Words, Art and Meaning: Han Meilin 韩美林

Han Meilin's Calligraphy on display at the China National Museum

Han Meilin (韩美林), in addition to being the artist behind the mascots for the Beijing Olympics, is noteworthy for his freestyle approach to Chinese calligraphy. He often morphs between somewhat identifiable characters and brush strokes resembling people or animals.

To me it’s a reflection on how symbols communicate meaning. Chinese characters have changed over time from something like hieroglyphs to the abstract symbols of today. I like how Han plays with that history by at once divorcing his characters from meaning by making them unreadable while giving them added significance as something resembling living things.

A while back I wrote about Gu Wenda and his experiments with language in art, including creating his own gibberish Chinese characters and producing translations based on the sound, not meaning, of poetry. I’m tempted to group Han in my mind with Gu because of their re-imagining of language, but Han seems a little more interpretive and less politically heavy-handed, and his almost collage-like style reminds me more of Takashi Murakami.

Whatever to make of Han, his art is worth a look. A special exhibit at the China National Museum right now includes not only his calligraphy, but some imaginative clay tea pots, not a few sketches of naked women, and some large brass sculptures, mostly of roosters horses and dragons.

This drawing reminds me of Takashi Murakami and includes the FuWa, mascots for the Beijing Olympics.

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