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Harrison Tu

Chinese calligraphy comes to Art Museum

by Nicole Negron

With every stroke of his brush, calligrapher Harrison Xinshi Tu ’90 tells a story.

During a demonstration at the University Art Museum on Oct. 27, Tu described the different ways in which Chinese calligraphy has progressed over the years—all the way back from 6,000 years ago.

“There are several different styles—that’s why Chinese calligraphy is an art,” Tu said. “There’s a different taste for different styles.”

The Binghamton University alumnus teaches Chinese calligraphy at Colorado College and Naropa University in Colorado. He has had several exhibitions at the National Art Gallery in Beijing, China, as well as at the Denver Art Museum.

Karen Madsen, outreach coordinator for the Institute of Asia and Asian Diasporas, was one of the members involved in Tu’s coming to Binghamton. Along with Madsen’s organization, the Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera, the University Art Museum, the Art Department, and the Cooperative Gallery in downtown Binghamton collaborated to bring about this opportunity.

“He is one of the finest calligraphers in the United States,” Madsen said. “We are very fortunate to have him here.”

As Tu wrote, members from the audience—visiting professors from China, parents, undergraduate and graduate students—stood and watched in amazement, struck by the beauty and artistic quality that exudes from these Chinese words.

Tu began his demonstration by writing symbols and having the audience guess what they stood for. For words such as sun, moon, eye and hand, members were quick to realize how easily they could interpret the calligraphy.

Tu wrote out several words for the six different calligraphy styles: the Qin style, Seal style, Li style, Running style, Kai style and Grass style. He explained the differences between each: For daily life people primarily use running style because it is more casual, as opposed to the Li style, which is a neater, more romantic style.

While each style differs slightly from the others, Tu was quick to point out that there is no drastic change between any two.

“If you look at the moon symbol throughout the six styles, there is no radical change,” Tu said. “Modern Chinese people can still read a Qin dynasty article. Chinese culture holds historical development continually through its language, which is important for cultural civilization.”

As Tu wrote out a composition, he explained how the Chinese calligraphy brush differentiates from an oil-painting brush and the different aspects that collaborate to form the piece in its entirety. He includes a stamp and an inscription, which is comprised of the date and location of his composition.

The calligraphy demonstration was not Tu’s only presentation. The day before his exhibition at the Art Museum, he administered a calligraphy workshop for artists.

“I attended his class on calligraphy,” audience member Joy McMicken said. “It was fantastic. He helped teach us more about how to perfect our skills. He was very patient and answered everyone’s questions.”

At the end of the demonstration, audience members lined up to have Tu write out their names or inspiring words for them to keep. Whether the scrolls are hung up on walls or given to loved ones as gifts, it is a simple way to remind people of the beauty of language.

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Last Updated: 3/1/17