The Two Breakthroughs of Contemporary Calligrapher Hsu Yung- Chin 
by Xiao Qiong-Rui, Taiwanese Art Historian/ Art Critic, 2012

Upon entering Hsu’s exhibition at MOCA, I was greeted by rumbling drums and a whirling wall of calligraphy. The sights and sounds combined to produce an overwhelming momentum that filled  my  eyes and ears.  Here was Taiwan Dreams, the story of Hsu Yung-Chin’s life. 

Bitter Passage to Taiwan, 120x200cm, 1993
Hsu was once a constant champion within Taiwan’s calligraphy scene.  When examining the work  that took first place in the National Student Calligraphy and Youth Calligraphy Competitions, or  his winning pieces at the 30th National Art Competition, you can  see the  strong fundamentals that underline all  his work. But after winning such prestigious awards, what is the next step for an artist?  Hsu, introspective and self-motivated, realized there was little creativity to be found in continuing with calligraphy competitions.  He turned his back on competition and sought personal expression through his craft.  This controversial decision was a milestone in Hsu’s life, but was also the beginning of a difficult road.  Difficult as it might have been, it was the path he chose for himself. 

When Hsu decided to stop competing, Taiwanese calligraphy was gripped by conservatism. However, people had begun to understand the need to modernize the art form. Though Hsu didn’t appreciate it at the time, this was the exact the path he was on. It is clear now that Hsu took a pioneering role in modernizing Taiwanese calligraphy. The result of his growth and change has been a wonderful new art form. An art form that Hsu created by successfully combining calligraphy and ink painting.

Over the years, Hsu has developed many aspects of modern calligraphy, be it with materials, form, or content.  In the piece, Divine Dragon, Hsu draped a long piece of red cloth over grass to form the character, “Big Dragon”. Another example experimentation with materials was the installation Bitter Passage to Taiwan, which finds him using red and black paper that is torn, cut, and glued together.  The work Nomadic, Adventurous, Wild, which is part of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum’s collection, is a most outstanding example of post-war calligraphy because of how it captures the mood and spirit of Taiwan at the time.  In The Sky Shakes, The Earth Trembles Hsu creates an evocative piece by channeling the terrible experience of the 9/21 earthquake. 

 The Sky Shakes, The Earth Trembles, 1999
Today, Hsu’s style is  more relaxed, yet somehow more accurate. In 2007, Hsu completed the acrylic work The Absolute Void, the Supernatural Existence in which he deconstructs these meaningful characters and uses a variety of colors.  Far from the black and white of traditional calligraphy, Hsu’s use of vibrant colors and the symbolic deconstruction of the characters represent calligraphy in its modern form. However, even within this mode, the lines retain the profound fluidity and tempo of traditional calligraphy. In the 2008 work Awareness, the black strokes are reminiscent of a dragon’s movements while the white lines, barely visible, give the feeling of frantic scurrying. The Romance of the Three Kingdom, also completed in 2008, uses glue to write out the opening poem of that ancient novel (O so vast, O so mighty/The Great River rolls to sea/Flowers do waves thrash/Heroes do sands smash…), that conveys a feeling of tragedy. 

Hsu’s Zen practice encompasses both his work and his life. Indeed, only by releasing your mind can you bring true inspiration into calligraphy. He works hard but he also enjoys himself.  Hsu once said, “When I create, I feel like I am making love on paper. I am full of the passion felt when you first fall in love. There is a romance between the brush and the paper. I am transported out of myself, into an ecstatic state, and from there I can express my deep passion for life.” Hsu has brought a new vision to calligraphy. Regardless of the form or content, his work reaches to boundless heights.

Nomadic, Adventurous, Wild
Hsu Yung-Chin
One ubiquitous sight in the streets of Taiwan is the logo he created for the National Tourism Bureau. He has also created logos for the Miaoli Culture and Tourism Bureau,  for the Council for Hakka Affairs, and the Taichung’s Calligraphy Greenway. Hsu participated in the Taiwan Pavillion’s calligraphy installation at the Shanghai Expo. He wrote a slogan, “The Poetic Beauty of Flowers” for the Taipei’s Flower Expo.  He also wrote the titles for the movie’s Monga and Father.  

In 2011, Hsu made another artistic breakthrough when he began mixing calligraphy with digital media. Digital media produces and captures images that are unaffected by time.  The beauty found in Hsu’s swaying lines is also timeless and there is a definite synergy when they are captured in digital media. This recent exhibit not only combined calligraphy with digital art but also with sculpture and a stunning use of lacquer.

Hsu Yung-Chin is an artist with a strong voice who is confident in his message. He cares about society, economics, and politics. His art reflects his concern for local as well as global issues. He insists on perfection in his work, but enjoys the normal parts of life. 

The curator of the recent show, Zheng Fang-He, borrowed the word “Beyond” from post-colonial critic Homi Bhabha for the exhibition’s title. She said, “Hsu Yung Jin’s work in Beyond Calligraphy embraces Bhabha’s perspective that a contemporary artist need not entirely abandon traditional forms, such as calligraphy, in order to express a modern sensibility. Instead, the contemporary artist explores and explodes out into many different directions in a way that celebrates both the culture’s past and present identity. Indeed, it is by exploring the various dimensions of their culture that a contemporary artist finds their own voice.”

Homi Bhabha’s argument is the best way to interpret Taiwan’s culture and Hsu Yung-Chin is the best spokesperson for Taiwanese culture. 

Taiwan Dream, 180 Degree Panoramic Theatre, 2011, Hsu Yung-Chin
Taiwan Dream, 180 Degree Panoramic Theatre, 2011, Hsu Yung-Chin

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