Art: Paintings by the Foot

Because he is bored with his own, he calls himself by many names: "The Old Man of the Apricot Orchard," "Hut on Chieh Shan Mountain," "The Man Long Separated from the Studio of Eight Ink Stones." But in China last week any of those names, signed with slender strokes upon a painting, were immediately recognizable as belonging to Ch'ih Pai-shih, China's most popular living artist.

Ch'ih Pai-shih is not the name he started with, either. Many years ago, he was plain Ch'ih Huang, a carpenter's apprentice from Hunan. After work one day he collected some shrimps, crabs, crickets, and tiny bugs, and...