Friday, August 15, 2008

Calligraphic conversations with nature

Xu Liming's small office is often packed with students coming for advice or casual talk, which for Xu is never unpleasant because their conversation revolves around his favorite subject - calligraphy.

The 54-year-old teaching professor at Nanjing Art Academy is one of China's top contemporary calligraphers. Among the numerous awards he has received is the 2001 Lanting Award, the highest award in the field of calligraphy in China.

Critic Zhu Haiyan, a calligrapher herself, said Xu's cursive style is "a reminder of Chinese landscape paintings and more recently of a strong tide smashing on a rocky beach".

"I've been to the Qiantang River twice recently - you know, the river famous for its strong tide in Haining, Zhejiang province," said Xu. "I was really impressed by the rolling and roaring waves clashing with each other. The scene keeps coming to me and I have the impulse to express it with my brush."

Xu took to calligraphy when he was still a child, spending his summer days with his uncle, a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, who gave out prescriptions written with brush and ink.

"He was actually a very good calligrapher even from my point of view today," said Xu. "I had no idea how much work it would take to reach his level. But somehow the moment I saw his calligraphy I made a determination to become an equal to him."

Xu Liming has been practicing ever since. There were times when he had frostbite on his feet because of practicing too long in the winter cold. But his efforts soon paid off with his first prize in calligraphy - a first place when he was in fourth grade .

"That's the award that I cherish most, even though the prize was no more than a brush and a handwritten certificate," said Xu. "But I still remember the moment I received them from the headmaster and how I was sure of my determination to make calligraphy my lifetime pursuit. The prize was not only encouragement, but a pass on my way to the best calligraphy."

Constant learning and practice paved the way for Xu to college, first as a student majoring in calligraphy, then a teacher and now a professor who is in charge of doctoral instruction. He has learned contemporary calligraphy from masters such as Lin Sanzhi and Qi Gong .

There was also a short period that Xu's believes had a major impact on his development. Soon after his graduation from junior high school he became an intern at a framing workshop. It provided him numerous opportunities to use rubbings by masters such as Wang Duo and Wu Changshuo .

"I was allowed to bring home rubbings for copies during the night, but had to promise to bring them back to the workshop intact the next morning," Xu said. "I spent a long period of time mostly sleepless at night, but that was about the happiest period in my life."

While learning from others provided the fundamentals, it takes more to incorporate all oneself to create the style of a real master.

"We all know that calligraphy is a way of self-expression. Yet it took me many years to realize what exactly that means," said Xu.

"It means doing your own calligraphy, not copying the style of history's grand masters. You have to be yourself. It is only when you forget all the masters that you become your best."

Xu said he is increasingly turning to nature for inspiration and improvement. He has taken trips to many places across China over the past decade.

"When I was confronted with the strong tide of the Qiantang River, it felt like that there was a strong inner voice communicating with nature," said Xu. "Involuntarily I felt the impulse to record the conversation through calligraphy."

Source: China Daily

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