Su Shi

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Su Shi (1037-1101) was a writer, calligrapher and painter of the Northern Song Dynasty.

Although he tried to pursue a career as an official, he was often frustrated and demoted. He was a man of many gifts in poetry, literature, and calligraphy, making a strong contribution to all these fields. He was well known for his xingshu (running hand) and lishu (regular script), following the styles of Li Yong (678-747), Xu Hao (703-782), Yan Zhenqing, and Yang Ningshi (873-954). He also established his own style, with a sense of fullness and charm, becoming the typical style of implied meaning during the Song and Yuan periods. Su Shi, Huang Tingjian, Mi Fu, and Cai Xiang (1012-1067) were known as the "four master calligraphers" of the time. The poems written in April at Huangzhou are his representative running hand works.

The work was written on paper, and consists of two of the writer's poems, each with five characters per line. It is now kept in the Taipei Palace Museum.

When he was 42 years of age, Su Shi was the prefectural magistrate of Huzhou. Whenever he discovered some malpractice of the government and harm caused to ordinary people, he would write about it in his poems. Some imperial censors found about this, charged him with slandering the court, and had him sent to prison. On his release, he was given a post at Huangzhou (now Huanggang County, Hubei Province). Su often wandered along rivers and in the mountains with the local people. It was here that he wrote these two famous poems, in which he expressed his indignation and described his hard life and sorrows in the three years since he had arrived in Huangzhou. The drizzling weather before and during the Pure Brightness Festival (an occasion for mourning one's ancestors, usually falling in early April) made him particularly sad.

His poems and calligraphy complement each other, both strongly expressing his sorrows for his own life and his worries about the state. The work is his greatest achievement in running hand script. The strokes are tough and full and the characters are written alternately in regular form and running hand. The words and the lines are well coordinated and executed as a whole. Each character, small or large, is laid freely at will with varied forms. The brushwork is, at times, heavy as a crouched bear, at others, as light as a flying swallow. Its composition includes a good use of space. Its rhythm is at a pace of the increased quickness of the brush, with the formation of small and large, thick and thin characters in strong and light ink. One can clearly see the writer's gloomy mood expressed in the flowing of his brush, like a torrent of water.

Huang zhou han shi shi, a representative work of Su Shi