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Master calligrapher Wu Ji-ru captures free spirit on paper

Master calligrapher Wu Ji-ru captures free spirit on paper

2024-01-14

Today we meet a calligraphy master with a style that’s uniquely his own. Wu Ji-ru is an award-winning calligrapher who’s made a career out of a hobby. Unlike the rigorous and precise style of traditional calligraphers, Wu’s approach is spontaneous and unrestrained. His works have made the ancient art form more accessible than ever. Tonight we take a peek inside Wu’s calligraphy world. Here’s our Sunday special report.

A calligraphy exhibition is on at Taichung’s Taiwan Folk Museum. Teachers have brought in their students to soak up the works of a master.

Wu Ji-ru
Calligrapher
You might not recognize all the Chinese characters, but each one has profound meanings. This is like a painting. It has the feel of a painting.

The works of calligrapher Wu Ji-ru are paintings that contain words. The children may not recognize all the words, but they explore the walls with interest and are eager to pick up a brush themselves.

Seeing the little ones try their hand, Wu can’t help but give some pointers.

Wu Ji-ru
Calligrapher
A very important point is to always take off your shoes. Socks must come off too. You must be grounded. This is so that, when you do calligraphy, heaven, Earth, and man come together as one.

Right here and now, Wu pulls off his shoes and socks with his signature spontaneity. As he puts brush to paper, what emerges is not classical poetry but his own anti-war manifesto.

In a statement of opposition, the Chinese character for “war” is rendered in reverse.

Flip the paper to find the word in the correct orientation, exquisite and fully formed.

Whether he’s writing backwards, switching hands, or swapping out his brush for a rag, Wu is full of surprises in his approach to calligraphy and to life.

Now almost 70 years old, Wu has practiced calligraphy for half a century. As a child, he was often forced to redo his homework for breaking the rules of penmanship. He stumbled upon calligraphy as a high-school sophomore, when he half-heartedly joined a contest nobody else in class wanted to be in. What was supposed to be a detour turned out to be a turning point of his life.

Wu Ji-ru
Calligrapher
When I was a high-school sophomore, I didn’t even know how to hold a brush. I only knew how to hold a fountain pen. Because I didn’t know what I was doing, I was daring and sloppy. I wrote as if I were holding a pen. I submitted my work and won first place!

Unlike most calligraphy students, Wu had no frame of reference. He didn’t have hours of practice copying the masters. His calligraphy was unique and won favor from the judges.

Wu lost his father at the age of 10. His family struggled to make ends meet, with his mother selling ginseng to support five children. To help Wu continue with calligraphy, Wu’s mother traded an entire ginseng root for a brush. But after graduating and completing military service, Wu hit pause on his artistic pursuits.

Wu Ji-ru
Calligrapher
I have four sisters. I said, I want to help mom carry our family’s financial burden. I asked my older sister what job brings in the most money. I didn’t have the luxury of deciding a career. My sister said eyeglasses, so I got a job in the glasses business.

But calligraphy wasn’t done yet with Wu. At 24 years old, he was invited to appear in a joint exhibition with renowned artist Chen Ting-shi. With that, he found himself returning to his art with fresh fervor.

As he got older, Wu began to develop hearing loss, and it had an impact on his art.

Wu Ji-ru
Calligrapher
I’m hard of hearing in my right ear, so my sense of balance isn’t good. If I stand as I write, the characters tend to drift to the left. The “breath” of my lines invariably starts to drift leftward. So later on, after I discovered this problem, I switched to writing on paper placed on the ground.

The posture is harder on him physically, but it doesn’t put him off from his craft.

Wu Chi-jui
Friend of Wu Ji-ru
He does calligraphy every day for six to eight hours. Sometimes when we are together, he produces up to 20-something pieces.

Wu Ji-ru
Calligrapher
If I’m doing calligraphy today, I start around 10 a.m. and keep at it until 10 p.m. A 12-hour day is very normal for me. During the day I don’t eat, I only drink.

Wu is painstaking with every facet of his art, even the choice of paper.

Wu Ji-ru
Calligrapher
For example, if what I’m writing today has to do with clouds or smoke, I might use softer paper, so that when I write, the ink will spread out, achieving a very nice effect. If I were writing a character such as “loyalty,” I wouldn’t use fluffy or soft paper. I might use a firmer paper.
Selecting the right paper is an art in itself.

Nantou’s Puli Township has been a paper production site since the Japanese colonial era. Its abundant, high-quality water supply is a key ingredient for good paper. Its handmade product is still famous today.

When inspiration strikes, Wu heads out to Puli to find the perfect paper.

Huang Huan-chang is a second-generation factory owner. He’s gone to great lengths to create the paper artists need.

Wu Shu-li
Wife of Huang Huan-chang
He himself writes beautifully. So he wrote in his own hand, he wrote letters to numerous artists. He sent our paper to the artists, saying, “This is paper that we made recently. Can we have your feedback as an artist? What are your thoughts after using it?” He is very committed to this kind of dialogue, to communicating directly with artists. This process has achieved excellent results. That is, we’ve been able to make paper that artists can use, customized paper.

Wu Ji-ru
Calligrapher
First of all, handmade paper has warmth. Each piece is chosen by my own hand. Machine-made paper is rolled, so it practically has no pores. It doesn’t take a hundred years for that kind of paper to fall apart, because all of its fibers are identical. But handmade paper can last for more than a thousand years under normal circumstances.

To create art that endures, good paper plays a vital role. Handmade paper has a very small market, making the relationships between merchant and customer all the more precious.

Wu Shu-li
Wife of Huang Huan-chang
In the early days of the paper industry, things were hard. If the paper didn’t sell, then workers wouldn’t get paid. Household expenses like the children’s tuition would become a problem. So then Teacher Wu came along – I think he had come to buy paper. He’s a very unrestrained and frank person, very easy to get along with. He and my father-in-law became great friends. Whenever my father-in-law had paper that wasn’t selling well, he would turn to Teacher Wu, who would come and buy large quantities of paper since he had many students at the time.

Wu Ji-ru
Calligrapher
Every time I went, the boss would say to me, “This warehouse is full of paper; you can have it for NT$70,000, which covers the tuition of my three children.” He wouldn’t accept any more than that. When the business was handed over to the second generation, he told his sons that they were able to graduate from college because of this teacher who, every semester, bought all the paper in the warehouse.

For Wu, helping to “raise” the children has made the paper mill feel almost like family.

In the 1980s, Puli was home to more than 40 paper mills. Only a few of them remain today. Although the paper industry is well in decline, young paper makers in Puli are still striving to innovate. They seek to bring traditional paper to the modern age, much like what Wu has done for calligraphy.

When Wu was invited to join Chen’s art exhibit at 24 years old, what he learned was not techniques in calligraphy. Rather, it was how to make it as an artist.

Wu Ji-ru
Calligrapher
There are these two big crabs. One is Chen and the other represents tradition. The big crab suddenly flips itself over. There’s a little crab – that’s me. Chen calls out to me, tells me to quickly cross the road. He says to me, “It doesn’t matter if it’s me or if it’s tradition. Tradition should not be blocking the road. You should flip it over, little crab.”

Wu’s work has been hailed by art critic Hsieh Li-fa as tradition-defying, imaginative, and nearly impossible to imitate.

Hsieh Li-fa
Artist
As soon as that first swipe of ink hits the paper, I know it’s him. We might describe his work as singing traditional Taiwanese opera in the style of Western opera.

Feet on the ground, Wu brushes on thick strokes, moving as if ordained by destiny, no thought required. His body flows in a natural dance, going exactly where it needs to go. It’s an approach that doesn’t follow any calligraphy style or school, putting Wu in a class of his own.

For more Taiwan news, tune in:
Sun to Fri at 9:30 pm on Channel 152
Tue to Sat at 1 am on Channel 53

狂書大師 吳季如

2024-01-14

帶您認識一位很有個性的現代書法大師—吳季如,他是奧林匹克國際美展的金牌書法家。不同於一般書法家的嚴謹工整,他非常的率性自然、不拘小節,這也反映在他的作品中。一起來看看吳季如自在奔放的書法世界。

台中的台灣民俗文物館裡,舉辦書法展,吸引不少老師帶學生前來「薰陶」一番。

[[書法家 吳季如]]
“有些字你們不一定看得懂,但是它裡面其實都有很深的涵義。這個就是畫,有一點畫的感覺。”

吳季如的書法字如畫,畫裡也藏著字,小朋友認識的字不多,卻看得津津有味,跟著提起筆寫起書法字。

看到小朋友勇敢嘗試,吳季如也忍不住「技癢」展示。

[[書法家 吳季如]]
“很重要一點,一定要脫鞋子,還要脫襪子,就是要接地氣,這樣你寫字的時候
那種感覺就是天、地、人,會合在一個氣場裡面。”

在文物館裡,隨性脫掉鞋襪,認識他的人都說,這「很吳季如」。今天他不寫遙遠的詩詞曲賦,而是緊貼時事,寫下他的「反戰」宣言。

把「戰」反著寫,意味著反對戰爭。

而掀開紙的背面,「正版」的「戰」,既工整又有韻味。

無論是反著寫字、左右開弓,甚至不用毛筆,用抹布寫字,吳季如的書法和人生總是出乎一般人的意料。

吳季如年近七十,寫書法已有半個世紀,但其實小時候的他,因為不愛照著規矩寫字,作業常常被老師撕掉重寫。會踏入書法世界,是因為高中二年級,在半推半就下,參加班上沒人想參加的書法比賽,原本想草草交差了事,沒想到這個比賽,竟然成為他人生中的轉捩點。

[[書法家 吳季如]]
“我高二的時候連毛筆都不會拿,我只會拿鋼筆。因為不會寫,所以寫得既大膽又潦草,好像寫鋼筆這樣,寫一寫交出去,第一名!”

當時的吳季如不像一般學書法的人,心中總有各種書體,或長期臨摹各種字帖,獨樹一格的字,反而獲得評審青睞。

十歲就失去父親的他,家中經濟拮据,母親靠賣人蔘撫養五個孩子,為了讓吳季如繼續參賽,媽媽竟捨得用一整支人蔘,向毛筆店交換,才讓兒子有了人生中第一支毛筆。然而畢業、退伍後,他的書法生涯卻還是被迫中斷。

[[書法家 吳季如]]
“我有四個姊妹,我說我來幫媽媽挑這個分擔家裡的擔子。我就問姊姊什麼行業最好賺,我沒有選擇職業的權利,姊姊說眼鏡最好賺,我就去做眼鏡。”

但上天仍然疼惜吳季如的天賦,24歲時被當時67歲的知名藝術家陳庭詩相中,邀他聯合辦展,才終於又回到藝術創作的懷抱。

隨著年紀,吳季如出現重聽,也影響他的創作方式。

[[書法家 吳季如]]
右耳重聽相對我的平衡感就不好,我平衡感不好,如果是站著寫字,它就往往會往左邊傾,行氣會慢慢往左邊傾,所以後來我找到這個問題以後,我變成是鋪在地上寫。

即使累一點,吳季如對書法還是如癡如狂。

[[吳季如友人 吳啟瑞]]
“他每天都寫,一天寫六個小時、八個小時,甚至有時候我們在一起,他一寫就寫了十幾張、二十幾張的作品。”

[[書法家 吳季如]]
“如果今天要寫字,我大概會從早上十點開始,一直到晚上十點,十二個鐘頭是很正常的。那當中也不吃,光喝。”

寫字時,用紙也很講究。

[[書法家 吳季如]]
“譬如說我今天要寫的是跟雲、跟煙有關係的,我可能會用軟一點的紙,它寫出來,墨就會整個渲染開,那感覺效果就很好。如果今天要寫的是「義氣」類似這種字,你又不能綿綿的、軟軟的,你可能用的就是要硬一點的紙。”

對吳季如來說,紙就是藝術的一部分。

南投縣的埔里鎮,從日治時期就是造紙重鎮,因為水源充沛,水質甘美,正是造出好紙的重要元素,因此這裡的手工造紙業,至今仍夙負盛名。

每當有靈感,吳季如總會來這尋找「對的紙」。

能讓紙符合藝術家各種挑剔需求,紙廠第二代老闆黃煥彰,功不可沒。

[[紙廠第二代老闆娘 吳淑麗]]
“黃先生(第二代老闆)他寫字很漂亮,他就自己寫字,寫信去給很多的藝術家,然後他會寄做好的紙給藝術家,這個是我最近新做的紙,我們是不是可以請藝術家給我們指導,你在使用以後,對這一款紙有什麼想法。他很認真地去做這樣的連結,跟藝術家直接地對話,那這樣的過程,其實就得到一個很好的效果,就是我們現在的紙,能夠符合藝術家所使用的用紙,客製化的紙張。”

[[書法家 吳季如]]
“手工紙第一它有溫度,每一張是自己用手篩出來。機器紙是一種輾壓,所以它幾乎沒有什麼氣孔,不用超過一百年,一定就全部自然就碎掉了,因為它纖維是一致的,那這個紙就可以保存的年限,如果是正常就可以超過千年。”

要讓藝術家的作品永垂不朽,好紙扮演著重要角色,但做手工紙市場很侷限,也才讓吳季如,和紙廠的情誼更加可貴。

[[紙廠第二代老闆娘 吳淑麗]]
“在早期紙業其實很辛苦,如果紙沒有賣出去,員工的薪水、家裡的開銷、小孩子的學費都可能有問題。所以第一次認識吳老師,應該是來買紙,因為吳老師的人就是很豪爽,很容易跟人家親近,跟公公很麻吉,只要是公公紙好像也推銷不太出去的時候,就會去找吳老師,吳老師就來,他那時候有很多的學生,就會來跟他大量採購。”

[[書法家 吳季如]]
“每一次我來,老闆就會跟我講說,這整個倉庫的紙,譬如說算我七萬,應該是他三個孩子的學費的錢,他也不多拿。第二代老闆接手的時候,就跟他講說,你們兄弟之所以大學能畢業,當時都是老師每個學期,把我們倉庫的紙全部買回去。”

這段「幫忙養小孩」的經歷,也讓吳季如對紙廠的感情更深。

1980年代,埔里曾經同時有40多家造紙廠,現在卻屈指可數,曾經的輝煌漸漸沒落,但紙廠第三代也在努力創新,希望融合傳統和現代,就像吳季如寫著承載傳統文化的書法,但其實每一步都在打破傳統。

恩師陳庭詩把吳季如領進門,不是為了教他如何寫書法,而是用一幅幅畫教會他藝術的路該怎麼走。

[[書法家 吳季如]]
“兩隻大螃蟹,一隻是他,一隻是傳統,然後一隻大螃蟹翻過去,一隻小螃蟹是我,他叫我衝過去。他是講我也好或者講傳統也好,傳統不應該在那裡擋路,應該我這個小螃蟹把它撞倒。”

知名藝評家謝里法教授也形容吳季如的書法突破傳統,顛覆過去想像,也很難被複製。

[[藝術家 謝里法]]
“他的筆沾墨,在紙上一刷,我一看就知道是他。我們可以形容,他用西洋歌劇的唱法唱歌仔戲。”

赤腳在大地放肆揮毫,吳季如說寫書法像是他的「天命」,不需要思考,自會「舞」出該走的路,這讓他的書法不再從於哪種書體、哪個門派,而是屬於吳季如,自成一派。

更多新聞內容,請鎖定:
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