I arrived early to The Byre Theatre in St Andrews, only to be greeted by the sight of a whole cohort of eager saxophonists, crowding around a little table of Saxophone Festival name badges. I left the small reception area splitting at the seams, with more saxophonists than I will ever have the pleasure of seeing again in my life, and made my way downstairs to the quiet restaurant-cum-café area.
Soon, my boss arrived out of breath with a small eclectic troupe, hurriedly explaining that there was traffic drama coming into the small seaside town I’ve (begrudgingly) called home for the past four years. I nodded sympathetically as my eyes trailed over the composed and elegant Chinese couple (with an adorable baby) standing behind her.
Shrugging off apologies and our coats at the same time, we moved to settle at the long table at Kingarroch. Under the weak sunlight struggling its way into the huge glassed area, I finally met Mr Wang Xieda. His interpreter hurried after him as his kind eyes found me first, and clasping my hands in his, we greeted each other warmly like old friends. Mr Wang had a calm, humble air about him, and smiled at my shy attempts of speaking Mandarin to him, never losing eye contact until I had finished my sentence. His wife was equally impressive, at once the doting mother to their young son, but also engaging, soft-spoken and graceful.
I had the privilege of sitting opposite the man himself, so I had the opportunity to ask some questions about Wang’s work. Having read online reviews that compared his sculptures to Giacometti’s (whose work, incidentally, I took a huge interest in when I was 16), I was interested in understanding the passion behind taking inspiration from Chinese calligraphy.
What proceeded was a long, pseudo-spiritual discussion of 天意, that stuck with me most during our entire lunch:
As Mr Wang explained, calligraphy is considered the highest form of Art in Chinese culture, and not only that, but it is a display of knowledge, emotional growth and Philosophy. But above all else, he related how being part of the calligraphy sphere kept him in touch with nature, how it was 天意 (vaguely compatible English translation being ‘Nature’ or literally ‘The plan of the heavens’) that brought every stroke. And every stroke connects each and every calligrapher to the rest, in one joint, homogenous entity. I listened with intense concentration as Wang painted with his hands, gesturing at all the curves and strokes, and explaining inflection and strength. By way of showing this, he wrote out my Chinese name (actual one, not Dragon-Phoenix-Love à la ‘Chinese’ tattoos), in beautiful script (is this the right word?) with a stylish flourish.
Despite having to rush off towards the end of the meal, I felt a sense of calmness fall over me as I left. Perhaps it was because I met a man behind his Art, and was greatly humbled by his inspiring and strong presence. Despite this blog post sounding like a major fan-girl rant, I have seldom been quite so touched by another human being.
Mr Wang will be touring and showing in Scotland for the next coming month.