If you want to see the exhibition of Tairiku Teshima’s calligraphy at the Asia House gallery, you’d better get a move on – it’s only on for four days (why so short?) and one of them has already gone. It would be a pity to miss it – we don’t see much Japanese calligraphy in London and this is a lovely exhibition – well laid out and lit, with helpful ladies just waiting to answer any questions you might have.
I’ve not been to Asia House before, nor known much about it even though it has an extensive cultural programme. It exists to promote informed understanding and better relationships between European and Asian countries and is located on New Cavendish Street, not far from the BBC, and a short walk from Oxford Circus. The building is Grade II* listed – the interior is Adamesque in style, with filigree plasterwork, inset classical paintings and elaborate marble chimneypieces. It has some wonderful original features, including bookcases designed by Sir John Soane.
Oh, and it has a tea room.
What’s special about Teshima’s calligraphy? Well, it’s part of a movement in calligraphy that began in the 1950’s, when traditional calligraphy had become a refined and formal art form accessible only to those with a detailed knowledge of classical Chinese poetry and literature, which was the traditional source of inspiration for calligraphy.
The new movement put the focus on just one or two characters, enabling the calligraphy to be more spontaneous, expressive and dynamic. It drew inspiration from western abstract art and emphasised the quality of line, the interplay of ink and paper and the vitality and vibrancy of the work. The idea is that you can find everything within a single character: the whole universe; an infinity of sound; ‘the pulse of life that speaks the truth existing in the mind’.
Teshima’s father, Yuhkei Teshima was a leading exponent of this approach, known as shōsho (象書) – symbolic calligraphy.
The exhibition includes the poster for the 1958 Brussels World Fair modern art exhibition, which shows Yuhkei Teshima’s calligraphy of Hogyu (generous heart) written ‘with soft shimmering grey sumi ink using powerful brushstrokes overflowing with movement’. It’s success led to the popularisation of the new calligraphy outside Japan and a number of foreign exhibitions followed.
Tairiku Teshima has written extensively about his father’s work as well as being a master calligrapher with an international reputation. He’s an honorary citizen of Sao Paulo in Brazil and an Honorary Consul for Peru in Japan.
The exhibition includes many of his single character works, depicting characters with positive and uplifting meanings – here’s some examples.
和 – wa – Peace
童心 – dōshin – the exhibition caption translates this as ‘juvenile mind’, but I prefer to translate it as ‘innocent heart’ .
寛 – kan – generosity
還 – kan – return
天門 – tenmon – The gates of heaven
In this next work Teshima has used an older style of sumi ink which sinks into the paper, creating a softer, more blurred effect.
遥 – yō – faraway
Here is a rare use of a sequence of characters. It means ‘if we are linked by fate we can see each other no matter how far we are apart’.
The exhibition ends this Saturday, 20th April. It’s free and it’s open from 10 am to 6 pm.
虹 – niji – rainbow