Jan. 17, 2020-Jan. 19, 2020

Artist / Inoue Yuichi

Booth / C06

"Reflections on Calligraphy" by Wu Kuan-chung

In the 1930s, I studied painting and calligraphy with Pan Tien-shou, who often said: “If you have natural talent and work hard you can achieve something in the field of painting in 20 years, but in calligraphy it takes 30 years.” This is something I continue to believe, but at that time I had little experience comparing painting and calligraphy, I just followed his instructions and copied the works of Yen Chen-ching, Huang Tao-chou, tablet inscriptions of the Northern Dynasties (386-561 AD) and stone drum inscriptions. Back then, I was far more interested in painting than calligraphy, partly because it was much easier to determine whether a painting was good or bad and I was unable to independently evaluate the quality of calligraphy. However, I also loved teacher Pan’s calligraphy and postscripts by Shih Tao (1642-1708) and Cheng Pan-chiao (1693-1765), because their work seemed tantamount to painting.

I went on to specialize in Western painting and so stopped using the tools of ink art and practicing the skills and techniques of calligraphy. My studies started with the Greeks, Romans and Renaissance, and moved on to the Impressionists, Cubists and Abstractionists. As I explored the true essence of western art, I came to realize that the process of portrayal, incrementally learning to express one’s emotions through the depiction of objects and the creation of style and artistic conception, was something that Western and Chinese art had in common. After the Cezanne and Cubist schools, “constructs” and “rhythm” became basic elements or oftentimes even the focus of the plastic arts, making it relatively easy to identify the trend toward convergence in Eastern and Western art. Pierre Soulages (1919-), Franz Kline (1910-1962), Hans Hartung (1904-1989) and Robert Motherwell (1951-1991) are examples of renowned modern modern artists in the West who consciously or unconsciously developed creatively in the direction of Chinese calligraphy.

After exploring painting for 60 years, I naturally came to pursue and master its basic creative elements. As a result, I came to understand that the framework employed in calligraphy is a stylistic framework wherein a single independent character expresses the aesthetic elements of a work and the appearance of repeated examples of the same character showcases the overall effect of the piece. Despite being unable to read Chinese characters, sophisticated Western artists can still appreciate the stylistic beauty inherent in an outstanding work of calligraphy. It does not matter that what they see is essentially an abstract painting, because such individuals appreciate calligraphy through its aesthetics which transcend the language barrier. However, if someone with no training in aesthetics viewed the wild cursive calligraphy of Zhang Xu and Huai Su, he or she would be unable to distinguish between their exquisite works of art and seemingly scribbled Chinese characters. In point of fact, this is an inevitable phenomenon that is part of the process of spreading and elevating artistic understanding and the way in which the new follows the old is immutable and timeless.

I love to listen to Peking opera and Kun opera and despite the fact that I am a layperson I derive considerable enjoyment from such performances. Even though I do not understand the words, I still find the voices of the performers to be enchanting. Occasionally, I check the subtitles and the elegance of the context deepens the experience and broadens the scope of my appreciation. However, there are times when reading the subtitles delays the pleasure of just watching and listening, which makes me feel that the experience would be enhanced if I could do both. In the same way, when one seeks to appreciate outstanding calligraphy despite one’s inability to recognize certain characters, one can still feel its imposing power and ethereal transcendence. Having said that, understanding each character in a work certainly deepens the emotional resonance and impact one feels as a viewer.

Most Chinese characters are derived from pictograms or pictures and that together with everyone using the same sort of brush and the common origins of painting and calligraphy, establishes their objective reality and a unique theoretical system. However, the origins of calligraphy are also to be found in its practical value and as such the focus is on the beauty of the brushwork based on the prerequisite that the characters are recognizable. Much modern calligraphy has gone far beyond the confines of this tradition to become part of abstract art, a vast universe that has been visited by Western and Eastern artists alike. It is here that Western artists have learned about calligraphy and other Eastern elements and that calligraphy has absorbed the traits of Western schools of art. Painting, whether Western or Chinese, starts with the depiction of objects, but today certain painting schools in the West are more akin to abstract calligraphy, which forces us to reflect on the shared origins of painting and calligraphy, their divergence and current convergence in both the West and East.

The development of calligraphy as abstract painting represents a branch of calligraphy that has striven to detach itself from its origins in an effort to open up alternative avenues of growth for an ancient art form. This approach embraces the artistic conceptualization of traditional calligraphy, but also seeks to carve out its own unique niche in the world of modern art. However, the roots of calligraphy cannot be denied and its practical nature including the expectation that it be readable is deeply implanted in the heart and minds of all Chinese people.

When reviewing the calligraphy of Japanese artist Yuichi Inoue I find myself wondering whether he came to China from the West or Japan, and it seems likely that he did both. For example, the works Inoue produced in the 1950s clearly have a Western perspective and although the tools he used to create the black and white framework and the length and breadth of the splashed ink are different to say that of Pierre Soulages, the intent and effect are strikingly similar. In contrast, Inoue’s “No” (毋) (1961) seems to reflect on the subject matter from a more Zen Buddhist perspective and perhaps marks a turning point or milestone in the artist’s creative journey. In the 1970s, Inoue made a suddenly move in a different direction, attempting to reconstruct the basic foundations of Chinese characters, for example through a series of different forms for the character pin (poverty). He also made an effort to learn such models of Chinese calligraphy as the Ancestral Temple Stele of the Yen Clan. However, as a Japanese artist Inoue displays more emotional detachment and a desire to go beyond the restrictions imposed by the rules and parameters of Chinese tradition. However, his experiments changing the form of Chinese characters are unlikely to be well received by Chinese people, who are from young imbued with the aesthetic awareness of their ancestors, particularly with regards the written word. In contrast, although it is difficult to identify the characters in his densely compact works, they still flow and are beautifully intertwined.

Yuichi Inoue’s contribution to the art of calligraphy provides us with a useful point of reference. Chinese calligraphy is a unique artistic system that includes such complex elements as physical form, metal imagery and abstraction, but also embraces an expressive form of inclusiveness and refinement. It is as a direct result of these qualities that Chinese characters have a wide range of development trajectories, whether from different eras, geographical locations, perspectives or individuals. The age and eternal vitality of characters attracts global attention, making them something uniquely Chinese that now belongs to the whole world.