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  • Writer's pictureWenxin Zhang

Huang Xiang Solo Exhibition, “The Origins of the Universe” at Saphira & Ventura Gallery

Exhibition Review Essay Written by RedSquare

Edited by Mani De Osu

Dec. 7th. 2022


Arise! The identity of each individual character dances with wings of transcendence that halt and flow as presence of artist’s body. The color of the soul, like a mellow pomegranate in the break of sunlight, bursts forth from the brush as if out of the memory of a warrior’s leaping emotions. Aged mountain-gaze engages the home of life, which is the universe, each line cascading out the truth of life through the ink’s pneuma.


The “Image” of the Imageless World”- No.19 2017


Each work is calligraphy and painting; each work is a poem and a legend. They represent the struggles and joys, transformation and passion of Xiang Xiang's life.


On Nov 10th, 2022, I was blessed to be enjoying Huang Xiang’s solo exhibition at the Saphira & Ventura Gallery. The gallery felt open and intimate. As soon as I entered, I saw Huang Xiang sitting next to a table among some guests, his left hand was holding one side of the brochure gently, his right hand signing his name on it slowly and carefully; he was busy to give personalized memories for any guests who are interested. He looked focused in a slightly strict way, and friendly in a playful way.


My first knowledge about the Artist, Huang Xiang, considered one of the greatest poets of 20th Century China, a Master Calligrapher and a Painter was at his poetry recitation in the Chinese American Art Council in Manhattan in 2016. He is regarded as a preeminent Post-Cultural Revolution poet of China; he appeared tender and gentle, he looked like he should stay home watching grandchildren play. Yet, when he opened his mouth, what spilled forth from his lips was hot blooded energy that made silent the entire space. I immediately felt his fire and his longing of life. From that moment on this artist’s passion injected to my blood and memory.


Two years later, I was invited to a group show by Ms. Zhang Ling, Huang Xiang’s beloved wife. Huang Xiang’s calligraphy work was there too, and I found the appearance of his calligraphy quite forward considering his generation. I know not to associate the art with the age of the artist but, from my experience of Chinese Calligraphy Art in the 20th century, it is generally more reserved due to the cultural environment. At the same time, deep down in my heart, I recognized in his work a kindred spirit – the spirit that desires to sing the liberty of the moment, and enthusiastically create the face of new tradition.


The “Image” of the Imageless World”- No.15 2017


At this time, gazing at the works throughout the gallery, each specimen is like a performance in an emotion-honored style, and the whole collection is like an album of music, made up of memorable performances from the past of Huang Xiang, as well as his present and future.


As my eyes followed the movement of the brush from character to character and from line to line, my perception of the characters are like birds in battlefields. Some were gracefully fighting with steadiness; some were losing feathers barely carrying the weight of pain; some were flying in the air spinning the heaven and earth, charging with the weight of a needle; some were like the moment of giving a birth, trembling on the ground.

The modern composition of the lines and shapes of the characters are in both random and choreographed design under Xiang’s consistent control of breath. A hidden frustration and captivity of sensations are subtly revealed in the inward energy of his turning hooks and rightward-falling strokes, as if his soul has been on its journey to home.


In traditional calligraphy, there is only black and white – ink and paper – to communicate and deliver the art of writing, but in most of Huang Xiang's calligraphy work, he not only emphasizes the writing but also elevates the background through the brightness of color. The radiance of background palates and forms draws attention to eyes from a far distance, so the background also gives a forward impression. It indicates that both front and back, writing and painting, contemporary and traditional are equally important for the Artist.


The nature, or cosmos expressed in the background of the calligraphy is like a sanctuary or resort for the creator’s soul, where Huang Xiang's life and poetry live, as well as his intimate contact with all things in the world. From another point of view, the background is like a well-designed stage, including his stamps, which are drawn in acrylic to a perfect size and given the matching color of the background as the "courtyard" of each stamp. Each seal adds more splendor to the work from an overall perspective. When viewed more closely, you will find that each seal has its own individual identity, which offers its own notable painting inside of the painting. This is also the uniqueness of Huang Xiang's work: there is art inside of the art, paintings inside of the paintings, paintings in the poems, and poems in the paintings. Yes, the inscription of each of his works is his poetry, and the style and arrangement of each of his paintings and writings are full of poetic and picturesque atmospheres. On the background of the vibrant painting is the dance of soaring consciousness, like waves flowing slowly on the ocean, gently tumbling the world hidden in the seabed. The blend of thick and thin lines in his brush brings a pleasant and harmonious vision, and also gives the taste of the intersection of yin and yang, fullness and emptiness. There are also smooth emotional fluctuations that bring dynamic rhythm and undulating beauty to the lines of vertical characters.


I am drawn to Xiang’s most recent work. There is new breeze of youth in his 2022 work compared to 2017 and 2010, as well as a certain kind of calmness, ease and clarity manifested from his subconsciousness that also indicates the freedom of Xiang’s mind; Bright blues and greens are the predominant background colorations, his brushstrokes are lively and playful, neat and clean. This is a remarkable reflection of the 82-year-old Xiang's rejuvenation, and at the same time reveals the vitality of the artist.

Sixteen Lines for my Hometown. 2022


One of my favorite works is “Sixteen Lines For My Hometown”. The background of the painting is brilliant mantis green and aquatic blue. The green leaves represent life, floating in the bosom of the open sea, it depicts a lighthearted and joyful spirit with the authenticity of an innocent disposition. These symbols of life and nature also illustrate that the deep inner chamber in Huang Xiang’s soul is integrated with nature. Carefully observe, especially the fusion of emotions in his poems and writings. They reveal that his love for China is deeply rooted in his heart and his profound yearning for his homeland is as mentioned in his poem from “Sixteen Lines for My Hometown”. Especially the last part of the poem, "A drop of ink that never fades, a sentimental attachment that is immovable, a kind of feeling that can not be sent away, a high fever that won’t go away, a blood pressure that can not be lowered for a lifetime." What I sense is Xiang’s inner self never givers up his desire of returning back to his root, as well as his passion, and pain of this burning desire in his heart. These deep affections and his surrender of the reality are expressed in the gravity of brush strokes and the circumscribed breath of the lines. In addition, the weight of the energy of each stroke is in contrast with the brightness and vitality of the background, giving a feeling of balance to the whole work.


What touched me was the brown stone brick house, waiting quietly in the tranquility at the bottom left of the artwork. As if it is the representation of Huang Xiang’s inner security, which is the homeland in his belief that has been always accompanying his soul even though he has devoted his whole life to democracy and wandering, yet there is a home in his spirit. The unique proportion and distribution brings a new taste to the oriental palate, and also endowed the western taste with easy-to-digest “delicacy". I feel that this work best depicts Huang Xiang’s current state, busy in front of my eyes, lively and condensed.

Preface- The Origins of the Universe- No.1 2022 (2 pieces)

Preface- The Origins of the Universe- No.1 2022 (2 pieces)


“Preface -The Origins of the Universe” - No.1 2022 (2 pieces) are also among my favorites. Using Huang Xiang's poems to describe, "It is the abstract and metaphysical thinking of human beings and the interstellar thinking of the human body in the 21st century." These pieces are serried with calligraphy writing, characters upon characters are connected to each other as a oneness, yet each individual is its own life. The relationship between characters is like an electromagnetic field, which is arranged with variations of rhythmic permutations from beginning to end. It grants a richness of life to the calligraphy, as well as giving breath to the empty space in the presentation of fullness.


The volume of energy dances with harmony, the smoothness of connection between coming and going like a sewing thread. The clarity flows in the veins of lines, and the dynamic movement breathes with a quietness, so there is no feeling of crowdedness, but a balanced and symmetrical breath and the movement of rhythm yielding to balance.


The “Image” of the Imageless World”- No.1, 2017

The consonance created in “The “Image” of the Imageless World- No.1 2017” was eye catching for me personally. The oneness between movement and stillness displayed in the open heart of the Artist, the combination of black and white brings a sense of uniformity in the combination of space and color, opening the gate of infinite imagination for viewers. It expresses not only the interlinkage and unity of yin and yang, breath and blood, but also the outlook on life that there is no difference between male and female, and black and white are equal. In this work, you perceive the process of the movement of the ink, allowing you to see the appearance and disappearance of the void, which is the fullness sinking inside of the emptiness giving the work depth and dimension; and also showing how the emptiness of the space is infiltrated by the substance of the fullness. Exchanges of the thick and thin lines of characters on the background of blank space and ink painting also demonstrates the unity of yin and yang at another level. The peace of yin and yang, the mutual aid of hardness and softness, finally shows the face of the "Heart Sutra": "Emptiness is form, form is emptiness, emptiness is not different from form, and form is not different from emptiness.”


As the famous Tang Dynasty (8th Century) Calligrapher, Calligraphy Theorist and renowned Art Historian, Chang Huai-Kuan said, “He who truly knows calligraphy only looks for its dynamic spirit, and does not notice the shape of the words.”


When the calligrapher follows the energy of the moment through his refined feelings and consciousness, what comes out is the dynamic spirit since energy is life itself. Therefore, the shapes of the words are naturally forged as the face of the calligrapher’s spirit. However, this following requires the freedom of spirit, the freedom of mind, the freedom of body. When a calligrapher lets go of everything, becomes fully open like a transparent glass tube, allowing the energy and feeling to come through guiding his hand to write, what is infused into his body is the energy of the universe, the power of God, and the breath of the spirit. What is written is the will of God, which can also be said to be the interpretation of Tao in calligraphy — it contains what calligraphy is supposed to reveal, the spirit, qi, bone, blood and flesh of calligraphy.


This calligraphy is called a masterpiece. So the structure and configuration of the writing is the spiritual outlook of the calligrapher themselves. As we say, “Calligraphy is human nature.” Therefore every dot and every line of a calligrapher exhibits the inner world of the calligrapher, and is a mirror that reflects the inner state of the calligrapher. It says the quality of calligraphy comes from the self-cultivation of the calligrapher himself.


Hole of Light No. 1 2010

Hole of Light No. 1 2010


Huang Xiang’s brush strokes are mostly light, postures are expressive without exaggeration, like grass dancing in the wind, lighthearted and strong. They contain the calligrapher's light attitude towards life, as well as the restlessness of his struggles in life, his never-ending desire to return to his roots, and his occasionally unsettled presence. The energy of the strokes released are mostly inward, privately indicating Huang Xiang's deepest longing for returning to his root; to the origin of his body and spirit; China — as well as the heaven, the earth and the cosmos.


My heart feels for what Huang Xiang went through as a fighter for Democracy and freedom of spirit. Coming from a Communist country and the feeling of being forced to pull yourself from your own root, then to float in between here and there, somewhere uncertain.


To be a calligrapher is to be a warrior of the prison break – to break the prison of any kind of limits, boundaries, blockages, old patterns, old thinking and performing. When I say old, I mean those things you discover that are not you – the ones that don't belong to your higher self. That includes defensive nesses, doubt, regret, shame, wrongdoing, etc. The fact is, the more you break through, the taller you stand, the freer you are, more natural and elegant your calligraphy is.


Since the process of self knowing and self cultivation is never ending, this prison break always remains. There, the calligrapher continues to be a warrior of spiritual prison break. Your calligraphic refinement is in line with your personal refinement. Being a calligrapher is a lifelong process of self cultivation; and to be a calligrapher is to paint the process of your refinement like a piece of music. You are the conductor, the artwork is the symphony painted on paper.


The soaring wings in Huang Xiang's works were sometimes halted and sometimes flow. His unique background, growth, experience, and the strictness of the pre-conditioned culture, society, and community were engraved in his subconscious since he was a child. However, Huang Xiang continues to break his own boundaries, displayed bountifully in this 2022 exhibition, which manifests a new level of transcendence. As a calligrapher, I have the honor to witness Huang Xiang's exaltation as indeed, the Kindness of God.

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