Culture

Calligraphy on the rocks: The man who writes words you can see from the sky

May 21, 2019

Hong Kong artist Daniel Lau has chosen an unconventional canvas for an old Chinese art.

Crouching on rocks by the sea, Lau, a classically trained calligrapher, moves his brush along a white banner he’s placed on the ground. He lets the rocks distort his strokes, and allows the ink to drip, splatter, and spill.

“I want my calligraphy to melt into nature.”
“I want my calligraphy to melt into nature.” / Photo: Nicholas Ko

“It’s like I’m blending my surroundings into my calligraphy,” Lau says. “I want my calligraphy to melt into nature.”

Calligraphy has always been an essential part of Chinese culture, and being able to write was regarded as a mark of status and education.

(Read more: Why parents are buying calligraphy brushes made with baby hair)

Up until the internet age, it was common for people to be judged by their handwriting.

“When I interviewed for my first job, the hiring manager saw my writing and said, ‘Wow, you have good penmanship,’” Lau says. “That gave him a really good impression.”

“If I lose my balance, I’ll just go with the flow.”
“If I lose my balance, I’ll just go with the flow.” / Photo: Nicholas Ko

Calligraphy was once a practical skill, but with the advent of computers and smartphones, fewer people write Chinese characters, instead typing them out on keyboards.

(Watch: The man who paints with his tongue)

This has largely relegated calligraphy to the realm of art.

“People who like calligraphy really pursue it now as an art form, not as a practical skill,” Lau says.

For Lau, the art includes exposing himself to the elements.

“If I lose my balance, I just go with the flow.”

“When I step on the rocks, I’m not exactly sure where my foot will land,” he says. “If I lose my balance, I just go with the flow and use that momentum to swing my brush.”

Lau’s performance defies the traditional notion of calligraphy as a sedentary art that takes place indoors.

“I have to squat, so it takes a lot of strength in my core, thighs, and calves,” he says.

“It takes a lot of strength in my core, thighs, and calves.”
“It takes a lot of strength in my core, thighs, and calves.” / Photo: Nicholas Ko

“Some people don’t think what I’m doing is calligraphy,” Lau adds, “but I don’t think you should limit yourself to traditional materials and tools.”

Chinese artistsChinese traditions

Credit

Producer and Narrator: Venus Wu

Videographers: Nicholas Ko and Venus Wu

Editor: Nicholas Ko

Mastering: Victor Peña