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Continuing the ellipse : a re-contextualisation of the calligraphic tradition through compression, subtraction and erasure


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Woodbury, SJ 2016 , 'Continuing the ellipse : a re-contextualisation of the calligraphic tradition through compression, subtraction and erasure', Research Master thesis, University of Tasmania.

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This research sought to build on and extend the 3,500-year progression of
calligraphy towards gestural abstracted marks derived from text. This project
provides input to the discourse regarding authenticity versus style in
contemporary painting, and is situated within the current blending of Eastern
calligraphic and Western abstract traditions.
Exploring this lineage allowed this research to identify two strands of calligraphy:
information transfer and gestural abstraction of text. While calligraphy began in
China, it has evolved throughout millennia to become an art form of the gestural
marking of a textual line. Exploring this niche defined the core structure of
calligraphy, which renders the traditional East/West cultural divide a moot point
because it speaks more in the language of paint—which is essentially the
language of gesture and material.
The intention of this research was to determine how drawing from ancient
calligraphic practices of body gesture and abstraction, filtered through strict
painterly strategies of compression/subtraction/erasure (C/S/E), can rethink
traditional forms and take text beyond semantics. This studio-based research
challenged calligraphic traditions with a respect for historic conventions, and
allowed traditional fundamentals to be summarised in the elemental essence of the
calligraphic structure, as follows:
1. the content of abstracted gestural line derived from text
2. the use of a reduced palette
3. the materials of ink and paper
4. the gesture of traditional body/brush
5. revisiting and refining the mark.
Personalising these elements by using my published poems as content, creating
book-ash ink derived from burning those books (reminiscent of traditional inkmaking
practice) and using body gesture (ranging from the intimate to the full-bodied) created a systematic, theoretical process that further highlighted the experimental results of the painterly strategies (C/S/E). Keeping these
fundamentals stable affected the other fundamentals of palette, gesture and
material, with series presentation illustrating the fifth fundamental. Studio
experiments conflated these fundamental elements with the strategies of C/S/E as
processing parameters, and ultimately resulted in a body of works collectively
titled The Continuing Ellipse.
Within the installation are thoughtful iterations and material reincarnations. I view
this as a poetic process that crosses cultural boundaries and initiates an intimate
poetic dialogue through individual gestural and material incantations. This
process was derived and defined from ancient methodology, was tested through
materiality and gesture, and ultimately created a procedural structure that can be
altered through the strategies (C/S/E). Restoring and revitalising ancient
calligraphic traditions through re-presentation in contemporary practice illustrated
the key finding that there is a structural difference between calligraphy as a
methodology, as opposed to calligraphy as a style. This is because calligraphy
gains its form from the line derived from text, rather than pure expression alone.
Incorporating the skeletal underpinnings of calligraphy as a methodology, while
extending material and gesture beyond strict adherence to traditional materials
alone, creates a point of difference to this continuum.

Item Type: Thesis - Research Master
Authors/Creators:Woodbury, SJ
Keywords: Calligraphy, Methodology, Tradition, Compression, Subtraction, Erasure, Painting
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2016 the author

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