Arttaichi Assi Ben-Port Paintings inspired by Tai Chi Movement Espanol

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"White Crane Spreads its Wings" - Exhibition by Assi Ben-Porat
December 27, 2003
By Professor Ram Ben-Shalom

Tai Chi is a popular abbreviation for Tai Chi Chuan, the martial art based on the ideas of Tai Chi - the Taoist symbol of a circle containing the intertwined Yin and Yang. Both are complementary opposites and are different expressions of the same power. Tai Chi Chuan is one of the three soft school styles of martial arts, the others being Xing-Yi and Pa-Koa. To the onlooker, the practice of Tai Chi Chuan will seem like a series of slow dance moves, without any expression of physical force. In fact, each and every one of the movements represents a state of fighting with an imaginary opponent, and the movements inevitably harbor a great deal of power based on the use of one's inner power (Jing), energy, and breathing (Chi).

The theoretical principles of Tai Chi Chuan are based on the Tao Ta Ching - the method of Lao Tzu, sixth century BCE, and the classical writings known as the "Essence of Tai Chi Chuan", which are attributed to Chang San Feng, the mythological creator of Tai Chi Chuan*

Tai Chi Chuan has three main styles: Chen, Yang, and Wu, which are named after the founders of the styles. Assi Ben-Porat, one of the first Tai Chi masters in Israel, practices and teaches the Yang style, which was founded by Yang Lu Shan (1779-1872). The art of Tai Chi has for many years been an esoteric method, preserved among a limited number of families. Family members revealed the secrets of Tai Chi to relatives, and only rarely opened the gates to a few "stubborn" outsiders, willing to learn in difficult conditions. One of them was Cheng Man-Ching (1975-1900), who studied the art from Yang Cheng Fu (1936-1883), grandson of Yang Lu Shan. Cheng Man-Ching was a well-known scholar in the five Chinese arts: calligraphy, painting, poetry, martial arts and medicine. After the communist revolution, Cheng and his disciples spread Tai Chi in the West. Assi Ben-Porat belongs to the dynasty of Yang-style masters that began, as mentioned, with Yang Lu Shan, and continued with Cheng Man-Ching, Dr.Chi Chiang-tan and John Kels - Assi's teacher in London (1978-1984).

Assi Ben-Porat's paintings mostly deal with positions from a set series of movements - the "Form". Assi paints according to the principles of classical Chinese painting, which he learnt as part of his plastic art studies in England (1976-1977), before he attended Croydon College of Art (1977-1980). He then self-studied and developed his Chinese painting for many years. The principles of Chinese painting are parallel to the principles of Tai Chi Chuan: the artist holds the brush in the "right grip" similar to the grip of a weapon: sword or stick. Painting is part of a meditation process and placing the brush on the canvas or paper is not an arbitrary matter, but an integral part of the experience.

Tai Chi Chuan requires many hours of work and years of training and practice. The movements of the practitioner in his early years are not similar to his movements in his later years, having "re-educated" his body and mind to abandon the familiar, the solid and the known, and to accept the inconceivable and the elusive, and the intangible. In the act of painting by Assi Ben-Porat: sketches of the same movement and the same position were drawn over and over again, while prolonged and incessant practice of the "spirit" (Shen) gathered in, the rising Chi (breath) "As in a pearl with nine passages, without disconnections " the hands and limbs threaded together, in ease, agility, and proper timing; until the artist feels that he is satisfied with the result.

Assi Ben-Porat's painting does not "depict" but is the thing itself. It is not a "drawing from without" but a "drawing from within". Through, how the color is placed one discerns where the body weight of the figure is - in the right or left foot - where the fullness is and what the empty part of the body is. The painting is Yin and Yang: full and empty; thick and thin; dark and light: all those "complementary contrasts" that fill the world of Tai Chi.

Wu Chi

Assi Ben-Porat's paintings encompass all the movements of the Form. In the painting of the movements, the Tai Chi Chuan tradition has been transmitted, for centuries; in parallel with the transfer of oral knowledge from teacher to student, within the dynasties of the masters. Assi Ben-Porat's paintings can be seen as part of this long-standing tradition. Tai Chi practitioners have used these paintings, alongside the classical writings, to better understand the nature of the movements and to delve deeper into their inner meaning and spiritual essence. From the beginning of the Twentieth century, after the medium of photography came from the West to China, the first photographs of the movements appeared in this genre, as performed by the great masters of that generation. The student, the Tai Chi practitioner, could move from painting to painting (and later from photograph to photograph) and try to and emulate what he understood and learned from them.

It is also possible to move between Assi Ben-Porat's paintings from the first position of the series (Wu Chi - the situation from which Yin and Yang were born) to the other movements. The picture of the Wu Chi position - Assi Ben-Porat's painting expresses, even better than words, what was said about this position in the classical writings: "Be as still as a mountain." The ink strokes and the shape of the color placement manage to reflect the weight of the body found from the feet down (into the ground), the practitioner's collected strand of hair emphasize the erectness, the crown of the head directed towards the sky and the lightness of the upper body, compared to the fullness and weight of the body.

The paintings of the following positions: Ward-off with the left hand, Ward-off with the right hand, Rolling backwards, Pressing, Pushing, and Whipping, which are also all side by side in the painting "Moon Light", reflect the continuation of the classic saying "Be still as a mountain, [but] move like a great river." The movement, like the river never stops, the movements connect to each other in an endless sequence of changes - only change is constant.

Each movement and painting sums up its interior - the measured energy, the Chi, the moment when external and internal, heavy and light, full and empty unite and realize that which is indescribable in words. And so you can go from painting to painting, from position to position, from movement to movement and finish the series, through "Shoulder stroke", "Diagonal flying", "Waving hands in the clouds", the "White crane spreading its wings", "Embrace the tiger", "The sneaking snake"

Yielding and cat

The advanced Tai Chi practitioner is required to practice in pairs as well, and to try and understand beyond him/herself the inner energy of the one in front of him. It is suggested in the classical writings to understand "Yielding" - as in the names of some of Assi Ben-Porat's paintings - a term that can be translated in the language of Tai Chi as renunciation, neutralization and acceptance. The two figures in the paintings "Yielding" and "Joining Hands" join and follow each other non-stop. Illustrating the Tai Chi classic proposition: "If the opponent raises up I seem taller; if he sinks down, then I seem lower; advancing, the distance seems incredibly longer; retreating, the distance seems exasperatingly short."

In the history of art, the comparison between painting and photography, which has become an artistic medium since the end of the nineteenth century, is very common. And indeed, I do not intend to dwell on the theoretical aspects of this comparison. At the same time as someone who practices Tai Chi, and as someone who has been accustomed from the beginning to look at the photographs of positions of the masters and learn the art through them, the comparison to Assi Ben-Porat's painting of the positions is inevitable. Apparently, a photograph is supposed to reflect (an exemplary example) for the Tai Chi practitioner, because of its realistic character and the one-time commemoration of the master when performing the movement, in his own precise, personal way. However, a realistic photograph, in its absolute accuracy, ultimately turns out to be a "frozen" medium for the practitioner. Assi Ben-Porat's paintings, on the other hand, although unrealistic, make it possible to better grasp the inner essence of movement, the measured energy and the pneumatic direction that the practitioner must ask for and seek in himself and in his movement.
The artist achieves this in his paintings precisely because he has emerged from the scientific and meticulous realist inquiry into what is beyond it - into what I would like to call surrealistic, if this term had not been claimed by a familiar artistic current different in its perceptions from what is here.

Assi Ben-Porat relates to photography and realistic painting. He goes out into the human, natural and virtual landscape; to the urban-human space, to the Zoo, to the Internet; And he looks with scientific curiosity at what lies ahead. But the conscious relinquishment of realistic accuracy and the sensitive and gifted personal handwriting of Assi Ben-Porat is what erases the connection to the world of duplicated photography and creates the one and only irreplicable. Just as in Tai Chi, the movement is never a duplication of itself; in the paintings it is not possible to replicate the same painted posture. It will always be the "fingerprint" of that particular moment, of that meditative brushstroke, of that sensitive touch between ink and canvas; of the process of absorbing the ink on paper, which creates the feeling that the ink has always been there - like the pathways of motion, which have always been in space even before the practitioner performed his movement. Assi Ben-Porat is an artist of nuances. Even if he does not end the line, the line is there. Even what, sometimes, seems in the brushstroke to be absent, is revealed to be present.

The figures are within empty space - the space of nowhere-everywhere, between heaven and earth, a place constructed and identified by its movement. It is a space that leaves the viewer a place - a breathable and living space, which invites the viewer to join in (as in the exercise "Joining hands, found in some of the paintings). Therefore, looking at the painting is a kind of practice. The painter does not use the imageas one's own. Although his paintings and handwriting are personal, they always take place in the public domain, as if addressing the audience and inviting it to join him, learn, understand, be intrigued, discover, and ask.

Assi Ben-Porat's animal paintings are related to the names of the positions taken from the world of animals. However, other animals are also found in the paintings. Ben-Porat attaches to the positions the animals that represent in his eyes the essence of the movement, as he felt it and understood it. Tai Chi movements were born out of observing nature and the animal world. From the very beginning, when the more rigid methods of warfare of the Shaolin Temple were founded, the five styles were inspired by observing the movement of animals and imitating their combat maneuvers: the crane, the snake, the panther, the tiger and the dragon. From them evolved later styles, such as the mantis and the eagle. It is told of Chang San Feng (1279-1368), the founder of the soft school of martial art, that one day he saw a crane and a snake fighting each other. The snake avoided the crane attacks and used a retreat path to launch the attack. The crane used its wings to gently cover the snake's movement. Chang San-Feng learned from the crane the benefit of "softness" and "giving up" - terms that indicate the very decision not to forcefully oppose another force exercised over us.

Intercepting the Bull

As part of the tradition of Chinese painting, Assi Ben-Porat went out into nature (real and virtual), and directly observed animals. Similar to the painting of the position, also in this case many preparations and sketches were required for the full satisfaction of the artist with the image of the painted animal and the harmony created between the animal and the figure. The result is fascinating - it does not matter here the degree of realism and resemblance of the animal on the page to the animal in nature, but the phenomenal ability to reflect the essence of the animal's nature: the stability of the goat (in the painting "Shoulder stroke"); the root well planted in the ground, and the potential of the contained energy about to burst at any moment in the bull (in the painting "Intercepting the Bull"); The light, soft and open wingspan of the crane ("Diagonal flying") and the spiral capacity of the cranes, produced while standing on one leg (in the "White crane" paintings); the power, surprise ability and inner strength of the tiger ("Embrace tiger"); the serpentine elusiveness of the snake ("The sneaking snake"); the cunning and unexpected agility of the monkey ("Repels the monkey"); the reindeer's uprightness and vital force ("Punch under elbow"); the elusive capacity, softness and alertness of the cat ("Yielding and cat"); the light and stable grip of the ground and the balance of the rooster on one leg ("Golden rooster"). The images of the animals, like the drawings of the figures, are also inspired by the classical writings in which the practitioner is suggested to : "to walk like a cat", or to internalize that "The series of movements (of the Form) is as a falcon's intent to capture a rabbit and the Shen (spirit) is as a cat's intent to catch a mouse".

golden rooster

Finally, I would like to point out another interesting aspect found in the paintings. Alongside the commitment required from the traditional discipline, Assi Ben-Porat's ironic gaze stands out in several of the paintings: the little monkey lying, as it were, casually, on the "hook" - a hook hand sent to the side in the whipping motion; the monkey dangling from the tree and conversing in an amusing dialogue with the figure stepping back ("Repulse the monkey"); the bull's bowed head, defiant towards the one who is coming to intercept it - "Come and try me"; or the rooster standing on one leg, on the practitioner's head, as if to say to him: You may think you are as upright as a rooster and see into the distance, but much more work and practice awaits you, and remember that the rooster on your head sees far farther than you... Assi Ben-Porat, rooted in his thought and worldview far away in the mountains of central China, expresses in these amusing ironic images that he is a member of Western culture; and the master's knowledge that a practice without irony and self-criticism mixed with a smile is not a fruitful practice, or as if he told you, if you grasped something and understood, you should sit for a while, rest, relax and . have a cup of tea.

* The classical writings known as the "Essence of Tai Chi Chuan" were translated from English into Hebrew by Assi Ben-Porat and his students Ruth Sarig and Miranda Kaniuk.

Tai Chi Form Paintings © All rights reserved to Assi Ben Porat, 2000-2020 Do not duplicate in any form without permission from Assi Ben Porat.