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Calligraphy

Autobiography
Huai-su (fl. ca. 730s-770s), Tang dynasty (618-907)
Handscroll, ink on paper, 28.3 x 755 cm

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Huai-su was a monk who originally went by the name Ch'ien Ts'ang-chen. Born in Ling-ling County, Hunan, he later moved to Ch'ang-sha. Even as a youth, he was interested in Buddhism, eventually taking the tonsure. Huai-su was also a devotee of the art of cursive script. At around 772, he traveled north to the capital Ch'ang-an and Loyang. His cursive script was similar in spirit to his free and unrestrained personality. It was therefore greatly admired by famous contemporaries, poets, and other calligraphers, such as Yen Chen-ch'ing (709-785), who all presented him with gifts of prose and poetry. In 777, Huai-su transcribed some of these gifts with a preface in "wild" cursive script to create this handscroll.

In this work, Huai-su used a fine brush to write out quite large characters. The strokes are rounded and dashing, almost as if they were steel wires curled and bent. The tip of the brush is exposed where it lifts from the paper, leaving a distinctive hook--hence the description "steel strokes and silver hooks" for his calligraphy. A continuous cursive force permeates the entire piece. The brush skirts up, down, left, and right as it speeds across the paper. The crescendos of the brush, as if it were a sword, reveal varying speeds. The calligraphy also appears heavy and light in places. In other words, this work appears very much like a symphony with distinct rhythms, harmonies and sections where the instruments are all wonderfully orchestrated for an overall sense of feeling and depth. In addition to the strokes, the dots suggest breaks for the flowing strokes. In the relentless force of the brushwork, the centered brush swirled and danced to create character after character and line after line, only to be punctuated by the impeccably placed dots. Despite this piece being an example of "wild" cursive script, it also has a sense of regularity. Thus, this handscroll represents the ultimate in cursive script-control with freedom and spirit with restraint.
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