Allowing a divine voice to guide my hand
by Hsu Yung-Chin
by Hsu Yung-Chin
In my early years as an artist, because I was strict about following the rules of calligraphy, my writing was too stiff. In the 1970s, I won first prize in seven different national calligraphy competitions, yet I derived no joy from these accomplishments. An important change occurred when I asked my teacher Wang Chuang-Wei if I should I join a creative calligraphy competition. He advised me to stop competing and focus on personal expression. So, in the 1980s, my interest shifted to ink painting. I found the change refreshing. In this art form, I discovered a new joy and freedom to explore. In the decades that followed, I focused on ink painting and sought out advice from masters such as Liu He-Bei, Su Fung-Nan, Fu Zhuan-Fu, and Li Yi-Hong. I also traveled to China to speak with the master Wu Guan-Jhong. These masters impressed upon me the importance of themes, so my ink painting exhibitions were based on various themes.
I was reluctant to leave ink painting and the joy I had found in it, but calligraphy kept calling to me, saying, “If you cannot connect calligraphy with modern times, your work will have been in vain.” My inner voice oscillated between painting and calligraphy. Eventually, my paramount objective became creating a relevant form of contemporary calligraphy.
In the 90s, I rededicated myself to calligraphy. Back when I was competing, people said I was the next Wang Xi-Zhi, but I didn’t want to be a version of someone else. So I focused on cursive calligraphy. Every day, I filled scroll after scroll, and over time I have amassed thousands of scrolls. When I am writing calligraphy, I feel like I am a fish happily swimming in ink. This feeling, coupled with my zen practice, gives relief to my mind and body.
I had wanted to become a painter, but when I thought about the demoralizing way that calligraphy was being taught, I felt bad for the students. Their vitality was being squeezed out of them by an ill-informed pedagogy. Ink painting had taught me the importance of letting nature become my teacher and guide and I wanted to bring that to calligraphy. Now when I practice calligraphy, I approach it with the mentality of a painter in order to capture the feeling of that moment.
A simple way that painting and calligraphy can be united is seen in the TAIWAN logo. The logo is comprised of letters, yet each letter represents one or more human silhouettes. Another way I mix the two art forms can be seen in the way I capture times of disaster, seen in the works Shock 911, Black turning Red, Sky Shakes - Earth Trembles, Mudslide, and The Great Flood. When I united ink painting experience with calligraphy, I finally found a path to my true voice: I write out my paintings, and I paint out my writing.
When I write calligraphy, I empty my mind, and feel the qi that flows between the lines. Everything follows my breathing and intuition. My mind is devoid of a specific form. There is always an inner voice guiding my hand. I just relax and let the lines flow out of me.
Every day I wake up and practice meditation in order to cherish every moment of the day to come. I often go for walks and wander in nature. By being aware of the present moment, I feel the unity between nature and mind. This brings me back to the essential nature of my being. It feels as though the world has been made for me. Studying calligraphy is not just arduous practice, it is deeply related to self cultivation. If your mind is open, your calligraphy will be unimpeded by obstacles. Meditation takes care of my mind and heart but it also improves my calligraphy.
Seven years ago, I ate a piece of strong mint flavored gum and had a stroke. Since then, I have learnt about the impermanence of life and the importance of being grateful and cherishing our rich and beautiful existence. If I settle my mind, the whole world feels settled. This is also true for my calligraphy. If I release the tension in my mind, the ink flows with comfort and ease. Now my life is like a message from an old painting, “Three meals, rolls of books, a few cups of tea, and incense.” Every day, I write, draw, eat, drink tea, walk, breath incense, read, meditate and sleep. I live a peaceful and comfortable life. Living in the present is like drinking deeply from a fresh spring; it puts my mind at ease and it is the source of my inspiration.
Now, at 60, I have recently started working with people in other fields. In doing so, I have learned that creativity is not confined within the boundaries of one’s chosen practice. Calligraphy, and my work within it, is not restricted by either material or content. It is able to leave the page and fuse with film, architecture, dance, music, technology, industrial design, and sculpture. Mixing calligraphy with these other art forms reduces neither its power nor its beauty; it fills calligraphy with a new vitality.
The recent exhibition of my work at Taipei’s Museum of Contemporary Art contained more variety than any of my past 20 solo exhibitions. In addition to calligraphy written in ink and acrylic paint, there was a film projected on to a panoramic screen, a calligraphy demo mixed with digital art, a large statue of calligraphy, and interactive digital art. Calligraphy remained at the center of all these works.
That show represented a transformation
both for both myself and for my work.