Chinese calligraphy is a written art form that's more than 3,000 years old. As a unique art in Asia, calligraphy is considered an important cultural treasure for people in many countries, including China, Japan and South Korea. Based on the traditional arts, such as seal carving and stele carving, a new form of calligraphy carving is now gaining recognition.
China's calligraphy carvings date from the oracle-bone inscriptions of the Shang Dynasty from BC1562 to BC1066 and have continuously evolved since then. In the past, Chinese characters were carved on bone, bamboo pieces, stones and tablets. In recent years, a new type of calligraphy carved on wood has emerged and is gaining more attention in the art world.
Quan Xijun, director of China's Calligraphy Carving Institute, says contemporary calligraphy carving was first introduced in China by the Japanese.
"Contemporary calligraphy carving is an art with a short history. It was first introduced to China from Japan through an exhibition in 1982. Some Japanese calligraphers were not satisfied with seal cuttings, which they said were too small, so they started to carve Chinese characters on wooden boards using traditional Chinese calligraphy carving skills. And this was the beginning of contemporary calligraphy carving."
Traditional calligraphy carvings found on tablets and steles were mainly for practical use and made by craftsmen according to characters written by calligraphers. But the contemporary art form is done mainly for artistic appreciation, and calligraphers do all the carvings themselves.
Shi Shaohua has been doing the calligraphy carving for nearly 10 years. He says the new art encompasses several art forms.
"Contemporary calligraphy carving is an art based on many factors such as literature, calligraphy, painting and carving, in which calligraphy is the most important. But it is different from those arts which are plain. The works of contemporary calligraphy carving are three-dimensional with specially designed colors and arrangements."
Usually made of basswood or pine, calligraphy carving works are usually with an area of about 1.5 square meters and thickness of 3 centimeters and mainly displayed in art exhibitions.
There are many different fonts used in contemporary Chinese calligraphy carvings, but Shi says Zhuan is the most common one.
"There can be many changes of Zhuan, and it is ornamental. The strokes and arrangement of the characters can be designed exaggeratedly according to the requirements of the work to achieve certain artistic effects."
Traditional calligraphic works often contain essays or poems. But contemporary calligraphy carvings have a limited number of characters. Quan Xijun says this is why the subject of the work is very important.
"There are normally only several characters on a piece of calligraphy carving work, so the characters must be specifically chosen and have certain meanings. The fonts, arrangement of the characters, carving methods and colors are therefore all designed according to the subject of the work. This is a basic inditing method of calligraphy carving."
Contemporary calligraphy carving is now developing in many Asian countries such as South Korea and Singapore. Although it first came from Japan, China's calligraphy carvings are now developing fast with more distinctiveness. The Japanese works are mostly cut in intaglio, while Chinese ones are mainly in relief and have higher artistic value. Moreover, the emphasis on the subject gives the Chinese works more connotations.
A calligraphy carving exhibition has been held in China every two years since 1993. The number of people engaged in this art has been increasing steadily in recent years. Nearly 5,000 artists submitted works at the Seventh Calligraphy Carving Exhibition last month in Wuxi.
But this new art form is still unknown to most people in the country. Besides the exhibitions, the carvings can rarely be found in the art market. Shi Shaohua says contemporary calligraphy carvings are not only a pure art form, but have high monetary value.
"The works of contemporary calligraphy carving are ornamental, and they can be used for decorations in many different places such as homes, offices, hotels and shops. Since the works can be made in different sizes, and the subjects, arrangements and colors can all be designed according to different requirements, they can meet different people's tastes. The art has a bright market potential."
With some artists heavily promoting contemporary calligraphy carving, the art form has been introduced in schools in Heilongjiang, Fujian and Jiangsu provinces. Students there are interested in completing their own works.
Experts hope that there will be more opportunities to present contemporary calligraphy carving to the public to make it more popular in China and the rest of the world.
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