Bing Xu (b. 1955)
XU BING (b. 1955)

Landscript Series: Untitled No. 1

XU BING (b. 1955)
Landscript Series: Untitled No. 1
signed 'Xu Bing' in Pinyin (lower left)
Executed in 2008
ink on paper
50 x 75 cm. (19 5/8 x 29 1/2 in.)
Executed in 2008
two seals of the artist


Since the creation of his early Tianshu (Book from the Sky) series, Xu Bing has been relentless towards rejuvenating the essence of Chinese culture, particularly through the (re) appropriation of Chinese characters (han zi). Landscript series was inspired by the artist's sketching trip to the Himalayas in 1999. "Sitting on a mountain, I would write the Chinese character for mountain (shan) while I was faced by real mountains. In the same way, I would write the character for water (shui) when I was near a river." In his works, the artist takes individual Chinese characters as his basic visual elements. These characters are repeated again and again until they flow over and become an essential feature in his landscapes. Xu Bing thus demonstrates the theory that "writing and painting" share the same origin.
According to Xu Bing, "Anyone can understand that writing and painting come from the same source. However, while most commenters locate a relationship in the brushstrokes, I see a semiotic connection between them."
In Reading Landscape Series (Lot 108), Xu Bing plays with pictographic qualities of Chinese characters (han zi) to challenge the viewer's assumptions about painting. This lot is an exemplary work by the artist from the Landscript series.

In his treatise Famous Paintings through History, Tang dynasty literati-painter Zhang Yanyuan writes that "Although painting and calligraphy are basically the same, they serve two different functions. Calligraphy exists to convey the mind's thoughts. Paintings exist to show form."

Xu challenges this limited definition of painting. He reconstructs a landscape through the clever selection and placement of Chinese characters. In his paintings, the Chinese characters oscillate between "providing meaning" and "providing form."
In Chinese traditional paintings, the objective is for the artist to communicate his/her own comprehension of the phenomenal world. In contrast, in Western oil painting traditions, the goal is to show three-dimensionality through light and shadow. Having received academic training and gained international exposure to contemporary art, Xu Bing launches his artistic exploration from multiple angles.
The artist decidedly expresses his inner landscape with ink wash and paper. The mountains in the distance, the dense grassy areas in the foreground, the giant rock have been "written" out with characters of varying sizes and tones. The artist returns to rely on basic art components. The attention he places on the artful arrangement of abstract characters replace the stress traditional Chinese painters put on the tonalities of ink and techniques of the brushstroke. Through the invention of his own artistic language, Xu Bing expands on the possibilities of painting.