The Unified Stroke
Calligraphy © Henry Lo Hon-yiu
Long fascinated by his late father’s traditional Chinese calligraphy, Hong Kong shufa artist Henry Lo Hon Yiu cultivated a keen interest in this art from an early age. Over recent years, he has ventured into new territory, developing a singular and fascinating technique, described elsewhere in this issue. The University of Hong Kong Museum and Art Gallery mounted a 2008 exhibit of his work, including a noted catalogue, The Unified Stroke, featuring 41 shufa. It may surprise some readers to learn that while he is an accomplished shufa artist, he is also a longtime practicing Hong Kong barrister. An alumnus of Hong Kong University in philosophy and political science, he is currently President of the HKU Arts Alumni Association. During his student years and after, among his many honors, he served as President of the HKU Students’ Union, and from 1987-2002, as a member of the HKU Court.
Henry Lo Hon-yiu and The Unified Stroke
Chinese calligraphy, or shufa, has been a traditional art form for millennia, practiced by beginners, amateurs, and masters. On the sidewalks and parks where Chinese gather at leisure, one can even see practitioners writing with water on concrete, their brushes not the usual maobi, literally “fur pen”, but sponge-tipped wands dipped into buckets or basins. The characters live briefly, then evaporate. Emperors and scholars alike were known for their skill with hand, brush, ink, and paper. Shufa is one of the arts in which the whole being participates—heart, mind, body, and soul. Through this medium the full presence of the artist, as well as his surround, become inescapably manifest. All he is and has been, and all that includes the present moment, may flow out through his strokes. In shufa, there’s no place to hide, no room to second guess, no refuge of revision. It remains an art of the immediate, nonetheless expressing the totality of the past.
Traditionally, the paper on which the artist writes is laid flat on a large table, unmoving, anchored by a stone weight at its top. Henry Lo Hon-yiu, however, suspends his paper vertically. In concert with the air, it speaks through its resistance, yielding when the brush presses, but also shoving back. As the fibers of the brush skate across, plunging, sweeping, or flicking lightly, a unique colloquy occurs, each strength in conversation with the other. No longer the relatively passive recipient of each stroke, the paper assumes a far more active role, the air itself gaining voice, implicating all it inhabits. Thus a respiration occurs between hand and space, action and reaction—a wavelength of being in which both artist and world utter their essences. What remains on the page is nothing less than the track of that dialogue—a tide, a living pulse. For all these reasons, the artist has rightfully named his practice “The Unified Stroke”. Its very unpredictability, and the purity of its form, create an atmosphere enticing the transcendent, and with it the sublime.