By People’s Daily
His lines are simple and symbolic but the colors are abundant. It is difficult to categorize his work because it looks like a combination of painting, calligraphy and architecture.
This is hanshu, which translates as “Han people’s calligraphy”.
A former urban designer who helped nurture Shanghai’s Lujiazui to become a world-class financial center in the 1990s, Wang Xuyuan, a 60-year Shanghai native, prefers “big pictures”.
During the 40th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, which was held in Beijing in late May, Wang showcased about 30 of his paperwork and porcelain pieces at the conference venue to portray the breathtaking landscapes of Antarctica.
For example, a painting showing icebergs was created using the Chinese character shan (mountain), while paintings of penguins were abstract expressions of the Chinese characters qi’e (penguin). Other works represented ice caves and auroras.
He attributes his art to a visit to the Shanghai-based Polar Research Institute of China five years ago.
“I was immediately hooked by the animals and scenery shown in pictures and videos,” says Wang. “For me, Antarctica felt like a dream.
“Research in Antarctica needs to go beyond professionals. The public deserves to know more, and artists can be the bridge.”
Zheng Jie, a senior engineer at the institute, says artists in the West have created many works on Antarctica. But he says that using fine art to promote scientific research to the public is still relatively new in China.
“It’s only a start,” says Zheng. “Wang has set an example for others to focus on Antarctica and other scientific issues.
“As creativity booms in China, a lot can be done to improve public awareness about what scientists are doing.”
Wang plans to move his exhibition on Antarctica to a public space in the near future.
In 1998, when Wang was a visiting scholar at the University of Maryland, he taught US students Chinese calligraphy.
“But I found it difficult to teach them the script, so I chose to explain it as pictures,” says Wang. “That is how I quit my job as an urban designer and switched to art.”
Wang, who was invited by the organizing committee of Beijing Olympic Games to showcase his work, staged his first major solo exhibition about the Olympics in 2008 at the Imperial Ancestral Temple in Beijing.
In 2010, he staged another exhibition on the Shanghai Expo.
Wang says it takes a relatively short time to create each work, but a long time is needed before picking up the brushes.
“It’s like constructing buildings. The paper offers space for many possibilities,” he says.
Yuan Yunfu, a professor at the Academy of Arts & Design at Tsinghua University, says: “Chinese ink paintings and calligraphy share the same origin.
“In Wang’s work, a gist of calligraphy is extracted, transformed and exaggerated to find a connection between the content and the platform, and a balance is struck between something concrete and abstract.”
However, Wang prefers to call himself a practitioner of modern art.
“As modern lifestyles are different from life in ancient times, it is not necessary to follow traditions,” says Wang.
So, he wants hanshu to make traditional Chinese art forms accessible to the East and West.
“The spirit of traditional art must be retained, but new approaches are also needed,” he says.
“Chinese-style modern art is not only about Western methods to explain Chinese themes. We need Chinese platforms.”
His views are echoed by US artist Joan Schulze, who says: “It’s a dilemma for all artists－how to honor traditions and move them forward so that art remains a live and growing medium.
“Wang has done this: Each work is uniquely his and contributes a fresh approach to the long tradition of Chinese calligraphy.
“Paper and ink become one with this artist－say more with less.”
He says once he begins to paint it is like a dancing, which cannot be stopped.
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