Metal and Stone, Brush and Ink: Word as Source in the Art of Huang Binhong

Claire M. Roberts


Like many of his contemporaries, scholar-artist Huang Binhong (1865-1955) received a classical education with deep foundations in text-based historical learning that engendered creative expression in the form of painting, calligraphy and seal carving. While based on cultural traditions of the past, these scholarly arts were directed at experiencing the present and imagining the future. Calligraphy and painting may be understood as the living embodiment of the artist who is vitally connected to the historical past, whereas the printed impression of words or images carved into stone conveys ideas associated with authenticity, longevity and artistic completion. When combined in a brush-and-ink painting there is an interesting tension between the spiritual and temporal; the historical and contemporary. During his lifetime, Huang Binhong was highly regarded as a scholar, art historian, art editor, collector and connoisseur, as well as an artist. His multiple identities formed an integral part of his creative practice. This paper will discuss aspects of Huang Binhong’s life as a scholar, connoisseur-collector and artist, referring to his writings on seals, first published in the Journal of the National Essence (Guocui xuebao) and his involvement with the Shanghai-based art magazine National Glories of Cathay (Shenzhou guoguang ji). It will also analyse some of Huang’s paintings in which, through colophons, he makes a direct connection between the study of ancient inscriptions in bronze and stone and contemporary creativity. Through this example it is possible to reflect on ways that contemporary Chinese artists have drawn on the mutual interdependence of word and image to create compelling works of experimental art.

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