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A round, personal equation

The Chinese are in love with the idea of roundness. To them, it symbolizes continuity. Their Temple of Heaven in Peking, with its triple roof of "Ming," or "royal," blue melting into the sky of a late afternoon, is round. So is their "bee" or symbol of heaven, generally fashioned of jade and used over the centuries by emperors in their prayers for annual harvests.

Their favorite gifts are bracelets. And their favorite foods appear to be apples and oranges.

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On a recent trip to China, I was served apples and oranges at almost every meal in all six cities I visited. Markets everywhere have large open stalls with huge bins of apples and oranges. And I remember purchasing a tangerine to enjoy while observing the compelling vista of West Lake in Hangchow.

I think that this painting of Chu-ta, "Moon and Watermelon," is in line with the Chinese romancing of the idea of roundness.

Chu-ta (1926-1706), one of the great artists of the Ching Dynasty (1644-1912) , was a descendant of the Ming imperial family (1368-1644); and upon the fall of the Ming Dynasty, when he was about 20, he became a Buddhist monk.

His paintings are strong, highly personalized, and impressionistic. He has great originality, great dash and economical flair, combined with fine control and a deceptive ease.

I think that Chu-ta was drawn to the subject of "Moon and Watermelon" on several counts. As a Chinese, he was not only fond of the subject of roundness, but also of the moon, (a fondness common in China.) And as a Buddhist, he was drawn to the fruits of the earth, in line with the "witness the earth" position, one of the more common positions of the Buddha, in Buddhistic iconography.

But somehow I think that there is more to this sparse, "contemporary," and rather witty painting by Chu-ta. The inclusion of the watermelon into the orbit of the moon suggests an intimacy of the relationship, a sharing of a common bond. It is the high water content of the melon which brings it into the Yin family of water and the moon.

And while the main thrust of the relationship is between the melon and the moon, I feel that there is also, in the momentary departure from rotundity, a suggestion of closeness to the earth. The outward-downward movement of the lower right, with a straighter linear eventuation, suggests to me the melon's resting on the earth. Chu-ta not only describes his melon as in closest relationship with the moon; he brings it at the same time into contact with the earth.

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The picture then becomes not anything apart, remote, distant from ourselves -- but an integral projection of ourselves. Like the melon, we, too, incorporate the water and we lean upon the land. "Moon and Watermelon" becomes a mirror of ourselves -- another example of the immediacy of Chinese art, and of its personal equation.

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