Studio visit: Wang Tiande

Ahead of October’s Shanghai sales, the Chinese artist who blurs the line between painting and calligraphy discusses the origins of his celebrated Hou Shan series

‘When you’ve reached a certain state of happiness… it’s impossible to take time off,’ says Wang Tiande, who was born in Shanghai in 1960 and is now one of China’s most acclaimed calligraphers. ‘Since there’s no such concept as “finished” you always feel there’s still one more part to be completed.’

The origins of Wang’s Hou Shan series lie in his 2002 artist’s residency in Paris. While working in the studio, he accidentally dropped cigarette ash on to paper on the studio floor. When he saw the effect made by the holes burnt in the paper, he was stunned. ‘I was like, “Oh my God!” God has given me a chance!’ he recalls. ‘From then on I knew what I should create next.’ He has been producing works in the series for the last 14 years.

The series, which blurs the line between painting and calligraphy, sees Wang create an ink painting on xuan paper, which is then overlaid with a second sheet in which holes are created using burning incense. The ‘spatially mismatched effect’ of the two layers creates a delicate and complex palimpsest for the modern age. ‘The same philosophy applies to our lives,’ Wang insists. ‘Sometimes you want to express, and sometimes you want to conceal behind the trees at the back.’

Speaking from his Shanghai studio, Wang goes on to describe his ‘deep sentimental connection’ with the paper he uses and how it allows him ‘to control the texture of the painting’. He also discusses how the seasons affect the creative process.

Two works by Wang Tiande are offered in our Shanghai sales on 22 October, one in the First Open | Shanghai auction and the other the 20th Century & Contemporary Art sale, both of which take place at the Peninsula Hotel.