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. As a unit, the artists succeed in bringing a new voice to the rigorous art of calligraphy, while paying homage to its place in Chinese heritage and identity.
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 of his practice, 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.
The cartoonist, painter and calligrapher Huang Yao (born Shanghai 1917) 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.
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).