According to official documents, Chinese calligraphy has a three thousand years history. It's a visual art that is deeply embedded into all walks of the Chinese society. Paradoxically, not many art lovers get to understand its inner meaning.
Mr Wong Tsang-Kins' book The Mind of the Brush (Southern and Northern Dynasties, A.D. 420-589) has offered a deep theory on the appreciation of Chinese calligraphy. In short, two fundamental elements are used to appreciate a Chinese calligraphy: spirituality and form, the former being by far the most important element. A contemporary calligraphic work which embodies those two qualities could be compared to the masterpieces of ancient calligraphers. A calligraphy that exudes only formal quality has a dullish feeling; formal quality comes mainly from a good technique while the spiritual flavor depends on the Mind of the Brush expressing the artist's idea. However, the mind of the brush needs the form as well much as the human spirit needs the human body. But what should really be in the Mind of the Brush? The brush should carry the calligrapher's images or ideas, gathered from the observation of Nature or the daily lives of people around him; these images and ideas instil the movements and the strokes of the artist. It makes the calligraphy full of mysterious vitalities.
Ngan Siu-Mui is a calligrapher and painter who has been dedicated to the arts for the last thirty years. There is no doubt that she shows the highest technical skill in controlling the brush, so she masters the form. But much more important, when we look at the dance of the strokes in the lines and columns of her calligraphy, she makes us imagine the ideas that are filling the Mind of the Brush at the very moment of her artistic creation.
I personally have the highest praise for Ngan's artworks; they are full of vitality and sentiment and they embody the two fundamental qualities mentionned earlier: spirit and form. The strokes of the calligraphy "Heaven Constantly on the Move" (top left) reveal the Yin and Yang energies showing that the Chi of One Yin and One Yang is Tao. In another calligraphy called "Dancing with the Moon Shadow" (middle left), her crazy cursive script is reminiscent of the technique of two calligraphy sages, Cheung Yuk and Wai So. Now, "A Jug of Wine Amidst the Flowers" (bottom left); here bushes are scattered while shadows are reeling. She uses but a few simple cursive strokes to write out a romantic scene: the moon, several dots of plum flowers and a jug of wine done in seal script, all in all a very clever composition beautifully executed. It's really the art of merging calligraphy and painting. And the list of fascinating works can go on an on. Flying is the artist's desire to escape the reality of things in order to run after a romantic fantasy. True Self reflects the confidence of one's own character and personality. Two other nice pieces of calligraphy, Sipping Wine (1999) and Sipping Wine (2002) use the same poetic verses but instil a very different mood; the older one reflects a poetic mind while the more recent one shows a highly passionate mood.
The series of four Tango calligraphy pieces breaks with the tradition and I fully agree with the art critic Robert Bernier when he said "The artist, in a personal and unique manner, creates the link between East and West through a series of works inspired by Argentinian Tango...no less. By doing so, Ngan Siu-Mui, as a painter and calligrapher, uses all of her amazing talent to merge the form and the Chinese calligraphy, thereby walking away from tradition but keeping a strong link to it."
While inheriting the Lingnam Style of the great master painter Chao Shao-An, Ms Ngan developed nonetheless her own style. Artworks such as ‒ Canadian Landscapes (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter) ‒ Rocks and Waterfall Duet ‒ Brilliant Dawn ‒ Rising of the Clouds (left) and the impressive Cranes are ample proofs the her creative mind has taken some distance with the traditional style. The movement of her brush had reached such a high level that the restraint, the suspension, the freedom of movement and the twist of the brush have been fused into one striking harmonious stroke, ink and water blended with a superb control reminiscent of the Lingnam School while showing her personal artistry.
Seal carving is yet another field in which Ms Ngan exercises her great talent and it is hard to imagine that they are carved by the hand of a lady. Exquisitely stamped in the artworks, the seals, confused and crude, instil an archaic flavor.The inscriptions complement the ideas developed in the calligraphy or the painting. Whether her own composition or inspired by ancients texts, they are focusing points for the viewer's mind which find another enjoyably ethereal and tranquil realm. The inscriptions' positioning and the stamping of the seals are admirably balanced with the whole composition. As a result, the beauty of the four extremes, poetry, calligraphy, painting and seal carving are coalesced into a single entity, blended in the same artwork, thereby opening up a new vista for the viewers.
In 1988, Ms Ngan was recognized by the Canadian Government as a professional artist having distinctive contributions to the Canadian culture and she lives in Montreal since then. In 1991, she founded the Traditional Chinese Culture Society of Montreal. In 1998, with help from the Canadian Cultural Heritage, the Quebec Government and the City of Montreal, she published The Chinese Calligraphy, Abstract Art, Mind-painting. The same year, she organized the first edition of the Month of Chinese Calligraphy and various other cultural activities, the most important event being the International Calligraphy Union meeting in Montreal, with the financial support of the three levels of government. In 1999, in recognition of her efforts in cultural exchange, she was awarded the distinguished Certificat Québécois de la Citoyenneté. Later in the year, she was awarded the distinguished Certificate and Medal by the Korean Asian Arts Selection Committee. In 2002, her calligraphy was selected for engraving in the stones of Shensi, China.
Ngan Siu-Mui has devoted her lifetime in a remarkable pursuit of art. It is my most ardent wish that she could acquire still more well deserved recognition for her indefatigable spirit, relentless efforts and her immense talent.
This article was originally published in the Chinese Press and the Chinese News, in Montreal, Qc, Ca.