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Presentation by the Huang Yao Foundation

Exhibition details

10 July, 2018
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
Event Category:
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A walk-through of the exhibition “The Voice of the Brush Part 1” followed by a lecture (in English) on the life and work of Huang Yao, delivered by the late artist’s granddaughter.


The Voice of the Brush Part 1

An Exhibit of Calligraphic Art in Two Parts

Gu Gan, Huang Yao, Luo Qi, Wang Dongling

5 July – 4 August 2018

Classical calligraphy in modern China is regarded as an art of exquisite refinement and, alongside poetry, the ultimate expression of Chinese culture. The act of taking brush to paper is a fluid and dynamic dance, the shaping of each stroke imperative in relaying “meaning” to the character, for, the character innately carries the meaning of the intended word. In light of the influence of Western modernism and movements like Abstract Expressionism, as well as social and political changes in China, several calligraphers, percolating in the 1950’s and blossoming in the mid-1980s, began to subvert the relationship between the character’s form and its meaning, allowing the content of the composition to govern the form, as opposed to the form of the characters to dictate the composition. While the works maintained their calligraphic style, the image became increasingly abstract, and at the extreme, divorced from any specific language except the language of painting.

The nine artists in our two-part show The Voice of the Brush exhibit unique revitalizations of classical calligraphy, spanning the gamut of movements within modern calligraphy. Part 1 includes Gu Gan, Huang Yao, Luo Qi, and Wang Dongling – artists who are pioneers in this field. The exhibited pieces play with shapes and forms of characters to reinforce their meanings, sometimes blending multiple characters or separating them into component parts with a largely pictographic result.

Artist biographies:              

The cartoonist, painter and calligrapher Huang Yao (1917 Shanghai-1987 Malaysia) rose to fame as a cartoonist in China in the 1930s before settling in Malaysia, where he channelled his artistic talent into rejuvenating traditional Chinese calligraphy and painting. He took apart the components of his classical training, painstakingly studying each character’s shape and structure, and developing a “return of innocence” style resembling children’s handwriting. The forms in his calligraphic works are based primarily on pictographic bell-cauldron inscriptions, which he recreates with the vibrant colours of his lush Malay surroundings. While these works are ostensibly rooted in Chinese culture, they fall somewhere between figurative and abstract, agnostically unconfined to the stylistic dichotomies of East or West.

In 2006 Huang’s calligraphy was acquired by the British Museum collection of Modern Chinese Calligraphy. His work has been featured in two major retrospectives: Rediscovered Talent, Huang Yao: Cartoonist/Scholar/Painter and Huang Yao, Shanghai Art Museum, 2011; and, The Remarkable Guest of Malaya, National VisualLuo Qi, Wag Arts Gallery, Malaysia 2013. This is the first time Huang Yao will be exhibiting his works in Hong Kong.

Born in 1942 in Changsha, Gu Gan is considered the forefather of the modern calligraphy movement, and the founder of the Modernist School of Chinese Calligraphy. His works are typically multi-layered, with the title revealing the theme, and that thematic word or phrase becoming an integral part of the composition. He experiments with the shapes and forms of characters to reinforce their meanings, sometimes blending multiple characters or separating them into component parts. Over the years, Gu Gan has increasingly experimented, making his own paper and integrating Western media such as acrylic paints and color pigments, melding painting and calligraphy into an entirely new form of art.

Born in 1960 Hangzhou, Luo Qi is a founder and leading proponent of the modern calligraphy movement Calligraphyism, formed in Mainland China in the 1980s. Exemplifying both traditional and contemporary styles, Luo manipulates the form and structure of characters, and uses traditional brushstrokes to create non-semantic forms. By painting in bold, bright colours, borrowing from Pop Art styles, he breaks away from traditional calligraphy and incorporates a strong modern, abstract element reminiscent of Franz Kline or Robert Motherwell. To the Chinese eye, his paintings appear Western, but to the Western eye, they appear unmistakably Chinese.

Wang Dongling (Chinese, born 1945) is a leading artist and calligrapher renowned for large-scale abstract works that he calls “calligraphic paintings.” Wang’s calligraphy instructor Lin Sanzhi (1898-1989) encouraged him to extend beyond the limits of tradition to find a method of individual expression. Over time, Wang acquired the confidence to experiment with ways in which the calligraphic stroke might be liberated from the conveyance of meaning, using the line as a form of expression, parallel to the use of line he admired in Picasso, Klee, Miro and Matisse. The act of his painting became a physical performance in which Wang translates the text of ancient Chinese poems with gestural interpretations of traditional characters. With bold and forceful brushstrokes, Wang often saturates the paper all the way to the edges, reversing the usual ratio of background space to figure on the paper, thereby creating a heightened sense of tension for the viewer. This exhibit features some of his early works in running calligraphic script from the 1990s as well as recent works in Chaos script (luanshu).


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