Gu Gan

1942-2020, Changsha Hunan China


Born in 1942 in Changsha, Gu Gan is considered the forefather of the modern calligraphy movement, and the founder of the Modernist School of Chinese Calligraphy. His works are typically multi-layered, with the title revealing the theme, and that thematic word or phrase becoming an integral part of the composition. He experiments with the shapes and forms of characters to reinforce their meanings, sometimes blending multiple characters or separating them into component parts. Over the years of his practice, Gu Gan has increasingly integrated Western media such as acrylic paints and color pigments, melding painting and calligraphy into an entirely new form of art.


Gu Gan's works have been collected by the British Museum, London; Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Oxford; Museum of East Asian Art, Cologne, Germany; Museum of Fine Arts, Vienna; National Art Museum of China, Beijing; Chinese Olympic Museum, Beijing; Xunyao Chinese Characters Museum, Chengdu. In 2002, he was included in the important exhibition Brushes with surprise: The Art of Calligraphy in Modern China at the British Museum in London. He was the first Chinese artist to have his painting printed on the Mouton Rothschild wine label, an honour also bestowed to Zao Wou-ki and Xu Lei. Alisan Fine Arts held a solo exhibition for Gu Gan in 2014 and included his works in Ink Asia 2015, Hong Kong.

1942    Born in Changsha, Hunan Province, China
1962    Studied traditional Chinese painting at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, China. Discontinued for the reason of poor health
1966-74    Sent to work in a printing factory during the Cultural Revolution
1975    Art Editor at People's Literature Publishing House, Beijing, China
1978    Member of Research Academy for Traditional Chinese Painting under the Chinese Ministry of Culture, Beijing, China 
1985    Organized the first Modern Calligraphy Exhibition, National Art Museum of China, Beijing, China. This historic event marked the birth of Chinese modern calligraphy. First Chairman of The Society of Modern Calligraphy and Painting 
1986    Authored The Formation of Modern Calligraphy, Beijing Sport University Press, the first book about modern calligraphy in China
1987    Invited by the University of Bonn and Fine Art Institute, Hamburg, Germany to lecture on modern calligraphy annually for six years
1990    Authored The Three Steps of Modern Calligraphy first published in English, China Books Publishing House, Beijing, China (Chinese version published in 1992)
1991   Listed in Who’s Who (Munich, London, New York, Paris edition)
1996   Designed wine labels for Château Mouton Rothschild, Bordeaux, France. The first Chinese artist to have been thus honored
1998   Chief Editor of Modern Calligraphy Characters series of books, Jilin Art Publishing House, Zhangchun, China. Chief Editor of  Buddhism Art and Painting 1998-2004, Eastern Publishing House, Beijing, China   
1999    Helped to organize Retrospective of Chinese Modern Calligraphy at the End of the 20th Century Exhibition, International Exhibition Centre, Chengdu, China. Published a series of art books The Re-glory of Celebrated Painters, Volume of Gu Gan’s Paintings From Realistic to Abstract, Auhui Fine Art Press, China. Printed set of 10 limited edition prints in the UK. Sales worldwide ranked second behind Matisse’s prints
2000    Received the China National Outstanding Artist Award seven times since the 1970s
2002    Engraved stone inscription for Huang Bihong Art Museum, Jinhua, China
2004    Invited by Japanese Chess Society to design chess pieces using Regular script and script created by Gu Gan. Peking University Resource College established the ever first Art of Chinese Characters department, and Gu Gan’s book The Three Steps of Modern Calligraphy was the major teaching material
2005     Organized Art of Chinese Characters Exhibition-20th Anniversary of the Modernist Movement, China Millennium Monument, Beijing, China
2008    Created a series of 33 sport calligraphy-paintings to honor the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China. Honored as Sport Artist of the Year by United States Sports Academy
2014    Royal Academy of Arts listed Gu Gan as Chinese artist of 60th Anniversary of Cultural Relations between China and UK
Chief Editor of People's Literature Publishing House
Member of the Chinese Artist Association
Consultant of The Society of Modern Calligraphy and Painting
Honorary Adviser of The International Calligraphers' Society
2020    Passed away in Beijing, China at the age of 78



  • Recent Paintings by Gu Gan, Goedhuis Contemporary, New York, USA


  • Collection of Gu Gan’s Paintings, Princess Diana Family Museum, UK


  • Michael Goedhuis, London, UK


  • Museum of East Asian Art, Cologne, Germany


  • University of Bonn, Bonn; Fine Art Institute, Hamburg, Germany








  • Abstraction and Refinement: Contemporary Chinese Ink Paintings, Gajah Gallery, Singapore 


  • Modern Chinese Calligraphy: Works by Gu Gan and Pu Lieping, organized by Shanghai International Culture Association, Institute of Modern Art, Valencia, Spain           


  • Top Asian Art Show, China World Trade Centre, Beijing, China


  • Seoul Art Fair, Seoul, Korea


  • Brushes with Surprise: The Art of Calligraphy in Modern China, British Museum, London, UK


  • China without Borders, Sotheby’s, New York, USA
  • International Art Fair, Shanghai, China


  • Taipei Art Fair, Taipei, Taiwan


  • Modern Chinese Calligraphy, British Museum, London, UK


  • Art History Museum, Vienna, Austria


  • 10th Anniversary Exhibition of the Modernist Movement, Jiangsu Art Museum, Nanjing, China


  • Contemporary Chinese Calligraphy Invitational Exhibition, Jiangsu Art Museum, Nanjing, China
  • Two-men exhibition, Gu Gan & Rene Boll (German artist, son of Nobel Laureate in Literature Heinrich Boll), National Parliament of Germany, Berlin, Germany


  • Contemporary Chinese Paintings, artists including Wu Guangzhong, Davidson Galleries, Seattle, USA

British Museum, London, UK
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK
Princess Diana Family Museum, UK
Museum of East Asian Art, Cologne, Germany
Art History Museum, Vienna, Austria
Olenska Foundation, Geneva, Switzerland
National Art Museum of China, Beijing, China

Museum of Chinese Olympic Games, Beijing, China

Xunyao Chinese Characters Museum, Chengdu, China