Sometimes all you have to do for a little bit of magic is look in your own backyard.
Uncle James is a calligrapher I walk past every day on the way to work in our Pagoda shophouse office, an upstairs quiet space in the Chinatown enclave. He is a self taught calligrapher, and was a farmer in a previous life. Born in 1944, he has seen Singapore change throughout the years and has reflected that in his paintings. He speaks of a decision he made and a fork in the road of his artistic career where he had to choose between striving for artistry in the realms of galleries and formal spaces, where risk and rejection are high and returns are unpredictable; and calligraphy and watercolour art, manning his own stall with his wife in Chinatown with smaller art pieces that cater to those looking for a souvenir of their travels.
‘You make a decision and stick with it, and find happiness in the consequences of your choices,’ he says.
We brought our Anatolian motifs from the latest ikat edition to him – Tree of Life, Cross, Star and Arrow Bird – and asked him to interpret them in his own brush. Calligraphy is an understated art of confidence – every brush stroke must be decisive, the hand of the master is one that knows the spirit of the symbol and the story behind it before setting it to paper. Hesitation is easily seen in ink spatters and incomplete lines because of the transparency of the rice paper and the fluidity of ink. In a way, the calligrapher’s spirit is laid bare in his style of work.
‘You can’t think too much’, he says. ‘You have to feel it, trust yourself, and reach inside for that knowledge that you can only articulate after it has been expressed.’