HuangYao Web-site
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Huang Yao's two articles entitled Tuhua wenzi and Wenzi hua expounded his main idea in artistic creation, that is, the development of his early interest in Pictorial Calligraphy to his active practice of Calligraphic Painting. As Huang Yao explained the basis of his interest in this aspect of art :
The written character is the linguistic sign. As a human first learns how to speak, there is no difference between the utterance of the baby and the ape : each only knows how to open its mouth to utter the sounds that express its desires. Be they sad sobs, happy gurgles, anxious cries, the sounds uttered are none other than 'wah-ah', 'ha-ah' and 'yay-ah'. As humans progressed, there was a need to record the forms, sounds, and semantics of the basic human expressions, and the feelings that livened their hearts. Thus, humans developed various signs to signify all these expressions, which took the form of pictographs, becoming the earliest writing system... There are many ancient civilisations with rich cultural expressions, especially in terms of the writing system, like Mesopotamia, Egypt, Maya and even Africa... Even for those who remained in the Palaeolithic age, they had a kind of language, and a form of pictorial sign system which I preliminary call tuhua wenzi "Pictorial Calligraphy". 1

The earliest documented writing system in China is jiagu wen (Oracle-Bone Script), and if we want to trace the signage system that preceded Oracle-Bone Script, we will have to study the social life of these archaic communities according to their pictographs, and these are the beautiful tuhua wenzi mentioned in Shuo Wen (an ancient Chinese dictionary). Other cultures outside of China also had their pictographic signs like the Lolo of the Burmese borders. The more pictorial their signage system, the more beautiful their pictographic signs.

....There can be three elements to the Chinese character : its form, its semantics, and its phonetics. According to common understanding, a single-syllabic (i.e. radical) character is called wen, and a double-syllabic character is called zi, so strictly speaking, all tuhua wenzi are first composed from a single radical and should be known as wen. Archaic tuhua wenzi. especially the wen, are in fact aesthetically equal with the ancient painted images, which are also [on par with] the modern paintings; which is why Picasso urged us to study art in Africa, not Paris

Sometimes I can spend my whole day lying or sitting down, reading or writing tuhua wenzi and not tire, just because of the incomparable beauty of its form.2 ...I love the study of etymology, although I can't say I have done much research in this field, nor do I want to do any revolutionary work. As an artist [what I really want to do is] read the Oracle-Bone Scripts, history of the everyday life in archaic society, and speculate about their lifestyle according to the existing inscriptions. For example, [looking at] the inscriptions (carriage) and (ox), and visiting the museum to view actual Shang Dynasty oxen carriage, [1 see that] the inscriptions are both tuhua wenzi, and when they come together, they become what Cang Ji termed zi "character". This 'coming-together' can form a beautiful picture, [a beauty that is] comparable to the pictographs of the Shang and Zhou Dynasty Bell-and-Gong Script. There was a time when many [tuhua wenzl] were formed, and they combined with single radical wen to form whole, complete pictographs.3

The use of tuhua wenzi in calligraphic practice has been a new development in art in China since the mid-1 980s. To differentiate it from conventional calligraphy, the practitioners termed it 'Modern Calligraphy', which was the result of a search for new expressions in Chinese calligraphy. The modern calligraphic practice had been a stylistic trend in Japan since;the mid-20th century, where it is known as xiang shu. In the context of the development in 20th century calligraphy, critical attention should be given to the work of Huang Yao. From today's art theoretical standpoint, this calligraphic style involves an examination of how an individual's aesthetic experimentation draws from available resources to re-create a visual language, coupled with a critical understanding of its history and historicism, This is one of the key art theoretical issues confronting art practices today. Thus the discussion on Huang Yao has a special significance.

Since the start of Chinese calligraphic criticism, there have discussions over the xiang "likeness" of the character; this likeness was not only one of the roots of the written characters themselves, it was also one of the basis of calligraphy as an art form. Just as Huang Yao commented, "In learning Chinese art, we also need to learn philology. [For example] the individual radicals bu and shou together form a Chinese character, yet every radical is [in itself] an archaic pictograph."4 He elaborates further by saying, "For those who like Asian art, they would know [the concept of] shuhua tongyuan, that is, the basis of Chinese calligraphy and painting actually stem from the same root. [Though] people; take notice of calligraphy as a whole art form, because the characters are themselves paintings, those who appreciate Chinese calligraphy should best know philology, so that even in writing wen (a character), it is like completing a picture." 5

The shuhua tongyuan theory in traditional Chinese art theory has received new interpretation in Huang Yao's practice and artistic development, From the basis of tuhua wenzi "Pictorial Calligraphy", it has developed to wenzi hua 'Calligraphic Painting'. He cites an example where he illustrates the source of his engagement in wenzi hua and its pictographic foundation :

There was this exhibition of wenzi hua at the Jizhen villa recently, and He Weicheng ... encouraged me to render wenzi hua. ...I had a sudden inspiration on the character xu " " (facial hair), and I thought of the structure of the character xu "" .You can look at one side of the character xu " " , there is the Chinese character for eye, mu " " and it was originally written horizontally [as a pictograph of eye], and the ba " " underneath is the Oracle-Bone Script for ren " ". The " " on top is like the eyebrows, and doesn't [all] that represent a human body? As for the three strokes of " " on the left represents the person's facial hair, and this character " * "sounds like hair, and according to Shou Wen (an ancient Chinese dictionary), " " is just like hair, and common language calls it 'hanging hair'. 6

Huang Yao gives another example:
Take . . .the two characters " "(television). On top of the radical " "(electricity) is the radical " " (rain). At the top of " "is " " which refers to " the sky above". The dots below, " "represents raining. The word electricity (" ") comes from the character " " and " " in Oracle-Bone Script is " " which represents the actual lightning in the sky As for the word " " (vision) there is a " " on the left, and " " on the right; the " " on top is just like a person opening his eyes, and the " " below is a " " character, which means a human being is standing with the eyes open.7

In his search for a new direction in Chinese calligraphy, Huang Yao sought inspiration from the earliest writing systems of China.
The [first] written character developed from pictographs to Oracle-Bone Script. In fact, the Oracle-Bone Scripts were the ancient simplified Chinese characters, and as they developed into the Bell-and-Gong Inscriptions in the subsequent age, they attained [a new beauty in the history] Of the Chinese written character. Those who would like to practice wenzi hua should base: their foundation on the Bell-and-Gong Inscriptions.8

If you understand the structure of the [Chinese] character, you can use this method of inquiry to reach an understanding and 'oneness' with the ancient aesthetic concepts. If I make a [new] picture based on archaic drawings such as tuhua wenzi, the modern man [may] be amazed, thinking that it is some kind of modern abstract art. Yet it is actually an 'ancient' drawing [and it is] the most beautiful concrete picture. I have been researching in this area, and I regret not being able to find someone else who can share these concerns.9

Conventional calligraphy in China has [by and large] not developed in the direction of wenzi hua. Huang Yao, who moved to and settled in Southeast Asia, has examined his use of wenzi hua under the scope of calligraphy as an art form in various cultures - from Western to Japanese culture - in order to analyse the direction of calligraphy within a broader context. While Huang Yao acknowledged that there is much to learn from the Western-style hieroglyphics, they differed from Chinese wenzi hua as the latter are essentially a form of calligraphic painting.

Much of his critical inquiry arose from his personal interest in Japanese calligraphy as well, with the realisation that while the roots of Japanese calligraphy stemmed from its Chinese counterpart, it also developed and experimented further than Chinese calligraphy, Huang Yao felt that the Japanese have managed to effectively challenge traditional
Chinese calligraphy in contemporary times, while providing the Chinese new methods of artistic innovation, from the writing of stone rubbings, minimalist characters, to avant-garde calligraphy. Huang Yao felt that Chinese calligraphic works had fallen behind Japanese calligraphy ever since the I980s. On the strengths of Japanese calligraphy and their advocating that the barriers between painting and calligraphy should be abolished Hua Yao commented :

Japan has elevated calligraphy into the greatest form of abstract art. Many a majestic building [boasts of] incredible murals that are composed of running-cursive characters, [so much so] that the West is stunned, deeming it miraculous. This is however, unheard of in China and other Chinese-inhabited areas, which is inexplicable. Frankly speaking, despite the [beauty of] the structure of the Oracle-Bone Script, the glamour of Bell-and-Gong Inscriptions, the robustness of the Big Seal characters, or the boldness of Clerical Script [...]they all have been artistically diluted tremendously. The crux is not the exterior form, but rather, the essence within. To write a new chapter in Chinese art, we will need the collective research of all who have a passion for it, regardless of whether it is painting or calligraphy, and combine our efforts together.10

In addition to Japanese culture, Huang Yao felt that Chinese calligraphy can gain much from the calligraphic practices of other cultures, especially ancient ones.
The Sumerian period at BC 3000 also had a form of hieroglyph, as did ancient Egypt, even Myanmar, Nepal and a tribe of Northern Thailand... these signs are pictures and drawings in their own right. A person with 'heart' would find it easy to find [joy in] ancient treasures.

[There are artists] in the West who spend great effort in learning [what these ancient art forms have to offer], but we Asians [often] ignore them instead, Isn't that a waste?11

[In fact, these creations] have a correlation with the ancient, yet have a touch of the modern. Some people see it and think that it is a modern painting, but in actual fact this is the oldest [art] form. Others think that it is Western abstract painting, but it is actually ancient Eastern characters. Thus I believe that art does not differentiate between the ancient and the modern, the East and the West, the old and the new. It is all one and continuous, and this is the greatness and sacredness of Art. 12

As a result, he laments at the current state of the writing system in modern Chinese culture.

There are' a few famous artists of the West going this direction, but it is regretful that they have no study of the Chinese calligraphy, and they do not understand the Chinese word. In fact, the Chinese character and calligraphy is a special treasure of Asia, and our younger generation, being influenced by the West, have become ignorant, and some even despise themselves, resulting in a continuous cultural depreciation. Ethnic Chinese, in certain parts of the world, do not even have pride in learning their own language [and] they commit [fundamental] mistakes in understanding the difference between wen which marks the origin [of a character], and zi which bears the grace, and without repentance. When I think about [the current state of our writing system, the] 'utmost cultural treasure of the world', occasionally, I cannot help but feel disappointed,13

In another article, Huang Yao elaborated on the significance of Chinese brush strokes artistry in wenzi hua. Because wenzi hua is a manifestation of Chinese art, a discussion on the element of ink and wash strokes needs is thus necessary.
Ink is subdivided into five hues. ...Dry and moist ink strokes have to be performed with flexibility, resulting in an array of light and heavy, as well as thin and robust strokes. It would be ideal not to change the brush, or as seldom as possible. Experience this through the emulation of the three characters: fu "bliss", Iu "wealth" and shou "longevity" in zhuan wen "Seal Script" with diligence, preferably in the morning, and unmediated grace. Do not hesitate in applying dexterity and strength like the bamboo, to bequeath dimensionally to the scroll, only as such can the subtlety be felt, which equates the harvest of self pro-creation, a definite glee - now, this is 'fortune'.14

Tuhua wenzi "Pictorial Calligraphy" and wenzi hua "Calligraphic Painting" belong to two different dimensions : the former is composed of pictorial signs, while the latter utilises tuhua wenzi as source material for creating new script forms. Therefore tuhua wenzi. Whilst founded on traditional Chinese calligraphy, has evolved to a new realm in artistic creation, which is what Huang Yao referred to as wenzi hua. Nonetheless, for Huang Yao, it was finally, one's artistic ability that was the distinguishing factor.
With regards to Chinese calligraphy, it is no different compared to 'normal' everyday writing, Under a macroscopic viewpoint, it is none other than painting a picture with lines and dots, and those characters that bear resemblance to tangible objects in real life are 'concrete', while those representing intangible things are abstract. As the saying goes "abstract withholds concrete" - they embrace each other, hence the futility in differentiating between new and old, East and West. In Art, it is only the degree of artistic skill and talent that [finally] matters.15

On the process of creating wenzi hua, he wrote :
Manipulating characters into pictures is pretty interesting, and can be done by anyone, one merely requires a good grasp of Oracle-Bone Script and Bell-and-Gong Inscription. These, together with frequent reference to tuhua wenzi, will result in stunning and pleasing pictures. . . .Wenzi hua are [in actual fact like] tuhua wenzi, but really are easier to create than ordinary paintings. [We] just have to understand the structure of the character, select the form to ensure vitality, liven it with beauty, and novelty will follow.

If you already understand the structure of Oracle-Bone Inscriptions, then the image will follow. If we gathered the copies [and variations] of each character, and revised them every now and then, the [basic and original] structure will [still] be evident. Therefore, those who appreciate [and study] Chinese painting, will also gain the additional benefits of calligraphy expertise and cultural awareness.16

Wenzi hua finds transformation in Oracle-Bone Script and Bell-and-Gong Inscription. However the changes are most evident in cursive and later, running scripts - the evolution of strokes is intriguing. The Japanese have done great research in cursive and running scripts calligraphy.17

On the topic of One-Stroke Painting he also discussed the difference between it and Calligraphic Painting :
The difference between One-Stroke Painting and wenzi hua is that, as long as you have a knowledge of Shou Wen and the foundations of calligraphy, you can be rather good at wenzi hua. However, One-Stroke Painting requires a theme.18

It is not difficult to compose wenzi hua when you start with the natural phenomena, Iike the sun, the moon, the stars, the constellations, the rain, the thunder, the thunder and lightning, the mountains, the rivers, the shrubs, the woods - every item is a lively picture for one to gain inspiration from and to depict, And if one does not understand [the gist of things], one can refer to Shou Wen to [find out how to] draw the lively birds and animals, and once we add colour to the drawings, it becomes infinitely delightful ....19

And the entering into the pondering of the substance of Calligraphic Painting is the next step in Huang Yao's discussion in wenzi hua. The theory of shuhua tongyuan "calligraphy and painting stem from the same root" has not only narrowed the distinction between Chinese calligraphy and painting, it has informed the characteristics of calligraphy itself. Huang Yao expounded on the importance of painting in calligraphy :
In fact, there is much truth in this phrase shuhua tongyuan. It is a matter of deep regret if a painter does not know calligraphy, and it is a matter of imperfection if a painter does not know how to dexterously and soundly pen one's strokes with the most delicate technique of calligraphy.20

The dots and lines of Chinese ink painting originate from calligraphy. Picasso and Matisse of the West regretted a lack of understanding of [Chinese] calligraphy. While the lines of both artists have their sound foundation in sketches, and their lines are as strong as that of calligraphy, they lack the subtlety of nuances and variations in calligraphic brushstrokes. We can compare the works of both artists works with calligraphic models, and in the [latter's] strokes and lines, [we can see] the inseparable relationship between calligraphy and painting.21

Therefore Huang Yao uses the term chuyun shu "brushstrokes from the clouds" to describe his interpretation and direction of his calligraphic practice :
l should be 'naive' and 'unpolished' to learn the brushstrokes like a child. When I read Tao Qian's line "The cloud has no mind I out from the caves" , my friend Crlao Qian) bestowed the name chuyun shu. I would face my seat, flip my book, and sometimes close it to practice Seal characters with a cursive hand; sometimes I would follow my desire, and write in one continuous stroke, regardless if they were short passages, poems, proverbs pr propitious words.22

The above opinions are Huang Yao's expositions on tuhua wenzi and wenzi hua, and when he expressed these beliefs visually in calligraphy, it resulted in his unique calligraphic paintings. When we refer to Huang Yao's actual calligraphic works, we would have a clearer understanding of his unique thinking in this realm. His article on the creation of sanyang kaitai "three suns heralding prosperity" elaborates on the actual method of transforming tuhua wenzi to wenzhi hua ,
Let us take for example the idiom sanyang kaitai " ". Tai is a divination symbol, and according to the Tuan article in the Yijing " ": "The heaven symbol (qian) is above, and the earth symbol (kun) is below. [When] the heaven and earth exchange, all things communicate." When we see tai, it is always of great prosperity and fortune. If we see tai when we look for fortune, it means the way to prosperity is straight. If we see tai when we look for marriage, it means the way to love is open. (But in effect does fortune come? Does love last? I do not know.)

How about sanyang "three suns"? [It is] stated in the xu divinity symbol, "when three people come, it is the end-fortune of respect" and [it is said that] "the one moon is the lord over three suns," Thus according to the Chinese character, it should be sanyang," ", But it is more monotonous [to depict it] as three suns, so I use the Chinese homonym method and depicted sanyang (" " : three suns) as sanyang (" " : three lambs). The primitive characters were developed mostly from pictographs, and each pictograph is lively and vivid, so I decided to depict [the pictographs] of three lambs. The word "lamb" possesses many forms in Oracle-Bone Script, of which each character is beautiful. I selected quite a number of them, including those with rounded eyes, and furry moustaches.. . . . But because sanyang "three suns" only required sanyang "three lambs", I had to forsake some of them and settle with three, which are all cursive and dotted, [where the dots are the 'eyes' in the pictures]. The horn of the 'lamb' was even conjugated to give certain spiral effects. Further critique showed that the composition of 'three lambs' alone [still] Iooked rather monotonous, so l added a few characters that represent the [original meaning of the] sun, enhancing the word with the meaning of sunrise, followed by a few [additional] strokes that represented the 'sunward face'. All these [are executed] in red ink, to add to the variety.

Finally, to increase a sense of connection [between the individual characters], a ren (" " : man) is added (ren is written as bu " " in Oracle-Bone Script, and can be added either on the left or right). In the first place, "lamb" in Oracle-Bone Script contains the character xi " ", and this in turn symbolism a shepherd, The characters as a whole thus symbolise a shepherd walking three lambs under the sun, enjoying the sunny brilliance, which translates into the meaning of "transcend". I feared that the common reader may not understand the meaning behind such primitive characters, hence I footnoted it with the words sanyang kaitai (" "), below which there was another footnote that read, "The work was completed mid-autumn in the year xinyou. 23

The above is a vivid example that elaborates on the theory and practical uses of the wenzi hua. It can be interpreted as a method that aids both the development of one's creativity, and also an individual's study and research into the origins of ancient Chinese writing system and art, of which the latter was a keen interest that Huang Yao had. His works have provided many possibilities for artistic experimentation in Chinese calligraphy, specifically, the further evolution of tuhua wenzi "Pictorial Calligraphy" to wenzi hua "Calligraphic Painting" and it is artists like Huang Yao, whose efforts have breathed new life to today's calligraphic creations. It is the analysis of his works that will offer more insights into the nature of wenzi hua, which will in turn shed light on the origin of modernism in Chinese art.

Wang Nanming
Shanghai, May 2001

1 Huang Yao, "Tuhua wenzi," Moyuan suibi (the Works of Huang Yao : Journals ), ed.
Pan Qingsong. 1st ed. (Malaysia : Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, 2000) 52.
2 Huang 52.
3 Huang 53.
4 Huang, "Wenzi xue," 244
5 Huang, "Shufa rike," I22.
6 Huang, "Wenzi hua " 54.
7 Huang 244.
8 Huang, "Xu Wei's Ink Paintings," 99.
9 Huang 244. Huang I22.
11 Huang, "Wenzi hua " 55.
12 Huang 53.
13 Huang, "Sanyang kaitai," 12g.
14 Huang, "Fu, Lu, Shou," I75.
15 Huang I22.
16 Huang I22.
17 Huang, "Shufa rike " 123.
18 Huang, "Yibi hua " 60.
19 Huang 60.
20 Huang, "Huihua, dongfang yishu jianshou " 236.
21 Huang 237.
22 Huang 287.
23 Huang, "Sanyang kaitai," I28.