LONDON, March 17 (Xinhua) -- A leading Chinese artist has been heralded as "hugely important for contemporary Chinese art," in the wake of a new exhibition of his work at one of Britain's major museums.
Xu Bing, aged 58, is the vice president of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, and is one of China's most acclaimed living artists.
In "Landscape/Landscript" at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, several new pieces by Xu Bing are displayed, in the first exhibition anywhere of his landscape works, which includes works from throughout his career.
Xu Bing addresses the Chinese language through its pictorial qualities and its relationship with the tradition of Chinese landscape painting.
He uses Chinese characters to compose mountains, trees, clouds, and rivers.
Xinhua spoke to Shelagh Vainker, curator of Chinese art at the Ashmolean Museum, which houses one of Europe's leading collections of Chinese art.
Vainker said, "What every generation in the 1000-year-old Chinese landscape painting tradition has sought to do is to add to it, to do something different or in some way to integrate it and that is why it has lasted so long."
"What Xu Bing has done in these works is to breathe new life into it in the 21st century," Vainker added.
"He does it by using landscript, his own painting method which he started using in 1999, which takes characters and uses them to represent the forms that the characters depict. That is a method which is based on the fact that the earliest Chinese characters are pictograms," she explained.
"At the beginning of Chinese writing there is a link between the object and the word, and in the natural world that is particularly significant because it ties into the whole landscape painting tradition. Nobody else does that," Vainker added.
Xu Bing has produced four landscape paintings, which are exhibited in public for the first time, the result of his work from 2004 to 2012.
Other exhibits are examples of his earlier landscapes.
The four landscapes are copies of Ming dynasty landscapes held in a museum in Suzhou, China.
"His inscription which runs across all four is in English. It does not look like English, as it is in the square word calligraphy he invented in the 1990s. Each character is an English word; a character with the letters reconfigured to look like a Chinese character. It disrupts associations between visual meaning and gives a sense of learning to read again," said Vainker.
A complementary exhibition of Chinese landscape paintings from the Ashmolean's collection is running alongside Xu Bing's exhibition.
"It is the one place you can go in Britain and know that you can see Chinese paintings," said Vainker.
"I think Xu Bing is hugely important in contemporary Chinese art, and the foremost reason for that is because his work makes connections with society and reaches out to people in every context, which means that it also connects very well with audiences outside China," she said.
Vainker said that Xu Bing's work was wide-ranging and he had been producing compelling works since the beginning of the 1980s.
However, no exhibition has yet looked at his landscape pieces. Vainker said, "We decided to hold a landscape exhibition because that was an aspect of his work that had not previously been focused on."