Skip to content

Higher Degrees Research Examination Exhibition - Stephen Woodbury

Start Date

Feb 13, 2016 12:00 pm

End Date

Feb 17, 2016 5:00 pm


Plimsoll Gallery, Hunter Street

Stephen Woodbury, Book-Mark (Detail), 2015.


Continuing the Ellipse: A Re-contextualisation of the Calligraphic Tradition through Compression, Subtraction and Erasure

This research sought to build on and extend the 3,500-year progression of calligraphy towards gestural abstracted marks derived from text. This project provides input to the discourse regarding authenticity versus style in contemporary painting, and is situated within the current blending of Eastern calligraphic and Western abstract traditions.

Exploring this lineage allowed this research to identify two strands of calligraphy: information transfer and gestural abstraction of text. While calligraphy began in China, it has evolved throughout millennia to become an art form of the gestural marking of a textual line. Exploring this niche defined the core structure of calligraphy, which renders the traditional East/West cultural divide a moot point because it speaks more in the language of paint—which is essentially the language of gesture and material.

The intention of this research was to determine how drawing from ancient calligraphic practices of body gesture and abstraction, filtered through strict painterly strategies of compression/subtraction/erasure (C/S/E), can rethink traditional forms and take text beyond semantics. This studio-based research challenged calligraphic traditions with a respect for historic conventions, and allowed traditional fundamentals to be summarised in the elemental essence of the calligraphic structure, as follows:

1. the content of abstracted gestural line derived from text
2. the use of a reduced palette
3. the materials of ink and paper
4. the gesture of traditional body/brush
5. revisiting and refining the mark.

Personalising these elements by using my published poems as content, creating book-ash ink derived from burning those books (reminiscent of traditional ink-making practice) and using body gesture (ranging from the intimate to the full-bodied) created a systematic, theoretical process that further highlighted the experimental results of the painterly strategies (C/S/E). Keeping these fundamentals stable affected the other fundamentals of palette, gesture and material, with series presentation illustrating the fifth fundamental. Studio experiments conflated these fundamental elements with the strategies of C/S/E as processing parameters, and ultimately resulted in a body of works collectively titled The Continuing Ellipse.

Within the installation are thoughtful iterations and material reincarnations. I view this as a poetic process that crosses cultural boundaries and initiates an intimate poetic dialogue through individual gestural and material incantations. This process was derived and defined from ancient methodology, was tested through materiality and gesture, and ultimately created a procedural structure that can be altered through the strategies (C/S/E). Restoring and revitalising ancient calligraphic traditions through re-presentation in contemporary practice illustrated the key finding that there is a structural difference between calligraphy as a methodology, as opposed to calligraphy as a style. This is because calligraphy gains its form from the line derived from text, rather than pure expression alone. Incorporating the skeletal underpinnings of calligraphy as a methodology, while extending material and gesture beyond strict adherence to traditional materials alone, creates a point of difference to this continuum.

Exhibition opening: Friday 12 February, 5:30pm - 7:00pm

Exhibition dates: Saturday 13 February - Wednesday 17 February

Gallery Hours:
Wednesday - Monday 12pm - 5pm during exhibitions
Closed Tuesdays and Public Holidays