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Kaihe (K'ai ho) or Opening and Closing in Chinese Landscape Art   by Henry Li


Hi, Eevery body!

I am Henry Li from

Now let's continue our discussion on the concept traditional Chinese landscape painting. In last two Youtubes we have discussed the concept of Dragon Vein(long-mei) and the wrinkle modeling(cun). Today we will explore the concept of "Open-Close" (K'ai-ho) in the creative process in Chinese landscape  painting.  

Kai He -  or "Unity of Coherence," which is a general term composed with two characters:

Kai - means "open," which always suggests "divide," "separate," and "expand" as in the word "Fen-kai".

Ho - means "close," which means  "join," "gathering up," or winding up" .

The concept of Kaihe has two significances:  

 1) The Creative attitude: While composing a landscape painting, the artist acts as a creator.  He escapes the distraction of the representational likeness and deals directly with the pure relationship of "open and close" or "chaos and union."

How many of you have seen the movie Avatar? Yes, I did. I love the "floating mountings," which was reportedly inspired by the real Chinese landscapes  like Mt. Huangshan and Li River in Guilin, especially Zhangjiajie National Park. What amazed me is that, the "floating mountains" in that outer space , was purely created by computer landscape artists. With the inspiring elements found here and there in China and other places on the earth, they have re-created the entire world of Pandora from scratch, not bounded by any real scenes that people have seen.

Long times ago in the Sung Dynasty,  the Chinese has been fascinated to build artificial landscapes in their gardens with strange stones and found rocks. Later, they simply apply the idea of K'ai-ho to create  "potted landscapes" (Penjing, or Bonsai in Japanese). Meanwhile, Chinese artist has developed the "mountains and waters" painting with the same idea of K'ai-ho as in making a potted landscape or "Bonsai.

2) In terms of Composition: When you open (Kai) a mountain or hill that separate from one another, you must think of the pulling them together(ho); when you put mountains together you need to think the dividing them apart(Kai).  

In Chinese landscape painting and gardening,  a valley or stream that separate two mountains--the host and the guest,  is considered  "K'ai" element. The mountains must have a hierarchical order.  The top peak represents the Ho or unity or coherence, whereas the secondary mountain slopes and scattered rocks at the foot are all K'ai or dividing elements.

If a landscape comes with only Ho without K'ai would look very boring. 

If  a landscape with too much K'ai elements but no Ho would look chaotic and loose its focus of interest.

A good "Kai'-ho"  is composted of Host and Guest mountains, and scattered rocks which connect them. Within the large Kai'-ho, there are small open-close or K'ai-ho.  

This article was published on Sunday 24 January, 2010.
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