FUNG MING CHIPVacant Script, Post Marijuana, 2015, ink on paper, 136.5 × 69.5 cm. Courtesy Galerie du Monde, Hong Kong. 


Fung Ming Chip

Galerie du Monde
Hong Kong

A novelist, poet, playwright, seal carver and ink painter, Fung Ming Chip describes himself as an artist obsessed with the written word. Over the course of his career spanning more than 30 years, the Hong Kong-based artist has garnered critical acclaim for his calligraphic works, which draw from and reinvent traditional calligraphy with a novel and radical vision. Held at Galerie du Monde in Hong Kong, Fung’s current solo exhibition, “SHU-FA SUTRA,” presents 25 calligraphic ink paintings—a majority of which is from Fung’s most recent body of work—and a selection of earlier works dating back to 2001.

After many years of unfaltering practice and experimentation, Fung began to invent his own style of calligraphic script in the mid-1990s. By deconstructing and reassembling the lines and strokes of each written character, as well as experimenting with different ink tones and compositional arrangements, Fung has created over one hundred of his own unique scripts—an extraordinary feat given that there are basically only five recognized traditional types in Chinese calligraphy.

Upon entering the gallery, visitors are greeted with Vacant Script, Post Marijuana (2015). Rendered in a new script that he created this year, Fung upends his own theory that calligraphy is “an art of time,” by having the brushstroke of each character beginning and ending according to a particular sequence. Fung starts by writing the characters on a sheet of xuan paper (Chinese rice paper). He then places a blank sheet on top and traces the characters onto it, rendering them as silhouettes that expand and ebb across the composition, before finally filling the negative space with abstract spirals and lines. On the day before his exhibition’s opening, Fung explained in an interview that he deliberately spent two weeks creating Vacant Script, allowing his sentiment towards space, which changed daily, to dictate the creative process.

FUNG MING CHIPForm Sand Script, Departure, 2015, ink on paper, 124 × 183 cm. Courtesy Galerie du Monde, Hong Kong. 

Two other recent works feature a script font that Fung newly created this year. In Form Sand Script, Accidentally Passing (2015), geometric shapes evoking an urban landscape are painted using a stencil in dry ink, brushed over characters written in pale ink. This script style further develops in Form Sand Script, Departure (2015), a horizontal work composed of mountain formations floating over rows of calligraphy. Some of the characters emerge to the foreground, creating a sense of perspective and three-dimensionality. What results is a unique fusion of calligraphy, abstraction and traditional landscape painting.

FUNG MING CHIPShadow Script, Hundred Family Names With Transcendence, 2012, ink on paper, 120 × 121 cm. Courtesy Galerie du Monde, Hong Kong. 

Fung’s mastery in manipulating ink and water can be observed in his subtle yet complex Shadow Script, Hundred Family Names With Transcendence (2012). From a distance, a dark fluid ink-wash covers the surface, save for a sliver of white in the center of the paper canvas. However, upon closer examination, one can see that the character “Zen (禪)” spatially dominates the composition, while the outline of the character’s strokes remain subtle. In the background are row after row of surnames taken from the 10th-century northern Song Dynasty text, “The Hundred Family Surnames.” Fung achieved this remarkable multi-layered effect by first writing the characters in water on a blank sheet of xuan paper, then applying a wash of dark ink on top. The absorbency of the paper prevents the second layer of ink from eradicating the initial mark made in water, allowing the characters to appear as if it were floating on the surface of the paper.

Elsewhere in the show, the minimalistic Splash Script, Transcendence (2012) also stands out amongst the display of Fung’s oeuvre. The character for “Zen” is written in pale ink, rendering it barely visible against the whiteness of the xuan paper. A dynamic and forceful splash of ink visually dominates the foreground. As Fung told me, it took him 60 attempts to achieve the desired effect, due to the unpredictable nature of the ink splash.

Fung’s ink paintings are complemented by 28 of his hand-carved soapstone seals, displayed in the center of the gallery. It appears fitting to include them in the exhibition, as it was through seal carving, a practice that Fung took up in his mid-20s, that he began his journey in calligraphy. At the time, he started learning calligraphy as a way to improve his seal-carving techniques. Since the 7th century, seals have been impressed onto paintings by Chinese artists to mark ownership and identity and are considered works of art themselves. Through his work, Fung adds an element of wit and humor to this age-old craft. Each of his seals is unusual in form, with some elements of Fung’s quirky text—such as “rogue under the moon” or “right and wrong all life long”—encroaching or protruding from the frame of the object, which is a practice that is uncommon in conventional seal carving.

FUNG MING CHIPSplash Script, Transcendence, 2012, ink on paper, 91 × 91.5 cm. Courtesy Galerie du Monde, Hong Kong. 

While some contemporary ink artists have created works that emphasize the strong gestural qualities of calligraphy, Fung has chosen a more subtle approach. Through his diverse scripts, Fung further pushes the possibilities inherent in calligraphy, challenging our understanding of the art form while also deepening our appreciation for it. Even those not familiar with ink painting and calligraphy will appreciate his daring creative spirit and innovative techniques. In viewing this exhibition, I found myself drawn into Fung’s intimate realm of the written word. His new works are particularly inspiring—they signify a mature artist who continues to challenge himself in the fearless quest to be groundbreaking. In the end, I left the gallery eager to see Fung’s next new script.   

Fung Ming Chip’s “SHU-FU SUTRA” is on view at Galerie du Monde, Hong Kong, until December 31, 2015.