The subject of Pat Hui’s recent annual art exhibit held at the studio she shares with her partner Paul Kwok at the Traffic Zone Gallery in Minneapolis, was “Su Shi, (Dong Po) 1037-1101,” Su was one of China’s most celebrated poet, essayist and calligrapher. “For the past 60 years, I have collected copies of the calligraphy scripts and copied his style of writing,” stated Hui. In the past 35 years, she has formed her own style of incorporating poetry, painting and calligraphy: The Three Perfections. All the works in Hui’s exhibition were organized to commemorate the 980th birth year of Su Shi, aka Su Dong Po. It features works such as the immortal works of the “Red Cliff” poem I and II, the Cold Food Festival script and many others.
According to multiple resources such as Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia, references used in this article, it has been documented that Su emerged as one of the most prominent poets in Chinese history amidst the political bickering of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). Su, also known as Su Dong Po, has since become renowned for his warm, detail-oriented poetry that has inspired Chinese through the ages.
Su lived a turbulent life from 1037 to 1101 -- spending time in various places across China. He came from a scholarly family: his father and brother were both great poets in their own right; his mother, also highly accomplished, was responsible Su's education. It soon paid off because at the young age of 19, Su passed the civil-service examination at the highest level - the Jin Shi degree.
This examination was a gateway to a political career. Su proceeded to take on various government positions, including serving as the magistrate of Mi Zhou and the governor of Xu Zhou.
This involvement in politics led to some trouble. Owing to massive budget deficit and inflation at that time, the Emperor Shenzong of the Song Dynasty, reached out to Wang Anshi, an economist and statesman, to devise reform strategies. Su opposed Wang's reform plans, even openly criticizing them in his poems.
As Wang's political faction gained power in the government, Su was banished to Hubei under allegations of slandering the emperor. There, he lived on a farm named, "Dong Po (meaning “eastern slope”)," hence his pseudonym Su Dong Po. Though he became increasingly upset with his prolonged exile, he grew to love the land of Hubei and spent most of his time writing poetry. Su was able to return to office several years later, though only temporarily. He was banished a second time to the southern island of Hainan in 1094 when the New Laws party returned to power.
He also once served as the secretary to the emperor and had written 800-plus imperial decrees, many of which are still in existence! In addition, he also penned 1,770+ poems and dozens of different style of calligraphy. One of which: “The Cold Food Festival,” which is traditionally ranked second overall in the history of Chinese calligraphy in the Running style! And, according to Hui, “in my ranking, he is #1 in calligraphy, poetry, essays and dedicated civil servant, and why Su is beloved by generations of scholars and artists!”
Su died at the age of 64, on the journey back from his second exile. Some of his best works came during his periods of exile. One of his most prominent poems, “The Red Cliff of Zhou of the Three Kingdoms” depicts the historic battle scene at the Red Cliff with vividness and clarity.
With piled-up rocks to stab the sky And waves to shake them thunderously Churning the frothy mass to mounds of snow, It's like a masterpiece in pain
Su also pioneered the Hao Fang, or "bold and unconstrained" poetic style, which uses powerful descriptive words in a less structured form. A classic example is his "Shui Diao Ge Tou:"
People have sorrow or joy, be near or far apart, The moon may be dim or bright, round or crescent shaped, This imperfection has been going on since the beginning of time. May we all be blessed with longevity, Though thousand miles apart, we are still able to share the beauty of the moon together.
This poem echoes the fact that people are all brought together by a sense of commonality. In Chinese culture, Su's poems have brought people from different places and even different times together. His poems can still be heard echoing in the halls of Chinese schools and quoted in the works of Chinese scholars. Su's name was even given to a popular Chinese dish, Dong Po Rou. Though his later life ended up being marred by banishment and exile, Su's works always exuded a spirit of confidence and positivity. His poems have instilled inspiration in the heart of the Chinese and serve as a reminder that even during the hardest of times, there is always room for hope.
Pat Hui was born in Hong Kong. She studied traditional Chinese ink painting with Hong Kong master Lui Shou-kwan. She has a bachelor’s degree in Western and Chinese Philosophy from the University of Hong Kong and studied Philosophy and Studio Art at the University of Minnesota. She has been exhibiting her work professionally for more than 30 years, in Hong Kong and Minneapolis. Hui lays down thick strokes of color that typically flood the page in a vertical or horizontal format. Her practice also includes Chinese calligraphy based on a study of the traditional techniques. Her works often combine the use of painting and calligraphy, bringing together the text with painterly interpretation. Thus, she has chosen to pay homage to Su with her current exhibition. “It's my way to continue with the tradition of The Three Perfections: 詩書畫三絕!”
The exhibition continues to be on display at the gallery by appointment only. If you are interested, please contact Hui directly at 612-338-2820 to make arrangements.