National Day Calligraphy and Painting Exhibition 2011

My calligraphy teacher invited me to this exhibition today at the Ngee Ann Kongsi Cultural Centre. It was simply amazing. Today was the opening ceremony and so all the Chinese calligraphers and painters who contributed their works to the exhibit, and their friends were all present.

To stand in the midst of the various Singaporean masters in calligraphy and painting – my goodness! It was both amazing and yet very humbling. I look up to all of them. Their art is of the highest quality. In their works, you find the beauty of grace, and the fullest expression of the artist’s self fully manifested in the work. It’s so well done, you can actually experience/feel the ch’i (氣 energy) in the art. Amazing!

Here’s my favourite work as an example:

舞字 (The Word, "Dance") by Quek Yang Eng (郭延英)
舞字 (The Word, “Dance”) by Quek Yang Eng (郭延英)

The big word says: dance. And it’s written in such a way that the word itself appears to be dancing. This is achieved through the brush strokes. The essential idea of dance is transferred into the very stroke itself – the ch’i (氣 energy) involved in a dance is transferred, imprinted as it were, onto the paper. And when you look at it, the ch’i jumps right out of the paper into you, and stirs up within you the feelings of dance – of motion, rhythm, finesse, and grace.

This is what I love about Chinese calligraphy. The masters know how to make words come alive to the point that you could ascribe such works as the living word(s).

Here’s a close-up of the earlier painting:

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Even the paper is unique – so unique that the marks on such paper reveal themselves where ink covers it. It’s soooo beautiful!

This next one was written by my calligraphy teacher:

草書 (Grass Script) by Ong Guan Kee (王源枝)
草書 (Grass Script) by Ong Guan Kee (王源枝)

It’s a passage taken from the Kuan Tzu (管子):

起居時,飲食節,寒暑適,則身利而壽命益。

(Translation mine:) Be punctual when you rise or sleep, be moderate in food and drink, adapt to changes in temperature. If you do this, your body will benefit in health and you shall enjoy a long life.

Very good advice indeed!

Anyway, perhaps the most awesome thing about today’s event was that I had the chance to meet my teacher’s teacher, i.e. my grand-teacher in calligraphy. According to my teacher, he started learning calligraphy very seriously when he was about 13 years old. Perhaps the most surprising part is that my grand-teacher is about 15 years younger than my teacher!

Here’s the work that he did:

行書中堂 (Cursive Script as the Centrepiece of a Large Hall) by Koh Mun Hong (許夢丰)
行書中堂 (Cursive Script as the Centrepiece of a Large Hall) by Koh Mun Hong (許夢丰)

It’s a poem written by the Sung Dynasty poet, Su Shun-ch’in (苏舜钦)

春阴垂野草青青,时有幽花一树明。
晚泊孤舟古祠下,满川风雨看潮生。

(Translation mine:)
It’s spring, but the clouds shroud both sky and grass,
Yet at times, the sudden flash of flowers from a tree breaks this grey monotony.
In the evening, a lone boat parks at the bottom of an ancient temple,
this I see as I watch both wind and rain increase the tides.

Beautiful. The words of this poem are meant to function like a Chinese painting. With such vivid description, you can close your eyes and imagine those details. That will be the image which the poem paints in your mind. It’s lovely.

What makes this gathering of experts really great is that they really know how to appreciate calligraphy. It’s interesting just standing beside them as they critique both the good and the not so good. Just from their conversation, one can learn about the important qualities and elements that make a piece of calligraphy an awesome piece – the structural balance of the words, the complementality of broad and thin strokes, the liveliness in the strokes, the consistency in the script (font), the stability of the stroke, and many other factors.

Just one well written word and the masters of calligraphy will single it out, and marvel at the excellent qualities of that word – how the artist has given the character a most balanced and harmonious structure (not too broad, not too long, not too narrow), how the stroke is full of life, how the word embodies the essence of the idea.

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This is what I love about calligraphy. A word is not just a mere vehicle for communicating an idea. A word is a piece of art in itself. Yes, there is an idea behind the word, but how well is the idea expressed through the word? Does it convey the essence of the idea successfully? Why not ensure that the most beautiful expression of the idea is expressed in the word?

These are the questions which the Chinese have answered in the beautiful expression of ideas through the art of brush and ink.