Wang Fangyu (1913–1997)
In looking at the calligraphy of Wang Fangyu it may be useful to bear in mind several tenets of traditional Chinese thought:
1) Calligraphy and painting have the same origin in the earliest writing of China, which was often pictorial and gestural in form.
2) Calligraphy is an unmistakable image or aura of the writer, as clear a reflection as his words, his appearance or his public actions.
3) The forms and gestures of calligraphy are often understood to be in harmony with the natural forms and forces of the world, for example, the wind, the rain, the flight of the birds.
4) All of the calligraphy of the past – the graphic record of human consciousness – is a vital repository of sources and references.
The art of calligraphy is the most vivid and direct recording of a creative process among all of the arts of the world. Every stroke and dot is an instant image of a physical action embodying aesthetic and expressive impulses. It is also the oldest and – measured by number of artists and works – the densest historical body of art extant, rivaled perhaps only by poetry.
These facts make all the more remarkable and exciting the achievement of Mr. Wang. Forbidding indeed is the challenge of the past for any calligrapher living in the late twentieth century. To master and change a tradition so dense, brilliant, and ineffable is a goal few have been able to approach, through there has been no dearth of aspirants. Indeed, it appears that we are in the midst of a true revival of the ancient art of calligraphy, one that will ultimately clarify itself into a major historical era in the evolution of the art. Why, in a age seemingly preoccupied with the problems of the present and the future, should there be this resurgence of interest in the most ancient of the arts of Asia? The other traditional arts, notably poetry, painting, and drama, have been buffeted by the cataclysmic events of our time. Calligraphy alone has remained relatively unaffected, quietly continuing to write out its story.
The answer, I believe, lies in the probability that calligraphy is the tangible embodiment of the racial and cultural memory of the Chinese people. Its origins lie in the fire of the oracle of Shang; its history draws into its structure the thought and emotion of the countless individuals – artists, scholars, monks, priests, and warriors – whose lives are the history of China; and it exists today as the embodiment of a nation’s mind and memory.
No one understands this better than Wang Fangyu. In his art is the past and the present, the individual mind and the mind of a people. His perception of experience is the subject of his art, and the history of the art is the space through which his brush writes. Looking at Mr. Wang’s images of himself, of his world, and his experience is to see one artist reflecting upon his life, his language, his art, and his history – reflecting upon roots sunk into primeval soil, and upon a heritage he himself is continuing to define.
Professor of Art History