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Donald WomackSplashed Ink 泼墨violin & guzheng 小提琴, 古箏15:002014
Recorded on the album Intertwined (Albany Records)

The term “splashed ink” refers to a type of painting in which the artist begins by splashing ink onto paper, then, using the resulting pattern, proceeds to create a painting by making use of various other techniques. Although po mo (泼墨), as it is called, dates back well over 1,000 years, it is the 20th century master Chang Dai-Chien (or Zhang Daiqian, 張大千) who is perhaps best known among modern splashed ink painters. Revisiting this ancient technique with a fresh eye, Chang sought to achieve a fusion of traditional Chinese painting with Western abstractionism, resulting in a unique style that straddles worlds — old and new, Eastern and Western, figurative and non-representational.

The piece Splashed Ink draws its inspiration from Chang’s works, which juxtapose the power of energetic abstract shapes with the serene, seemingly timeless depiction of nature scenes typical of Chinese Shan Shui (山水) landscape painting. Like Chang’s paintings, the piece contrasts motion and stillness, surface and depth, fragility and strength, the ephemeral and the lasting. Just as bright splashes of color typically accent Chang’s work, heightening the contrast between abstract and recognizable shapes, the piece is punctuated by various tone colors that contrast the instruments. And like Chang’s merging of artistic worlds, violin and guzheng bring together elements from different musical worlds into a single style, with origins in both Chinese and Western music.

The piece opens with an initial splash of sound from which various musical ideas emerge. An introductory section is teased out of this opening, setting up several sections that follow, each with its own distinct character and implied imagery. In the first, the interplay between motion and stillness creates a depth of space that seems to dislodge time from its linear path. The following section perhaps suggests a hanging mist that obscures an ancient mountain temple, affording us only brief glimpses as it rises and falls. In the next section, pent up energy bursts forth forcefully, much as the abstract shapes of Chang’s splashed ink seem to explode chaotically in contrast to the more subdued surrounding material. The final section returns to the previous restrained character, intimating a timeless serenity that quietly drifts farther and farther away.

Splashed Ink was commissioned by Sean Yung-Hsiang Wang, with the support of the Taiwan Ministry of Culture.