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Meet the Taiwanese Artist: Yi Ling Lai

KBCE's Latest Artist Collaboration, Partnering with the British Museum, Prada, and Ffern as a Renowned Calligrapher

Yi Ling Lai (b.1997) resides and works in London. She finished her Bachelor's degree in Calligraphy Art and Chinese Painting from the National Taiwan University of Art in 2019, followed by a Postgraduate Degree in MFA Fine Art from Kingston University in 2021.

Drawing inspiration from both eastern and western traditions, Ling has honed her artistic practice in Chinese calligraphy, paintings, and drawings. By merging these diverse traditions, she explores the ideas, systems, and experiences of language and its inherent limitations. Her artistic exploration involves testing the boundaries and possibilities of traditional Chinese calligraphy, delving into themes of desire, ambivalence, and obsession. Additionally, Yi Ling aims to bridge cultural gaps by making the art of Chinese calligraphy more accessible and appreciated among the diverse community in the UK, catering to people from various backgrounds and interests.

Yi Ling Lai
Photo Credit: Nathan Wolf Grace


This recent work created by Yi Ling Lai is titled "Epimorphism". It's a large-scale painting constructed with lines as its foundation. The title conveys the artist's desire to transcend a single plane and imbue the lines with dynamic depth and imagery. It highlights the qualities of delicacy and liveliness while showcasing a bold composition. Given Ling's traditional calligraphy background, we can sense the rhythm and context of calligraphy in her work.

Epimorphism, 2023, 110x80cm, Acrylic and Chinese Ink on PVC sheet

This piece is like a wide-angle mirror, intricate throughout, with light refracting playfully, emphasising the undeniable presence of this emerging artist.

Free Strokes With Resolute Gaze

First encountering with Ling is in 2023 when she was consistently showcasing her traditional calligraphy at various institutions in London and teaching it as well. Through photographs and interviews, one can unmistakably perceive her interaction with students during her teachings, her meticulous approach to exploring calligraphy, and the materials she prepares for all students and participants, all of which demonstrate her intricate preparation for each session. She can deliver calligraphy lessons of varying difficulty levels, enabling students of different ages to explore this novel technique. Consequently, this year, she has collaborated with Prada, Putney High School, The British Museum, Blackdot Gallery and Ffern to offer calligraphy courses. She's also set to perform calligraphy at the ESEA Cultural Festival in September in cooperation with KBCE.

British museum summer workshop, 2023
British museum summer workshop, 2023

Evolving Fluidly: Balancing Calligrapher and Artist Identities

Ling excels in the cursive script style of calligraphy, which calligraphers initially learn through emulating ancient scripts. Inspired by the calligrapher Zhi Yong, Ling's calligraphy is imbued with freely adept strokes, carrying speed and strength, seamlessly shifting between fast and slow strokes, continuously connecting lines with an unbroken flow. This brings forth a sense of "rhythm" and "cadence," allowing them to freely traverse the layout between ink and rice paper. With a strong foundation in calligraphy, Ling has gradually integrated her understanding of cursive script and her refinement in calligraphy into her paintings.

Through traditional calligraphy techniques, she brings the unique brushwork and "negative space" techniques onto canvases and watercolour paper, allowing the lines in her artworks to embody various artistic forms, sparse and dense. This continues her interpretation of calligraphy and visual intent, deconstructing the narrative of language in a more pure and organic manner. It presents language in a more three-dimensional form, between abstraction and representation, between mark-making and image production. This inclusive and unbounded artistic approach reflects a commitment to a more holistic presentation. Even though the artwork consists of endless lines, it is within the most confined textual realm that it emphasizes our priority to consider the organic and physical aspects of the body. Beyond the forefront of conscious action, it also encompasses the physiological mechanisms in the background. In contrast to European painting, the calligraphic movements in Ling's work are quite evident—a trace of microscopic movements—very similar to what Maurice Merleau-Ponty referred to as "motility."

Now here, now there, but its pathways adhere to certain conventions, forming a tangible and visible course. Bold strokes continue to extend from her own background of understanding cursive script, while being intertwined with delicate brushwork that encounters the entirety's layout at varying speeds.

Love Song
Love Song, 2018, 180 cm X 180 cm, Chinese calligraphy on rice paper

Unveiling the Ordinary: Fusing Art and Calligraphy

One of Ling's sources of creative inspiration is daily perception. Her interaction with students and the learning experiences in each calligraphy workshop have helped her reacquaint herself with and enhance her understanding of calligraphy. This has led to further explorations into the limitations and possibilities of calligraphy. The emotional resonance of the audience with specific calligraphy styles is also an important source of inspiration.

The freedom to move between being a painter and a calligrapher serves as the best nourishment and balance for Ling. With her rich writing experience, we look forward to our collaboration with Ling at the ESEA Cultural Festival in September, as well as her captivating calligraphy performances.

Assistance provided by Art Critic Tsung-Jen Lee - 29/08/2023


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