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.











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