“ Calligraphy is a defining feature of China's culture. It is both a means of communication and a revered form of art, although the dividing line is often vague. This ambiguity has given it an important role in shaping the history of modern China since the creation of the People's Republic of China in 1949. Unlike in the West, there is no tradition of political oratory in China, so political influence is projected through the printed and written word. After the Revolution the traditional art of calligraphy was quickly transformed into an instrument of political power and protest, wielded on an unprecedented scale, while over the last two decades a new modern genre of the traditional art form has also emerged.” Barrass
Calligraphy has evolved over the centuries from pictograms to fluid script. The earliest known script “oracle script” dates from the Shang dynasty (around 1300 BC) and it was mainly used for divination. Turtle shells and ox scapulas were heated in a fire until they cracked. The cracks were interpreted, then the answer was carved into the shell as a record of the prediction.
Mao was both a great admirer and mortal enemy of traditional calligraphy. He grew up, as most men in his generation, believing that skill at calligraphy was essential to be considered a cultivated man and get ahead in life. As we will see, he became quite good at it.
This poem was composed & written by Mao just as he was forced to embark on the “long march” in 1934. After Mao’s Red Army avoided the Nationalist army for 7 months by circling China from South to North (almost 8,000 miles) the common people began to respect Mao and the Communtist Party. It also solidified Mao’s grip on the party, and spread their message throughout China. Writings like this gained Mao the reputation of being a learned and thoughtful man as well as a great military leader.
This later calligraphy was more stylish – relaxed and free flowing. People felt that Mao’s skill in rendering this piece showed that he was an exceptionally cultured person. He often did work like this to give as gifts to party members and foreign emissaries.
Notice he still has a calligraphy brush in his hand. 90% of China was uneducated. Instead of trying to equalize this by taking on the near-impossible task of education most of the country, Mao tried to destroy the 10% that were considered the intellectual class. Calligraphy collections all over the country were raided and destroyed by the Red Guards. Many modern calligraphers talk of finding famous pieces from collections out in the street, or available inexpensively from people at street markets that happened to find these works accidently. Many master calligraphers were send to the fields to be “reeducated” like most of the other intellectuals, but many young calligrapher learned their skills by creating banners and posters for the party.
Under Mao, some high party officials were allowed to travel. After Mao’s death, it fell to many of these same party members to help China recover from years of isolation. Zhang Ding was one of those officials. Art exhibitions from outside China tour for the first time in decades, including works by Modernist masters like Picasso, the New York Abstract Expressionists, and works from other parts of Asia including Japan.
In recent years, Chinese art has growing and diversifying so rapidly that it’s getting hard to keep up with. Calligraphy can be loosely separated into 4 groups: The classicists, who are still carry on the literati traditions of formal ink painting. For centuries, proficiency at calligraphy, knowledge of classical poetry and veneration of ancestors were traits the defined the idealized cultured man. The classicists carry on all these traditions. The Neo-classicists allow more variation both in their characters and the subject matter.
Gu Gan was very influential, he was not only on the first wave of modernists calligraphers, but he also wrote several popular calligraphy instruction manuals. He was born in Hunan province and moved with his mother to Beijing after the revolution. He was accepted in the Central Academy of Fine Arts, but due to health problems was unable to continue, when he recovered he found himself running printing presses for the cultural bureau of the Bejing Municipal Government. He turned to calligraphy for relaxation. In 1975, he became the art editor of the People’s Literature Publishing House, a position that allowed him to travel all over China and return to painting. He was also able to visit many of the ancient Buddhist sites, which also became an important influence in his work. He became interested in the works of Kandinsky, Klee and Miro and felt he could use some of their modernist ideas to revitalize the art of calligraphy. This work is one of his most famous, a reference to a verse by Li Bai (701-762), “from great upheaval new and good things would emerge.
He experimented with many techniques, with wet and dry brush and various densities of ink.
He changed individual characters by elongating or widening them. He experimented with abstracting the characters, or taking them apart, with different elements scattered throughout the canvas. He also combined types of scripts from different periods. Does everybody see the process of abstraction here, from Picasso’s cows to the characters?
In the late 1980’s Gu Gan traveled to Europe. He wrote his most influential book, “The Three Steps of Modern Calligraphy” while in Germany at the Hamburg Institute of Fine Arts, in which he stated that the ultimate goal of Modernist calligraphy is to provide aesthetic pleasure linked to an idea, rather than following the path of traditional calligraphy, where the focus is often on long passages of text (show “Breaking Up” again as example). As his style evolved, he began to use thick colored ink, which was radical. Colored paper was sometimes used in traditional calligraphy, but black ink was almost sacred. Color was considered impure or “pandering to the senses.” This piece is the third in his trilogy about modern China, which began with “The Mountains are Breaking Up” (1985) and “Opening Up” (1995).
The inspiration for this piece was an aerial photograph. These Avant-Garde artists like to be thought of as painters that happen to be using calligraphy techniques, not as calligraphers. This often causes confusion at their exhibitions.
Large calligraphic works like these are often collaborations. Ask the class, this piece references the ancient process of divination, recording the answers on shells. Yet it’s hard to pick out actual seal script. What’s going on here. No right answer, suspect they are going for the chaos of passing time. War, natural disasters, progress. It almost seems like an animal.
Zhang Qiang was born in Shandong province, and his parents were deeply involved in the Communist Party. He became fascinated with art as a child and by age 13 began painting in a western style. He credits his constant confrontation with his disapproving father (waste of talent, too elite) with his interest in rebelling against artistic conventions. Eventually, he writing a book about modern calligraphy and teaching western art history at the Shandong Art Institute. He feared that the ideas of the modernists calligraphers would eventually end up looking like a revival of Western abstract art, and experimented with different ways to invent a new style of abstract calligraphy. In 1993, almost by accident he discovered this style of writing without looking while a female partner moves the paper. In 1996 he started a 5 year project called “Report on the Study of the Traces” with 100 different women as partners.
With each of the 100 women, he created 8 works. She would decide on the type of brush, size of paper, amount of ink and when to start and stop. As she moved the paper, he would write stream of consciousness sentences in real characters. Qiang claims that working with the women symbolizes yin & yang, and the elemental forces of male and female working together to influence cultural production. Critics thought was a chauvinist, that the brush was a phallic symbol, and that the female partner was always in the secondary role. Some wondered if he there was sexual mischief, but he has asserted repeatedly that he has never had any type of sexual involvement with his creative partners.
This is about the chaos of the street, and how signs seem to shout at people.
A Buddhist monk does calligraphy with a giant brush. Wenda Gu was born in Shanghai, China in 1955. He graduated from Shanghai School of Arts in 1976. In 1981 he received his M.F.A. from China Academy of Arts where he studied under the classical landscape. His parents worked in the banking industry, his grandfather was a film director. Gu moved to the US in 1987. He is interested in the commonality of language.
Hair is another thing most people have in common. He collects it from barber shops, and has people send it from around the world for specific projects.
Calligraphy Concepts <ul><li>China’s written language dates from as early as the 13 th century BCE (Shang Dynasy), and could be even older. </li></ul><ul><li>Calligraphy is a revered art form, learned by copying </li></ul><ul><li>“ the masters.” Emphasis is on purity of form while using </li></ul><ul><li>traditional motifs and techniques. </li></ul><ul><li>Closely tied to Classical poetry. </li></ul><ul><li>Because of the size of the country and the diversity languages spoken, political influence was passed on by writing, not speaking. </li></ul>
Examples of 7 major styles Of Calligraphy. Most styles of calligraphy are adapted from previous styles. This chart shows a progression from contemporary styles to the oldest in order from left to right. Chart by Huang Mizozi
Traditional tools and instructions. The “4 treasures” of the scholar’s studio: Paper, brush, ink block & inkstone.
Traditional methods: From a calligraphy manual written and illustrated by Gu Gan in 1992.
Early calligraphy and Poetry by Mao, 1934. “ Huichang” A new dawn breaks in the East. Do not say “You start too early;” crossing these blue hills adds nothing to one’s years, the landscape here is beyond compare. Straight from the walls of Huichang’s lofty peaks, range after range, extend to the eastern seas. Our soldiers point south to Guangdong, looming lusher and greener in the distance.
Calligraphy and Poem by Mao, 1956 Swimming Now I am swimming across the great Yangzi river… Better by far than idly strolling in a courtyard. Today I am at ease.
Stung by widespread criticism during an attempted period of openness in the mid-50’s and pressures within his party, Mao unleashed the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in 1966. It was an attempt to “smash the 4 olds: old thought, old culture, old customs, and old practice.” He also did this to rid the political hierarchy of anyone opposed to him.
After Mao: President Deng Xiaoping (1904 –1997) attempts a cultural recovery. <ul><li>Professor Zhang Ding, president of the Central </li></ul><ul><li>Academy of Design (pictured here with Picasso </li></ul><ul><li>In 1956) sees a chance for calligraphy to make </li></ul><ul><li>A comeback. The situation was complicated: </li></ul><ul><li>Young people don’t have technique or knowledge of </li></ul><ul><li>classics. Scripts simplified. </li></ul><ul><li>Lots of work for artists: teaching, repairing damaged </li></ul><ul><li>works, publishing & selling to tourists. </li></ul><ul><li>Japanese Calligraphy’s influence: Major shows in 1958, </li></ul><ul><li>1962 & 1978. Some Chinese calligraphers felt that the </li></ul><ul><li>Japanese had transformed the art and liked the </li></ul><ul><li>emphasis on visual aesthetics, but many others felt it </li></ul><ul><li>was “surface” and preferred to draw on what they saw </li></ul><ul><li>as uniquely Chinese calligraphic elements. </li></ul>
4 Current “Movements” Classical Traditional brushwork and papers. Classical poetry is usually the subject. Neo-Classical Based on traditional style with more self-expressive Modernist touches. Classical poetry or contemporary subjects. Wang Shixiang Han Yu
<ul><li>4 Current “Movements” </li></ul><ul><li>Modernist </li></ul><ul><li>Artists trained in traditional methods, inspired by </li></ul><ul><li>modern Western painting that was finally seen in China </li></ul><ul><li>in the late 70’s after the death of Mao in 1976. </li></ul><ul><li>Avant-Garde </li></ul><ul><li>Artists trained in traditional methods, inspired by </li></ul><ul><li>contemporary Western painting that started to be seen </li></ul><ul><li>in China in the mid-80’s. </li></ul><ul><li>Interested in Post-Modern Theory. </li></ul><ul><li>Some apply traditional techniques to new formats </li></ul><ul><li>(installations, photography, oil on canvas). </li></ul>Gu Gan Wei Ligang
Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) Convergence, 1952 Oil on canvas, 93 1/2 x 155" Pablo Picasso (1881—1973) Pigeon-Pois, 1912 Oil on canvas The Modernists were influenced by Western art, especially by works of the New York School of Abstract Expressionists of the 1950’s (these tours were usually sponsored by the US State Department). European modern masters like Picasso, Miro and Kandinsky were also of great interest.
Gu Gan (b. 1942- ) “ The Mountains are Breaking Up” 1985 Ink on Paper He wrote his most influential book, “ The Three Steps of Modern Calligraphy” while in Germany at the Hamburg Institute of Fine Arts, in which he stated that the ultimate goal of Modernist calligraphy is to provide aesthetic pleasure linked to an idea, rather than following the path of traditional calligraphy, where the focus is often on long passages of text .
Abstracting natural forms: From a calligraphy manual written and illustrated by Gu Gan in 1992.
Abstracting natural forms, using Western examples: From a calligraphy manual written and illustrated by Gu Gan in 1992.
Gu Gan. “The Age of Red and Gold” 2000. Gu Gan was the first artist To use colored ink in calligraphy.
Robert Rauschenberg (b. 1925- ) Pilgrim, 1960 <ul><li>The Avant-Garde calligraphers were </li></ul><ul><li>inspired by contemporary art and </li></ul><ul><li>theory, especially by a show in Beijing in the </li></ul><ul><li>1980’s featuring Robert Rauschenberg. </li></ul><ul><li>Generally reject recognizable characters </li></ul><ul><li>Calligraphy both a source of beauty and </li></ul><ul><li>a reminder of the “dark” sides of Chinese </li></ul><ul><li>culture, particularly the pressure to </li></ul><ul><li>conform. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Calligraphic” techniques used in many </li></ul><ul><li>mediums and formats. </li></ul><ul><li>Described as “Visual Music.” Much debate </li></ul><ul><li>about whether the works are should be </li></ul><ul><li>thought of as calligraphy or painting. </li></ul>
Studio of the Chengdu Calligraphy Group , preparing for show, 2004 The artists are: Jiazheng (the Master), Pu Lieping (the established artist), and Ma Kun (the apprentice). Detail “The Peach Blossoms are Like Charming Faces.”
Pu Lieping (1959- ) “ Mossy Lands,” 2004 Chinese Xun Paper, Chinese Black Ink, Synthesized materials. 500 cm x 190 cm
Jiazheng, Pu Lieping, Ma Kun “ Copying Inscription on Turtle Shells,” 2004 Chinese Xun Paper, Chinese Black Ink, Synthesized materials. 500 cm x 190 cm
Zhang Qiang (1962- ) - “Tracelogy ” Building on the idea that the earliest pictograms were said to have been inspired by the footprints or “traces” of birds And animals, Qiang eventually came to the concept that all art is a “trace” of the culture that creates it. Seeking a new way to revitalize calligraphy, he “traces” characters while looking away, as a female assistant moves the paper . She also tells him when to start and stop.
Zhang Qiang - Installation photo of the “Tracelogy Study” 2002
Zhang Qiang – Performance Model/dancer wears paper dress. Qiang paints as the women move around him, and then, with the dress covered with calligraphy, she walks down the catwalk as in a fashion show.
Calligraphy in Installations Xu Bing (b. 1955) “ Books from Heaven” 1988 Thousands of traditional wood-block printed books full of unreadable characters.
Wu Shanzhuan (b. 1960) “ Red Room,” 1986 Installation Signs- political slogans ads, traffic directions, poetry & weather reports.
Wenda Gu “ United nations – man and space” 2002 Utsunomiya Museum of Art, Japan
Wenda Gu “ United 7561 kilometers” 2003 Hair, glue, rope 5000 meters of human braids Made from 7561 kilometers of Human hair with rubber stamps From 191 nations of the world.
Wenda Gu “ Babel of the Millennium” 2000 SFMOMA You may have seen some similar work in the “Half Life of a Dream” exhibition, still at SFMOMA (though 10/5)