Zhang Yu. Divine Light Series No. 59, The Floating Incomplete Circle. China, 1998. Hanging scroll; ink on paper. Image: 9 ft. 7 3/8 in. × 70 7/8 in. (293 × 180 cm). Lent by a private collection, Hong Kong
Abstraction lies at the very heart of Chinese painting and calligraphy. Because the brush mark, in addition to performing a descriptive or semantic role, has always been recognized as a record of the artist's hand, both painting and calligraphy have been valued for their abstract expressive potential. Benefitting from this rich tradition of exploiting the abstract and symbolic qualities of painting and writing, contemporary Chinese artists have selectively engaged with Western notions of nonfigurative art to augment and expand their expressive goals. Some artists have used their command of traditional techniques to create large-scale abstractions emphasizing the dynamic gestural qualities of calligraphy while divorcing the work from any suggestion of semantic meaning. Others have used traditional media to create new nonfigurative imagery, to explore the materiality of their chosen medium, or to emphasize artistic process.