College students and professors undertaken in Spring 2008. We are deeply grateful to the staff of the respective college museums for their support.