Stroke of Ingenuity

Your calligraphy will tell people the secret of who you are, said the director of Canadian Calligraphy Society. The society held the First Canadian International Exhibition of Calligraph ic Arts in Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto last month. 230 pieces of work were on display.

Though he has never met most of the calligraphers who send works to his exhibition, Jingxian He says it’s like they’re old friends.

As the director of the Canadian Calligraphy Society, He spent eight months collecting works of calligraphy for the First Canadian International Exhibition of Calligraphic Arts, held at the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto at the end of September.

He says Eastern Asian calligraphy is an art dating back to earliest Chinese history, and it widely influenced the culture in other Asian countries. Now calligraphy lovers are found around the world.

“I wrote to calligraphers in every country, asking them to mail their works to me,” He says, noting over 230 pieces of work from 20 countries appear in the exhibition.

When He looks those same pieces, hanging around the gallery, instead of paper and ink he sees people standing there – real, breathing, smiling people.

“You can ’read’ one’s ability, intellect and personality through his writing,” He says. “Calligraphy is a very personalized art form.”

After examining a reporter’s handwriting, He mused: “You are slow. You do everything step by step, but you are a very responsible person.”

His own handwriting on display follows a conservative style, but looks vigorous at the same time.

“And yes – I am that kind of a person.” he says.

He chose to write an ancient poem in his work, as did most of the calligraphers in the exhibition. This way, the beauty of writing and the beauty of content can be combined together, he says.

“Look at this,” He says, showing the work of Zhang Hai, the president of the Chinese National Calligraphy Association. “[The work] is a proverb, meaning ’The sky is high enough so the bird can fly freely; the ocean is wide enough so the fish can swim freely.’”

Zhang Hai used clerical script, a formal style of writing corresponding to the content, He says.

Not everything in the exhibition is traditional, however. The works of two Italian calligraphers are eye catching. In the work, there’s only one Chinese character, “man,” which takes the shape of a person, his body bending, and his feet like a tail.

The work is an ideograph, in which the shape of the word represents the meaning of it, and it’s a new development in calligraphy.

Unlike traditional Chinese painting, porcelain carving and other East Asian art forms, Eastern calligraphy is not widely recognized in Canada, says Zebiao Liu, a member of the Calligraphy Society.

“It’s not like painting – everyone can learn it, and both the Easterners and the Westerners can appreciate the beauty.” he says. “To learn calligraphy, you must get to know the characters and the culture first.

“Plus, calligraphy requires both practice and talent. You can spend a lifetime studying it but still can’t get it,” he says.

“If you want to make money, learn something else, like computers. Calligraphy will not bring you money.

“But it will help you to build a beautiful personality.”