I am living beside the old road to Chongqing at Jingangpo in a tiny courtyard that was originally a gatehouse, divided into two by a thin bamboo screen: each room is no more than a few square metres and it’s less than two metres high. The only light comes from the few weak rays that penetrate the broken tiles on the roof – it’s not enough to write a letter, let alone produce a painting!
The only way to paint is to wait until a meal is over and then take the solitary square wooden table over to the doorway and use the light coming through the door, and when I’ve finished painting, to take it back across to its original position for a mealtime or whatever the next activity. And so every day I have to tidy up the mess twice: clearing up the waste paper, washing the brushes and inkstone, sweeping the floor and wiping the table – I have to do all of them one by one.
And so for the last six months I have given my wife and three children no alternative, when I’m painting I have to ask them to go outside and while away five or six, or eight or nine hours in the bamboo forest.
Though this is the reality of my circumstances for painting, when I stand by the mountain at Jingangpo, despite my ramshackle thatched dwelling I wish for nothing else: the rushing springs, the encircling bamboo and the mountain pines…. It all calls to mind a poem by Shi Tao:
"In recent years I secured a dwelling by a mountain,
I enjoy the sound of rushing water, the great bamboos.
Seated, I suddenly hear the wind and rain arriving,
Hurriedly calling the children to gather up book"
– Shi Tao (c. 1640–c. 1705)