Renowned Chinese calligrapher breathes new life into ancient art

Wu Huixin
Calligraphy's contemporary side is now on display at the exhibition "From Inception, Wang Dongling 60 years of Calligraphy" at the Zhejiang Art Museum through November 14.
Wu Huixin

Chinese calligraphy is not just an ancient art with rigid rules. It can be modern and reflect an avant-garde spirit. Its contemporary side is now on display at the exhibition "From Inception, Wang Dongling 60 Years of Calligraphy" at the Zhejiang Art Museum through November 14.

Wang has been dedicated to cultivating young calligraphers at the China Academy of Art since the mid-1990s. As one of the most noted modern calligraphers in the country, his works have deeply influenced the ancient art in present-day China.

The history of Chinese calligraphy can be traced back to 400 BC. It is generally distinguished from other art forms by its emphasis on motion and its reflection of dynamic daily life.

Renowned Chinese calligrapher breathes new life into ancient art
Zhejiang Art Museum / Ti Gong

Wang Dongling writes calligraphy on the floor. "From Inception, Wang Dongling 60 Years of Calligraphy" is underway at the Zhejiang Art Museum through November 14.

For years, Wang has insisted that "without innovation, the ancient art would lack creativity and modern spirit. Without preservation, calligraphy may develop in an incorrect direction." Starting in the 1990s, he began to explore the modern sides of calligraphy and has made a milestone in the art form.

The exhibition focuses on his exploration from traditional calligraphy to innovative styles such as entangled writing (乱书), big writing (巨书), silver gelatin calligraphy (银盐书法), calligraphy on bamboo strip and calligraphy presented through immersive virtual reality.

The exhibits show his diversified styles, the depth of academic research and the innovation of new media experimentation. Both the exhibit numbers and art forms are considered unprecedented in Chinese calligraphy exhibition history.

"Professor Wang has been tirelessly exploring within the great tradition of Chinese calligraphy and constantly searching for inspirations across the grand horizon of art," said Gao Shiming, curator of China Academy of Art. "He has revitalized the traditional calligraphy for contemporary audience and spread his innovative ideas around the world."

Wang was an apprentice to Shen Zishan, Lin Sanzhi, Lu Weizhao and Sha Menghai, the last generation of calligraphers who stuck to using ink and brush in their everyday writing during the 20th century. These masters were also believed to be the final practitioners of the two-millennia calligraphic tradition in China.

Along with the rapid evolution of media in modern times, Wang has turned out to be the first calligrapher who gives in-depth thoughts about the development problems of ancient calligraphy's life and death and gain and loss in the future virtual world.

"I never view calligraphy as a kind of legacy. On the contrary, I try to carve out the openness and experimental potential of calligraphy. The ancient art can develop into a genre of modern art," said Wang.

At the exhibition, hanging scrolls in four types of scripts epitomize his 60 years of exploration into the revolution of calligraphy. The newly created "Big Writing" installation, which was written to commemorate the 2,500th anniversary of Confucius' death, portrays the great philosopher's educational conceptions. The shift from traditional cursive script to entangled form also reflects the artist's change of inner emotions.

Renowned Chinese calligrapher breathes new life into ancient art
Zhejiang Art Museum / Ti Gong

Hanging scrolls epitomize Wang Dongling's 60 years of exploration into the revolution of calligraphy.

The work "Scholar's Snow Cave" includes small-sized regular script and big-sized cursive script and also contains art forms like screens, seals, tablets and scrolls. It presents a grandiose beauty through calligraphy and shows Wang's profound immersion and bold innovation.

In the work "Fantasy Land of Calligraphy," Wang used stainless steel mirrors, acrylic and digital media to express calligraphic ideas. Externally, it is an innovation of tradition with contemporary artistic forms; internally, it is a return to original simplicity.

"I was often moved by the explosive power of the oriental art form. Gradually, my purpose to develop calligraphy into a pure art became more and more clear during my creation process," said Wang.

Renowned Chinese calligrapher breathes new life into ancient art
Zhejiang Art Museum / Ti Gong

Wang Dongling uses stainless steel mirrors, acrylic and digital media to express calligraphic ideas.

In 2005, Wang initiated the "Writing and Non-Writing" exhibition, which is held every five years in Hangzhou. Artists from home and abroad showcase the possibilities of this ancient art in various media. As the exhibition focuses on innovation, people can see how artists merge calligraphy into modern life and other cultures.

In a bid to boost cultural exchange between China and other countries, Wang initiated another project "Big Characters Travel the World" years ago. He encourages Chinese calligraphers to attend international art exhibitions and festivals in search of more cross-cultural inspirations.

As a calligrapher, Wang has always remained open-minded to emerging media technologies. He always sticks to the idea that making conversation with new technology is talking to the future. Therefore, Wang has cooperated with new media artists to create a plethora of avant-garde works.

"From Inception, Wang Dongling 60 Years of Calligraphy" Exhibition

Date: Through November 14, closed on Mondays

Admission: Free

Address: 138 Nanshan Rd南山路138号

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