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

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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.

Article Details

Politics and Aesthetics in China Special Issue November 2012 (Peer Reviewed)
Author Biography

Claire M. Roberts, University of Adelaide

Claire Roberts is a historian of Chinese art and a curator. She was a Coordinate Research Scholar at the Harvard-Yenching Institute, Harvard University (2011); Research Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute For Advanced Study and Visiting Scholar, Fairbank Institute for Chinese Studies, Harvard University (2009-2010); Research Fellow with Geremie R. Barme’s Federation Fellowship project at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University (2006-2009); Senior Curator of Asian Arts at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney (1988-2010; and Curator at the Museum of Chinese-Australian History, Melbourne (1986-1988). Claire studied at the Beijing Foreign Languages Institute (1978-1979) and the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing (1979-1981). She has a Bachelor of Arts (1983) and a Master of Arts (1987) from the University of Melbourne. Her PhD (2006), undertaken in the Research School of Pacific and Asian History at ANU, focussed on the work of scholar, art historian and modern brush-and-ink painter Huang Binhong (1865-1955). Claire has published widely on Chinese visual and material culture, and curated numerous exhibitions including The Great Wall of China (2006), a collaborative project with the National Museum of China, Beijing; Earth, Spirit, Fire: Korean masterpieces of the Choson Dynasty, a collaborative project with the National Museum of Korea (2000); Evolution & Revolution: Chinese dress 1700s to now (1997); and Post Mao Product: New Art From China (1992) exhibited at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Queensland Art Gallery. She was curatorial adviser, Chinese art, for the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane (1993, 1996, 1999). She is currently on the editorial board of Art Monthly Australia, and on the advisory boards of Sherman Contemporary art Foundation, Sydney, and the University Art Gallery at the University of Sydney. Her most recent books are Photography and China (forthcoming, Reaktion, London), Friendship in Art: Fou Lei and Huang Binhong (2010), Other Histories: Guan Wei’s Fable for a Contemporary World (2008), and The Great Wall of China (edited with Geremie R Barme, 2006).