From Calligraphy to Scripting

The Dual Transcendence of Yang Xiaojian

Fan Di’an Professor
National Arts Museum of China, Director
Art Critic
Curator of Contemporary Art Exhibitions

Two significant options face a Chinese artist in the contemporary cultural context if he desires to take up a path of his own. One is to walk out of the tradition of Chinese art the other is to break away from the influence of western art. Apparently, native tradition and western influence are the fundamental factors underlying the current cultural contest of the Chinese artist, as well as a touchstone for his belief and courage—only he who manages to transcend them will be able to reach the realm of free artistic creation.

Yang Xiaojian is an artist who challenges both native tradition and western influence with a Chinese medium—the ink and wash—an art form that he committed himself to for the last 20 years, proving in the process that art is both a means of spiritual redemption and an action of cultural transcendence of universal significance.

Calligraphy :An Expressionist Language

Yang Xiaojian is first of all a calligrapher. Calligraphy is unquestionably a tremendous visual cultural reservoir of Chinese tradition, forming in its thousand-year long uninterrupted history a rich heritage of Canon Calligraphy—master works which offers not only classic paradigms, but also the laws of writing: the literal meaning of the Chinese word for calligraphy. This implies that a calligraphy practitioner could not acquire the essence of creation without delving into the sea of tradition, hence closeness to a particular canonized style being an essential condition for success. Such is also the road Yang Xiaojian went through in studying calligraphy—he researched into the tradition of calligraphy and was fascinated by the styles of ancient masters. However, two elements led him to his own very personal style. While studying tradition, he focused on the expressionist style, one called running grass script or the semi-cursive—cursive script, which since the fourth century has been a favorite of individualistic calligraphers, with a number of variant patterns. With its expressive strokes and variable structures, the content and form of the scripting are integrated, making it the distinctive mark of the calligrapher’s mental world or the picture of his soul. Yang Xiaojian’s calligraphic attainment has secured him the name of an excellent contemporary calligrapher with expressionistic style, but not satisfied by searching for resources only in the tradition of calligraphy, he cast his sight to Expressionism and Abstract Expressionism in western modernism, which, for the new generation of Chinese artists in the 1980’s, seemed to fulfill their aspiration for artistic freedom. Whereas it was usually the local painter who would be inspired by western art, Yang Xiaojian managed to find compatible elements in the wealth of foreign visual experiences combining them with his brushwork, making him an extra-ordinary calligrapher in China able to combine different cultural elements.

Many of Yang Xiaojian’s calligraphies were finished under a strong expressive desire. While more traditional calligraphers would set out from the content of their creation, Yang Xiaojian pays more attention to the process of scripting—the process itself becoming part of the creation. He discovers pleasure and the freedom of emotional expression through the running of the strokes and the varying ink work—the tempo and rhythm of the lines on the paper construct a visual structure that looks like both calligraphy and abstract painting. It is therefore justified to call him a calligrapher with masterly skills, but a modern calligrapher that challenges traditional principles or even abandons and betrays tradition.

Scripting: The Breakthrough of the Spirit

Yang Xiaojian’s betrayal of the calligraphic tradition made him one without “identity” in terms of art genre. For quite a long time in China’s art world, the legitimacy of an artist depended on the legitimacy of a genre, defining the “identity” of the artist, such as painter, sculptor or calligrapher. Therefore, Yang Xiaojian’s rebellion in the realm of traditional calligraphy results in the loss of a clear professional “identity”. Showing no heed to this issue, he long to transcending his spirit, to move away from past achievements—he was the winner of numerous calligraphic awards—and to transcend established modes, or the pictorial patterns of contemporary art. Time and again straying from the tracks of calligraphy, he has in effect entered a state of “scripting” with his ink language.

“Scripting” brings to the mental world of Yang Xiaojian a broader spectrum. His art puts more and more weight on the expressive power of the ink and wash, using extensively, besides lines, the technique of daubing, thereby combining the layers of ink and the traces of the strokes with his sensibility. Because of his scripting style he may be best described as an “ink animal”—his soul is comforted in the world of ink and wash, where he is engaged in constant self-dialog.

Choosing the name “Ink and Wash Base” for his studio in Shanghai, Yang Xiaojian intended to construct a habitat for his soul with his experiments of ink and wash. Later he renamed the studio “Top Floor Ink and Wash Space”. Setting off from the internal revolution of calligraphy, his art breaks in order to establish, giving birth to new “calligraphic imageries” or “ink imageries” whilst subverting the aesthetic standards of traditional calligraphy. Casual and impulsive, bold and spontaneous, the glamour of life is vividly communicated in his work.

Calligraphy — Non-calligraphy:

Between Cultural Experience and Narration

Following explorations and breakthroughs over past years, Yang Xiaojian’s ink and wash scripting has reached maturity. His recent works demonstrate aspects of creative achievement. He finished a series of “hard edge ink imagery” works that highlights a revolution of the calligraphic line. Under traditional paradigms, the lines of the writers, as controlled by his sensibility, leaves irregular traces and patterns on the paper, whereas Yang Xiaojian gives up subconscious lines in his scripting by way of drawing from Abstract Expressionism and conscious maneuvering of the lines, thus rendering in his work a painterly quality. The traces of scripting are confined in the picture frame, whereby the work retains the traces of scripted lines in details and in parts, while engendering an overwhelming ink structure. With that accomplished, he begins to incorporate his comprehension of the world in his scripting, in such a manner that every piece of his work is visually striking, while containing subject matters related to his cultural experiences. He traveled extensively over the years, and in the journey he discovered large numbers of objects associated with the “ink imagery”, which he documented like scripting diaries, as a way of expressing his sensibility. His work is a structure of superimposed imageries of the world, to be read not only by himself but also by the viewer. More interestingly, his sensibility begins to connect to a number of social events. Events that provide him with new imageries, transforming his scripting into narration, allowing the viewer to get access to his experience, his reflection, as well as his observation and judgment.

From calligraphy to scripting, from calligraphy to painting, and from Chinese tradition to western experiences, Yang Xiaojian’s trek achieves a cultural crossing. In his strong and visually compelling images is floated the sensibility of a contemporary artist, where original creations are revealed.

从叛逆到创造

——杨小健的书写历程

中国书法作为中国文明的重要载体和中国文化的重要代表,拥有悠久而不曾间断的历史,也积累为自成严密体系的传统。在所有的传统范畴中,无论用什么语言指称书法传统的强大,似乎都是不过分的。它被认为具有与大自然一样的力量,所谓“禀阴阳而动静,体万物以成形。”(虞世南《笔髓论》);它也被认为具有支持与巩固社会政治秩序一样的作用,所谓“同流天地,翼卫教经。”(项穆)《书法雅言》);它更多将书写者的状态与神启般的际遇连在一起,所谓“情动形容,取会风骚之意;阴舒阳惨,本乎天地之心。”(孙过庭《书谱》)……如此等等,都使书法的传统披上神圣的外衣。在理论的经典论述之外,中国书法的传统还贡献了无数书法作品构筑的流派、风格,如高峰壁立,法象森严。而所有这些,对于今天的书法家来说,只有一个字,那就是在书法观念和书写实践超越与突破传统的难。

在1980年代以来至今中国新艺术的发展中,书法领域的观念变革与创新探索是特别值得书写的。由于传统的强大,相比起视觉艺术的其他门类,中国书法界的自觉者和探险者为数不多,尤其处在艰难的个人奋斗之中,杨小健就是其中的代表。作为中国当代书法的革命者的一员,他经历了自我蜕变和进取探险的历程,他从书法内部着手的革命不仅使他自己从传统走向书写创造的境界,也给我们思考和认识中国书法与当代艺术的关系提供了难得的范例。

杨小健书法历程的第一阶段是他走出传统的探索。对于他来说,走出传统首先是与自己的书法学识与经验所进行的一次博弈。他本来就具有良好的书法传统修养,早在年轻时代就能写出具有传统韵味的行草,其风格兼容了“北派”碑体的刚健与苍劲,又富有“南派”帖学的率意与抒情,尤其在表达自我情感方面能够体现书写的无意识状态,在笔线风格上已具有相当的个人面貌。但是,他并不故意停留在书法自身的传统范畴中,而是积极地把眼光放到艺术发展新的时代文化情境之中,比如说,他首先思考了将西方表现主义艺术风格与中国书写经验的结合。在中国新艺术的变革中,打破自身原有封闭格局的动力之一是西方现代艺术。中国改革开放以后,在艺术上对中国艺术家特别是年轻一代艺术家最有影响的是表现主义,在中国艺术家的理解中,表现主义不仅仅指的是西方一种现代流派,而是它所倡导的自由意志与自我表现精神,以表现主义为新的心理诉求,由此使自己的艺术创造状态能够走出传统。杨小健在这个过程中,一方面吸收表现主义的思想观念,另一方面,他从书法传统中找到了“解衣磅礴”、“书以歌之”的传统,这个传统是中国自身的表现主义,由此,他的书写发生了根本的变化,在创作中更讲究用笔的酣畅、恣肆,在全幅结构上有即兴的变化,内容也开始从具体的词章向无意识发展,特别是把日常书写和作品的结构作为主要的探索目标,从而使自己的书风从传统蜕变为现代。

当杨小健站在中国现代书法的队伍中的时候,他的个性已经相当明显,他对传统的叛逆精神不仅体现在他的书法实践中,甚至还体现在他的生活方式中。长期以来,他始终使自己处在一种漂泊漫游的精神状态中,既与社会生活的主流保持距离,也与时尚的、大众的、流行的文化思潮保持距离,可以说更多地向内心走去,在一种孤独与发奋交织的过程中磨练自己的思想锋芒。如果说杨小健在他早期的书法中解决的是从传统走向现代的话,那么从90年代到跨向21世纪的过程中,他的着力点在解决从书写到书象的建构,这个时期,他开始更加注重书法的纯粹化问题。在纯粹化这个命题中包含了两个方面的探索:一方面是他要继续通过书写来表达自己的情感、情绪和情怀,使书写的笔线仍然具有相当的表情性和表现性,甚至是一种内心力量的显现,另一方面,他着重考虑作品在视觉上的结构样式,把书法的传统布局改变为以视觉冲击力为目的的结构。中国书法传统中关于结构的遗产只能支持传统的书法形态,而杨小健要用现代视觉审美的经验来丰富这个形态,由此,他在宏观上注重书写作品的整体布局,把书写的感觉与绘画的感觉结合起来,甚至在某种程度上朝着绘画性的构成方式发展。通过他的努力,他的作品出现了一种由书写所支持的书象,其中的“象”基本上脱胎了传统书法甚至现代书法的寓意,以强烈的图像形态成为一种新的书写景观。他的作品就像建筑、雕塑和装置的意象一样,具备有强烈的视觉张力。

在杨小健的书法作品已经可以作为中国当代书法的成功实践的时候,他对自己提出了更新的要求,着手解决了书法与当代艺术之间的关系。在我看来,这个过程是杨小健书法历程中最重要的和更高层次的探索,也是他以一位书法家的身份为中国当代艺术作出的贡献。在杨小健近几年的作品中,他的书写方式和书写结构都发生了更为彻底的变革,当许多书法家都苦苦思考如何能使书写的内容更具有当下和当代的意义时,当许多书法家停留在书法意象的解放而难以进入用书写反映当下感受的时候,杨小健在这个课题上找到了解决的方法,那就是他把他对当代社会的观察、感受、体验和认知转化成为书写的形象。这些年,他行旅各地,从都市到乡村,从中国到外国,他所到之处都能把对生活现实的感受及时地转化为书写的意象,一片老墙,一片光影,一座工厂,一座桥梁,一片社区,一个城市,甚至一个社会事件,一则世界新闻,都会在他眼前都幻化为书写的对象!由此,他从具体的形象中抽离出高度的抽象形式,为现实的世界做出了书写的塑造。在这个意义上,杨小健是真正超越了传统,因为传统书法所追求的是与第一自然相关的意境,而杨小健解决了书法与第二自然也就是当下的现实相关的意境。现代书法只停留在用新的字形和书法符号来表达书写者的感受,而杨小健则能够将自己的心理状态与现实的世界直接接通,不需要通过符号的转换而达到直接的书写,如此而来,他就在直接性与现实性、表现性与表意性、具象性与抽象性等这些关系中找到了最为通畅的连接,我认为,这在书法学理上具有历史性的价值。

许多年来,解决中国书法的当代观赏问题已经成为书法界的共识,从传统向当代发展的书法,不仅需要风格的变化,也需要形制、尺寸的变化,由此使书法作品能够进入现代生活空间和文化环境之中。杨小健的书写作品一方面在内容上联系着当代生活,使人们在他的作品面前能够获得当代人所感受到的外部现实的一种共鸣,尤其通过他作品中新颖和强烈的黑、白、灰结构与当代社会现实形成视觉上的通感,让人体会到这些作品既具有传统书法的基本精神,又有现代书法的形式感受,更有当代书法的文化姿态;另一方面,随着主题和内容的突破,杨小健的作品在视觉上与当代文化的视觉需求形成了联系,他的作品在当代艺术范畴的各类展览和展示中,能够以艺术的当代语言方式讲述一位书法家的心理体验和现实感怀,使书法这一古老的样式进入当代文化的整体格局之中,来体现自己造型与文化的力量。

也许杨小健还会继续做他的精神孤旅,他也还会继续感受这个世界许多新的事物和景象,当别的书法家为世界的变化而困惑的时候,杨小健却能够从容而轻松地迎向,因为他从传统中走出来的叛逆精神已经转化为一种充满激情和智慧的创造。他仍然可以书写得淋漓酣畅,但重要的是,他能够把看到的现实和感受到的社会作为不断书写的内容。他的书写作品也超越了文化的界线,成为不同文化背景下的观众都能够接受理解的艺术样式,从而使中国书法与当代世界范围内视觉艺术的探索形成关联,由此让我们相信中国书法语言是能够通向未来的。

中国美术馆馆长
范迪安
2010年12月

Yang XiaoJian (1960---) Professional Modern Chinese Artist

  • Exhibition
  • 1992 Galleries in Kyoto, Kobe and Osaka, Japan
  • 1992 个展 京都、神户、大阪等地画廊 日本
  • 1993 Exhibition for International Famous Calligraphers in 20th Century, Beijing, China
  • 1993 二十世纪国际书法名家展 北京 中国
  • 1998 China's 7th exhibition of Calligraphy and Seal Cutting, China Art Gallery, Beijing, China
  • 1998 全国第七届中青年书法篆刻展 中国美术馆 北京 中国
  • 1999 National Third Exhibition for Couplet Writing, China Art Gallery, Beijing China
  • 1999 全国第三届楹联书法展 中国美术馆 北京 中国
  • 2003 Exhibition for International Famous Calligraphers, Seoul, South Korea
  • 2003 国际名家书法邀请展 汉城 韩国
  • 2003 Exhibition for Fifteen nominated Famous Calligraphers, Jiangsu Traditional Chinese painting Art Museum, Nanjing, China
  • 2003 全国现代书法十五人提名展 江苏国画院美术馆 南京 中国
  • 2004 2nd National Exhibition for Fashionable Writing Style, Contemporary Gallery, Beijing, China
  • 2004 第二届全国“流行书风”大展 今日美术馆 北京 中国
  • 2005 Group exhibition for Yang Xiaojian and Wei Ligang- Picture of Triturate the Ink, Contemporary Gallery, Beijing, China
  • 2005 杨小健、魏立刚“捣墨图”兄弟展 今日美术馆 北京 中国
  • 2005 International Modern Calligraphy Exhibition - Air and Expansion, Mulpa Art Centre, Seoul, South Korea
  • 2005 国际现代书法双年展《气韵与扩散》 物波艺术中心 首尔 韩国
  • 2005 Group exhibition with three artists, Art Association, Hong Kong
  • 2005 三人联展 艺术公社 香港 中国
  • 2005 International Modern Calligraphy exhibition, China Academy of Art, Hangzhou, China
  • 2005 “书非书”国际现代书法展 中国美术学院 杭州 中国
  • 2006 Inviting Exhibition of Contemporary Art, 0 C Space, Beijing, China
  • 2006 当代艺术邀请展 零度空间 北京 中国
  • 2006 Inviting Exhibition of Contemporary Art, Museum of Shang-Shang, Song-Zhuang, Beijing, China
  • 2006 当代艺术邀请展 宋庄—上上美术馆 北京 中国
  • 2006 Solo Exhibition, Art Gallery of North Kamakura, Tokyo Japan
  • 2006 个展 北镰仓美术馆 东京 日本
  • 2007 Solo Exhibition, Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, Kyoto Japan
  • 2007 个展 京都市美术馆 京都 日本
  • 2009 Yang Xiaojian and Wei Ligang Two-person exhibition, Hong Kong China
  • 2009 杨小健、魏立刚双人展 艺倡画廊 香港 中国
  • 2010 Context Calligraphy Exhibition, NAMOC Beijing China
  • 2010 情境书法大展 中国美术馆 北京 中国
  • 2011 International 1St. International Calligraphy Art Exhibition, Wiesbaden Germany
  • 2011 国际首届书写艺术展 威斯巴顿 德国
  • 2013 Group Exhibition, Paris Art et Design, Paris France
  • 2013 国际当代艺术家联展 艺术与设计沙龙 巴黎 法国
  • 2013 Solo Exhibition, L’Ecole Des Filles , Hoelgoat France
  • 2013 个展 L’Ecole Des Filles艺术中心 布列塔尼 法国
  • 2013 Solo Exhibition ,Francoise Livinec Galerie,Paris France
  • 2013 个展 弗朗索瓦丝理维内克画廊 巴黎 法国
  • 2013 Solo Exhibition, Kloster Marienthal , Cologne , Germany
  • 2013 个展 巴德诺亚修道院遗址 科隆 德国
  • 2013 Solo Exhibition, Casa Pasquee, Lugano ,Switzerland
  • 2013 当代中国艺术家杨小健个展 帕斯库艺术空间 卢加诺 瑞士
  • 2013 Work phone number was selected in 2013 France Louvre Kalu Se Mi Salon Automne.
  • 2013 作品手机号码入选2013年法国卢浮宫卡鲁塞尓秋季艺术沙龙展。
  • 2014. Group Exhibition, Grand Palais Art Paris,Francoise Livinec Gallery
  • 2014 作品入选法国巴黎大皇宫群展 Francoise Livinec 画廊
  • 2014. Group Exhibition,Contemporary Art Asia, Hongkong,Coco Contemporary Art
  • 2014 香港亚洲当代艺术博览会群展,Coco当代艺术画廊
  • 2014. Group Exhibition Art Elysee, Paris, Francoise Livinec Gallery
  • 2014 巴黎香榭丽舍艺术节群展 Francoise Livinec 画廊
  • 2014.3 Pairs, Grand Palais 2014 Art Paris,Francoise Livinec Gallery
  • 2014年3月 作品入选2014法国巴黎大皇宫艺术沙龙展 法国Francoise Livinec画廊
  • 2014. 10 Paris, Art Elysee Paris 2014, Francoise Livinec Gallery
  • 2014年10月 作品入选2014法国巴黎香榭丽舍艺术展 法国Francoise Livinec画廊
  • 2014.10 Hong Kong, Contemporary Art Asia, Coco Contemporay Art
  • 2014年10月,作品参加2014香港亚洲当代艺术展,Coco当代艺术画廊
  • 2014.10 Artwork <Mirror Heart. New Landscape> Collection ,2014 Beijing Poly Fall Auction
  • 2014年10月 作品《镜心.新山水》系列参加2014北京保利秋季拍卖会
  • 2015.1 Los Angeles, LA Art Show 2015, Coco Contemporary Art
  • 2015年1月 作品参加2014美国洛杉矶艺术博览会 Coco当代艺术画廊
  • 2015. 2 Palm Beach USA, Palm Beach Art Show, Coco Contemporay Art
  • 2015年2月 作品参加2015美国棕榈滩艺术博览会 Coco当代艺术画廊
  • 2015.Group Exhibition,Palm Beach Art Show,Palm Beach USA, Coco Contemporary Art
  • 2015 美国棕榈滩当代艺术博览会群展,Coco当代艺术画廊