Deiryū (Sōjun Kanshū) | Japan | 1895-1954 | Hanging scroll: 'Cleaning eighty-four thousand residences‘ early-mid 20th century | Ink on paper | 32.7 x 33.2cm (comp.) | Purchased 2009. The Queensland Government's Gallery of Modern Art Acquisitions Fund | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery
Calligraphy is a key characteristic of art in East Asia. It appears on the walls of buildings, in paintings and on a variety of objects. Believed to have developed in China more than 2000 years ago, calligraphy was later embraced by China’s powerful scholarly classes as a form of personal expression before spreading via religion, trade and conquest throughout the region. The rise of Islam and its movement into South and South-East Asia also provided a powerful impetus for the dissemination and development of ‘beautiful writing’.
This display focuses on Japan, where the art of calligraphy was introduced during the seventh and eighth centuries. The Chinese characters in Buddhist scriptures made a deep impression on the Japanese elite, who were already influenced by other Chinese aesthetic and philosophical practices. They soon adopted the Chinese treatment of the word and its inscription as important scholarly and aesthetic activities.
This practice was consolidated during the late twelfth century, when calligraphy became an important tool for teaching Zen Buddhism. Elegant calligraphic quotations embellish scrolls and other objects associated with Zen ceremonies, imparting information not only through words but also in the form of the brushed line. Each stroke carries the individual’s act of creation, making calligraphy an ideal way for the Zen practitioner to communicate their self-mastery and discipline.
This display brings together examples of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Japanese zenga (Zen calligraphy) and works by contemporary artist Lee Ufan, highlighting the continuing significance of calligraphy and its philosophical underpinnings within Japanese art.