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16. Pictorial Calligraphy November 26, 2007

Posted by kentneo in Art.

Tuhua are pictures and wenzi, are words, a single syllabic character (the radical) is called “wen”, the double syllabic character is called “zi”. Tuhua Wenzi is Pictorial Calligraphy.


Wenzi is the symbolic form of language. Early man made “wa wa” sounds, similar to babies and monkeys today, they only know to open their mouths and make some basic noises to express their wants, whether they were sad, happy or anxious, all the sounds were basic, “wa wa”, “he he”, “ya ya”. [As humans progressed], to record sound or structure of meaning, hands, feet and facial expressions could not express the many meanings, so many types of symbols emerged. These symbols are the earliest wenzi and are in pictorial form [pictograpghs].


There are many places in the world where there are very rich ancient civilizations, especially on the wenzi front, for example, Mesapotamia, Egypt, Maya and Africa. There are some prehistoric stone age cultures that had the basics of nature, food and sex but also language and recorded “wenzi”, which is in pictorial form, for now lets call those early pictorials “Tuhua (pictorial) Wenzi (symbols)”.


The earliest form of writing in China is “Jiagu Wen” (oracle bone writing), to understand earlier script than Jiagu Wen, one has to research the living conditions of the people of that period and retrace the symbols. In “Shuo Wen” (foundation Chinese dictionary, by Xu Shen 30-124), the “Xiang Xing Zi” (giving an image which forms the shape, outline of which forms an object) are extremely beautiful. Apart from China, there were other civilizations that had this, I have seen along the Thai – Burmese border, the Lolo people had this type of “Tuhua Wenzi”, the “Xiang Xing” type is just beautiful and I enjoy the research into this area. Wenzi can be distinguished into (1) shape (form), (2) meaning (semantics), and (3) sound (phonetics).


According to common understanding, a single syllabic character (the radical, the left hand side of a Chinese character) is known as “wen”, the double syllabic character is “zi”. Strictly speaking, “Xiang xing” are all single syllabic characters and should be known as “wen”. In prehistoric tuhua wenzi, the “xiang xing” or “wen” is so beautiful there is no comparison to the oldest of art or the newest of paintings. Picasso once did say to study art, do not come to Paris but to go to Africa, this was his conclusion as well.


Sometimes I can sit in my study the whole day just reading and writing about “tuhua wenzi” and not get bored or tired. There is just no comparison to the beauty of the construction of “xiang xing”. So when [scholars make] adjustments or changes to “wenzi” one must also strive to preserve the beauty and not destroy it, as “wen” is from a certain foundation / root. One must not destroy the root. [Is he referring to the simplification of Chinese characters? Jianti zi vs. Fanti zi?]


Some of the recent specialists have also acknowledged that a direct simplification of “zi” (word) cannot be achieved. For example, if you use only the sound, “suan” (as in to count) can be “suan” (as in garlic), which are totally different. Or the simplification of “zi” (to produce), “zi yi” (to produce clothing) in the new simplification is “zi yi”, which is what a respectful child wears to his father’s funeral. This is an unbelievable joke as the simplification of the word has altered the entire meaning.


I love etymology, from my perspective as an artist, I can not say I have done extensive work in this area nor do I want to be a reformist in this area, I just want to appreciate the Jiagu wen and think about how the prehistoric people must have lived and then accounting for their lifestyles, structurally map out what we already know about Jiagu wen.


For example the ancient characters for “qe” (carriage) and “niu” (ox), which we can see in museums, in the Shang dynasty (1766 – 1050 BCE) (“Shang” is derived from businessman or trader, and is from the word to denote traders that went to the eastern shores to trade and brought back shells, which were currency), the “ox carriage” is made up of the words “carriage” and “ox”, both the words are in “xiang xing” form (i.e. pictograph). Combined together, it had become a new word, this “coming-together” [of image and thought], can be made into a very beautiful paintings.


From the Shang and Zhou (1051 – 777 BCE) dynasties copper tools, we see “Zhong Ding Wen” (bell and gong script) and they are still similar to Jiagu Wen but had many more combinations of single characters to become new words, so from the old characters [the people of those periods] innovated new words, if used to make into paintings they would be very beautiful.


Some people that have seen paintings [inspired from Tuhua Wenzi], think that they are modern art, in actuality they are the oldest for of art. Some think they are abstract art but they are the East’s oldest writing. So from my understanding, art doe not differentiate between past, present, east, west, new or old. They are all interconnected and this is the great thing about art, it is godlike.


My friend Professor Huang Kailu from the Moravian College in the US wanted one of my paintings, [I sent him one called “Fu, Lu Shou” (fortune, success and longevity)], in that painting I substituted “lu” (success), for “lu” (deer”) and painted a deer, he apparently hung the painting in his home. Last year, Moravian College had an exhibition for me and Prof. Huang mailed me an invite and used this painting for the cover. I found it today and wanted to write about the origin that words and pictures are from the same source.



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