How a Chinese Calligrapher Merges Ancient Practice with Modernist Abstraction

Seamlessly melding the practices of calligraphy and fine art, Wei Ligang merges a contemporary, playful edge with traditional approaches in his new exhibition, “Wei’s Ink Garden,” on view at Alisan Fine Arts in Hong Kong. Having written his first “big-character poster” at eight years old during China’s Cultural Revolution, Wei has focused his practice exclusively on calligraphy and brush painting since the 1980s and is credited with helping to push the envelope with Chinese calligraphy. 

“Ink Garden” is comprised of 28 recent paintings by the artist, all of which contain one or more of his most prominent motifs: flowers, cursive calligraphy in gold, ancient characters, abstract landscape, and peacocks. Viewing these naturally inspired works as a whole, they appear at once ancient and contemporary. The strokes and arrangements of Gold Ancient Script (2010), for example, are very clearly born from a careful study of traditional techniques. Fiery Trees and Silver Flowers (2011) updates a similar composition by incorporating more complex colors and morphing the characters into individual plant-like shapes. Peacock—Magnificent (2013) then moves a step further, suggesting by its title that its loosely painted blobs are linked to the real-world referent of a peacock’s plumage.

As Wei’s work becomes more abstract, the influence of his calligraphically trained hand is increasingly apparent. His works connect the idea of modern symbology to the Chinese lettering system, effectively suggesting a universal language, united throughout cultures and history.

—K. Sundberg

Wei Ligang: Wei’s Ink Garden” is on view at Alisan Fine Arts, Hong Kong, Mar. 7–Apr. 18, 2015

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