New strokes (China Daily)

An experimental project in Beijing mixes Chinese calligraphy and modern art, Lin Qi reports.

A year ago, Liu Huan, an independent art curator from Beijing, told his 86-year-old grandfather, Wang Qingyun, he’d initiate an art project that would mix Chinese calligraphy and contemporary art.

He said the experimental project would pair the writing of Wang, a calligrapher active on the mainland and in Taiwan, with the works of several young artists of various mediums.

“Grandpa didn’t understand what I intended to do and why I wanted to have fun with calligraphy, to which he had given decades of his life,” Liu says.

At the opening of Echo Project at Beijing’s Today Art Museum, Wang came to understand the “inconceivable” idea of his grandson.

Each of the displayed illustrations, photos, installations and paintings features some of the calligraphic characters he wrote. And the works further develop or reinterpret the meanings of these Chinese characters.

“Calligraphy requires years of the accumulation of knowledge,” Wang says.

“It is a self-cultivation of one’s mind and spirit. It connects a person with his or her inner cosmos.

“I see at the exhibition that calligraphy has become a connection between tradition and modern culture, East and West. I see no cultural gaps that divide the older and young generations.

“It is a novel way, and it is necessary.”

For the young artists involved, the cross-disciplinary practice has also changed their preconceptions of calligraphy.

Many of them, steeped in pop culture while growing up, were indifferent to or didn’t know how to interact with this traditional art form.

Liu asked them to pick one or more Chinese characters that they found inspiring and would center their works around them. Wang would then create the selected characters with his brushstrokes.

The completed ink writings were sent to the artists, who would merge these characters into their incomplete works.

The presentation of photos of Zhang Zijian, a Beijing-based brand designer, in the Echo Project adds a serene touch.

Zhang loves taking pictures of clouds in various shapes and shades that change because of changes of light. He chose six photos and coupled each with a two-character phrase conveying a poetic quality of the East.

The project also involves Wang Changlong’s creative chic. The fashion photographer and visual artist approaches calligraphy through a play of light and shadow.

One of his photos pieces together a woman’s face shot from two sides. Her luminous face seen from the left represents the bright character while the darkness of her half face on the right indicates the “evil” part.

Wang Changlong puts the character fo (Buddha) in the middle, suggesting that people tend to oscillate between the wicked and righteous sides of their personalities, and whether a person can achieve balance decides how close he or she is to enlightenment.

Illustrator Cheng Peng has found the link between calligraphy and playfulness in his vivid works.

He sticks to a style of childlike innocence that distinguishes his works.

His two paintings on show create joyful scenes of an imaginary world. He projects two characters, le (funny) and qu (interesting), each on one painting, to stress the motif of happiness and freedom.

“I have always looked to an innovative way to incorporate Eastern aesthetics in my work,” says Zhang, who is also a researcher of design and an avid organizer of related activities.

“When I tried to source inspiration from tradition, I found my understanding of classical culture rather superficial.”

He says there are too many symbolic works that reflect people’s shallow readings of classical culture.

“The Echo Project allows us to take a serious look at the fascinating composition and writing process of a character, and to find the resonance with our own way of creating.”

Contact the writer at linqi@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 09/01/2015 page20)