Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

Ashmolean − Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

Xu Bing: Landscape Landscript

(from 28th Feb until 19th May 2013)

Explore the innovative landscape work of one of China’s most renowned contemporary artists.

Detail of Family Plots, by Xu Bing, Beijing, 1988 (Museum no. LI2007.61)
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Helsinki sketchbooks

These sketches were drawn in 1999 when Xu Bing went to the Himalayas, on a visit organised by the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki. Sitting on a mountain, he looked at a mountain and drew the Chinese character for mountain. These sketches are some of the first landscripts he drew and show how the method developed: the character 水(water) for river water, 木 (tree) to depict trees.

The sketches also include some methods that he discontinued. For example, some include phrases that describe the scene. Others use characters that note with a modern character the thing that they represent, even though the modern character does not have any pictorial content. For example, the runway markings on the sketch of Kathmandu airport are represented by repetitions of the character 白 (white).

Sketchbook of Himalayan landscapes (LI2007.64) Sketchbook of Himalayan landscapes (LI2007.64)
Kathmandu airport (LI2007.65) Kathmandu airport (LI2007.65)   Stone enclosure (LI2007.66) Stone enclosure (LI2007.66)   Thatched pavilion (LI2007.67) Thatched pavilion (LI2007.67)
Stone enclosure (LI2007.68) Stone enclosure (LI2007.68)   Rocks, grass, and timber supplies (LI2007.69) Rocks, grass, and timber supplies (LI2007.69)   House with a garden (LI2007.70) House with a garden (LI2007.70)

Click here to listen to the curator talk about the relevance of painting with words and image in contemporary culture.

Click here to see the artist talking about the use of writing symbols in his earlier work.


In 1999 in the Himalayas, Xu Bing sat on a mountain and used Chinese characters to depict the rivers and mountains before him. This was possible because the earliest Chinese characters were simple pictures, and the modern language retains many pictorial elements. More recently he has developed this idea to create landscapes that use characters as though they were painted brushstrokes. For example, groups of characters for a type of tree are arranged to compose a picture of that tree.

Xu Bing’s method explores the relationship between the written Chinese language and painting, and also rediscovers and highlights the connection between nature and writing in Chinese culture. In his new work The Suzhou Landscript (EA2007.73-76), Xu Bing has used his method to make copies of early landscape paintings by famous artists of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. The Chinese landscape tradition emphasizes continuity. Each generation of painters has copied earlier masters while also adding something new, and this has kept the tradition alive over 100s of years. Xu Bing breathes new life into it in the 21st century.

Landscript (LI2007.81) Landscript (LI2007.81)   Landscript 1 (LI2007.71) Landscript 1 (LI2007.71)   Landscript 2 (LI2007.72) Landscript 2 (LI2007.72)

Click here to find out about the creation of Landscript I and II for this exhibition.

The Suzhou Landscript

This landscript consists of four separate panels after four 17th century landscape paintings in the collection of Suzhou Museum in Jiangsu province, not far from Shanghai.

The Suzhou Landscript (LI2007.73-76) The Suzhou Landscript (LI2007.73-76)

Click here to find out more about the Chinese tradition of copying seen in the Suzhou scrolls.

Click here to listen to the curator discuss the role and value of copying in Chinese culture.

Click here to see the artist explain his writing system that presents English like Chinese calligraphy.


Objects from past exhibitions may have now returned to our stores or a lender. Click into an individual object record to confirm whether or not an object is currently on display. Our object location data is usually updated on a monthly basis, so please contact the Jameel Study Centre if you are planning to visit the museum to see a particular Eastern Art object.

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