That day she wore a light blue V-neck sweater over a light grey crew-neck T-shirt. After many years without contact, Jing had taken the initiative and got in touch with me. I remember that we drank some sake while we were eating.
She took off her sweater and rolled it up. Her face had gone a little red, and she tipped her chin upwards when she laughed. Her snow-white teeth shone clearly in the light. What did we talk about? Was it her father, the botany professor, or was it the nouveau riche who were always trying to buy her paintings but did not know a thing about art? She laughed so gladly, and also nodded with extraordinary vigour whenever we agreed, that I almost forgot why she had arranged to meet.
I was watching her hungrily, watching her with a hunger unbecoming of a person of my age and status, watching her smile reflect the light of the table lamp. She thoughtlessly raised her eyebrows. I was also watching the continuous comings and goings of people behind her, and I wondered, a bit puzzled: had she changed? Or was it me? I had aged. She had taken good care of her skin, which still looked tender and lovely.
Yes, of course, of course, in the end we could not avoid talking about him.
‘Jun never even thought of inciting others to do illegal things. He was framed by petty people who envy him. Do you think there’s anything that can be done? Do you think someone could intervene?’
There is no way she didn’t know the difference between criminal activity and mistakes made by schoolchildren, but that is how she put it, in such an entitled way. And I just sat there, unconditionally absorbing her enchanting voice, imagining sinking my fingernails deep into her lovely skin. In the end, I didn’t tell her that Jun had sent me letters from prison.
Through her brush, those unpolished colours and lines became a world sometimes dazzling, sometimes tranquil.
I thought, I am definitely willing to possess one of Jing’s paintings. I’d hang it on the wall in front of my desk. But in that sensitive moment, I had no way of expressing that sentiment without the possibility of it being understood as a kind of proposition, a kind of transaction.
Her paintings contained only abstract colours and lines. You could easily tell that they were works by someone who had not received a formal art-education, and after all, she was a business management major. When we met, she was studying economics, infatuated with art; I was studying law, infatuated with literature. Drawing on a combination of interest and talent, she directly embraced colour and line in her own way, whereas I just became a boring judge. Through her brush, those unpolished colours and lines became a world sometimes dazzling, sometimes tranquil. There was a purity and innocence to her paintings that led one to yearn for the world of children’s stories. But they also hinted at something otherworldly and transcendent.
Her paintings had many fans, which was not a surprise to me. The odd thing was, many of these fans seemed to think that there was some correlation between her paintings and the fluctuations of the stock market. People said that the rises and dips of those lines and colours were uncannily similar to the movements of the market, and this interpretation was further supported by the titles she gave the works. Each painting was named after a date, and seemingly every single one of those dates corresponded to some great billow in the market. Whether or not it could be confirmed, the perceived relationship between the flowing lines of her paintings and the candlestick charts and shadow lines of the finance world had won Jing a great deal of popularity. There were some more discriminating collectors who said that the peculiar connection between these paintings and the stock market lay not only in their graphlike appearance but also in the capacity of the colours in the paintings to communicate a certain mood. The mood was always a tolerant one, which people found comforting.
Without a doubt, most of Jing’s fans simply appreciated the aesthetic beauty of her work. The rumours surrounding her paintings just amplified the demand for them. As for her relationship with Jun, that generated yet more rumours, many of which pertained to his political background. As much as she sought to separate herself from these rumours, it was futile.
I didn’t know if Jun’s current predicament would influence Jing’s painting style. As I repeatedly marvelled at the wondrous combinations of line and colour in her art, I wanted to believe that her paintings were innocent, that they existed separately from worldly affairs, that they were genuine works of art. As I was gazing at one painting, everything within it seemed to come to life, to lurch into internal struggle. Then, a moment of calm appeared within the struggle, which only accentuated the bewitching character of its tranquillity. The painting was titled March 4. I didn’t know which year it referred to, but I will always remember that date, March 4, because that was the day she broke up with me. At the time, the stock market had not yet entered our lives, but Jun had, with the bearing of a champion. His speeches were always richly agitating. They stirred up people’s longing for beautiful things. It was as if one person could predict our future using only the resonant, chafing air passing through his lungs and lips. Often, I was just one of many nameless people in front of the stage, unsure of where the future lay, one of the masses with an instinctive distrust of beautiful things. I recalled that it was after Jing and I listened to one of his speeches that I finally lost her.
I know that in this moment I must recount this bit of history with great care, because it involves some assumptions, some private feelings, some inexplicable envy and hatred. As for whether or not it is our lives, that is like Jing’s paintings: no matter how intensely the outside world fluctuates, she can remain in her room, experimenting with those colours, those lines. They appear to possess an eternal beauty, but at the moment, they have thoughtlessly touched a sensitive nerve.
This article was first published in the Winter 2016 issue of ArtReview Asia