Public Republic random header image

Artist of the Week – Huang Xiang and William Rock

January 10, 2010 by · 9 comments

Maria Aladzhova’s interview with Huang Xiang and William Rock

Huang Xiang and William Rock2

In this issue of Artist of the week Public Republic presents you Huang Xiang and William Rock – two incredible artists and creators of The Century Mountain Project. The Century Mountain Project is an East/West collaboration of art that creates a “visual dialogue across humanity.”

Huang Xiang is one of the greatest poets of 20th century China and a master calligrapher. He is known internationally for his free-spirited poetry and for his pioneering advocacy of human rights in China. His incredible story has been documented in the book “Coming Alive: China After Mao”. Huang Xiang has been described as a ‘poet on fire’ a human torch who burns as a lamp of freedom and enlightenment.

His artistic collaborator and friend William Rock is both citizen of Ireland and the U.S. He studied drawing at The California Art Institute and taught himself to paint and sculpt by travelling to museums around the world. He has studied and taught with Tibetan and Chinese monks. His art has been displayed internationally and in museums in the USA.

Together Huang Xiang and William Rock create The Century Mountain Project – art dedicated to essentially people of world history who stood out like mountains throughout the centuries. For more information:

How did you two begin your collaboration?

Huang Xiang: It is the universal values we both share. It was the universe speaking to us. William Rock was touched by my poems and our meeting became imminent. We were like long-time friends when we were introduced by a mutual friend at our first meeting. A Chinese poet and an American artist have found their artistic soul mates and entered into a unified world of creation.

Anna Akhmatova HXiang WRock2

William Rock: I had been waking up in the morning with a sensation that I felt like I was made of blood and milk. I felt I could taste blood and milk. As an artist, I accept this kind of intuitive sensations. Two weeks later, a friend told me I should see the poet Huang Xiang. She felt his poetry and my art were occupying the same creative territories. When I saw him perform Huang Xiang did the poem:

A drop of blood
melts into inky
A drop of milk
fuses with water’s

Here was my blood and milk. I instantly welcomed the synchronicity.

Anne Frank_HXiang_WRock2

How do you pick your subjects for the Century Mountain project?

HX: William Rock is an artist and visionary with a compassionate heart. He manifests a deep understanding and appreciation for humanity through art. The portraits he paints are reflective of this insight. I share the same views and passion through the art of poetry. Our Century Mountain Project was formed from this shared understanding, we give this art life to stand and grow. William and I paint people who stand out like mountains throughout the centuries. William Rock’s choice of subjects is a reflection of his humanistic views and knowledge. He is able to choose subjects by trusting the intuitive.


We may discuss subjects or most of the time we just decide to do someone. I then pick a poem for each portrait. The poem will relate to the person depicted. Through the art of calligraphy, I point to a higher realm by uncovering a deeper meaning and by enhancing the visual effect. In other words, we work together to depict the souls or essence of these people we paint. In a sense, we bring them alive to reconnect with viewers living today. Our hope is the finished painting will give a unique experiential and leave a positive impact on anyone who comes in contact with the art.

Most of the poems on the paintings come from my own work, a collection of poetry in a wide range of subjects and style. Unfortunately, this collection of my poetry written over a period of more than fifty years, is still banned in China to this day. A half century of my work is not available in my homeland.

Arthur Rimbaud2

When William Rock and I choose a subject for a painting, the main purpose is to celebrate and honor humanity. Connecting humanity is the main focus of our collaboration. We both hold strong beliefs that we all share a common humanity that is not defined by social class, politics, race, gender, nationality or ideologies. We are all human beings first. Oh, before I forget, I want to mention my beautiful wife Qiuxiao Yulan, she is a wonderful writer and she suggested the name Century Mountain Project.

In 2009, UNESCO declared that Chinese calligraphy is an intangible cultural asset of humanity. This means, the calligraphy in itself has inherent qualities that make it an equal contributor to the enrichment of humanity.

WR: Sometimes the subjects seem to pick us. They are people that cry out from history with their timeless message. We have done a portrait of Huang Xiang. Out of the hundreds of millions of people who suffered during the cultural revolution, he is one of the very few who spoke up for human rights. He stood up during some of the darkest days of the twentieth century and was the first to post poetry on The Democracy Wall in Beijing. He was tortured and spent twelve years in Chinese prisons for his Human Rights advocacy and for writing his poetry.

Huang Xiang2

Huang Xiang was put on death row twice. Several of the poets we have painted were executed for their beliefs, like the Spanish poet Garcia Lorca. Huang Xiang is one of the few people alive that has walked in their footsteps and lived to tell about it. So when he writes his poem on Garcia Lorca’s portrait – he pays tribute to and speaks for those whose voices were silenced. With all the suffering he has endured, Huang Xiang is not an embittered person.

He loves China and its people and he did return to visit family and friends in 2008. I feel very privileged to be able to collaborate with Huang Xiang. One day, his fifty years of work will be published in China and his heroism will be widely acknowledged.

Federico Garcia Lorca.2

Do you sometimes have differences while working together?

HX: My answer can be found in the Confucius saying; “Allow different voices and views expressed in harmony.” The Chinese consider tolerance of others to be the virtue of a gentleman.

WR: A big part of what we do is trust. We work from a harmonious view and with good intention. When a sense of being separate is removed there is no room for conflict.

Einstein HXiang WRock2

What influence would you like your work to have on the viewer

HX: It is our hope that the paintings can serve as a visually energizing and a knowledge enhancing experience for the viewer.

WR: All we can ask is that the viewer of the art engage the work as openly as possible. Each viewer’s experience is relative and valid.

Does your life experience influence your work?

HX: Life experience is the foundation of literature, work and artistic creation; we draw inspiration from what we encounter in our life, whether it is joyous or tragic. To warrant a great result in a work of art, a quest for spiritual enrichment must form an all-inclusive framework during its creation. The value of the work is defined by the artist’s conscious and continuous effort for self-transcendence in the pursuit of enlightenment. I personally like to put my effort in the pursuit of understanding and making connections between the mundane and the eternal life of the universe. It is my hope that this effort is reflected and recognized in my work.

Isadora Duncan HXiang WRock2

WR: Life experience is part of what informs the work. I feel there are aspects of creativity where there is a sense of the work having chosen the artist. If an artist’s life experiences have lead to wisdom and if he or she is able to get out of the way of the flow, the more the art seems to be created by something much greater than an individual. There actually becomes a realization that there is not an individual. Something universal and greater is creating the art. That’s why so many artists are drawn to Eastern practices because these subtle inner territories are addressed.

Martin Luther King2

You travel a lot. Where is the most beautiful place you have ever been?

HX: Italy, in terms of its rich cultural heritage and humanistic spirit, makes it to the top of the list. I have been to many places such as Taiwan, Japan, Sweden, Germany and Australia. They all have left beautiful pictures in my memory. I was stunned by nature’s incredible creations when facing the Grand Canyon and the Niagara Falls in the United States. I take Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as my second hometown because I was offered the freedom to write and a place to live as a writer-in-residence.

I look forward to discovering and visiting with new friends in Spain. We have signed with the Spanish art gallery Espai Cromatic. They will promote the Century Mountain Paintings and prints in Europe and Latin America. But perhaps the most beautiful place for me is in my heart and dreams. It is the special planet including my motherland China. The most beautiful place for a person seeking spiritual enlightenment is to be able to travel in the dream land made of poetry and art.

WR: The Rock of Gibraltar. You could see Spain and Africa at the same time.
Emily Dickinson  HXiang WRock2

You are an international duo, do you think this helps creativity?

HX: We communicate with and through our art. The world needs communication; we need to engage each other to gain and enhance mutual understanding and respect. Any new ideas and implementation in artistic creation should be encouraged and applauded. What William Rock and I create is something that has not been done before. I believe we are facing a new era, interactions between artists and cultures will continue to be the movement for the future.

WR: We do not speak the same verbal language. I do feel very creative working with Huang Xiang because everything happens in the moment. The nature of calligraphy is spontaneity. The art we do is very spontaneous.

Mozart HXiang WRock2

You’ve painted the portraits of such remarkable people as Federico Garcia Lorca, Van Gogh, Jack Kerouac, Einstein, Mozart, Frida Kahlo and many more. How do you think these people have changed the way we look at the world today?

HX: The culture we share today is tainted by flashy interest, fickle taste and transitory satisfaction. Spiritual development is hardly recognized. However, the humanistic values accumulated over the history of civilization are relatively consistent and universal. The prerequisite for our creative success and survival depends on a recognition and appreciation of what our cultural ancestors have left. Through a transmission and utilization of our cultural heritage, humanity will progress and be enriched.

WR: I feel we all have the potential to contribute to humanity. The people we paint manifested some aspect of their potential and contributed. We can learn from them, they are still teaching us. Thoreau inspired Gandhi who inspired Martin Luther King. There is an ongoing dialogue outside of conventional time. It is very subtle and we can listen when we do so with wisdom.

Nietzsche HXiang WRock2

Which artist do you admire the most?

HX: I loved Vincent Van Gogh and Isadora Duncan when I was a youngster. Their free spirits, restless and ardent pursuit of art, as well as defiant views and actions toward authority somehow resembled my traits of personality. I still adore them dearly today but with a deeper sense of appreciation and understanding that comes from the Eastern philosophical point of view.

WR: I don’t tend to think in terms of favorites. I think inspiration can come from many sources when we know how to cultivate awareness.

Are there other artists you would like to collaborate with?

HX: I like to keep my options open.

WR: I would like to form a world arts collaborative. Artists and poets from different cultures collaborating in meaningful ways.

Vincent van Gogh HXiang WRock2

Is there something (in your professional life) that you haven’t done yet, something that you would like to accomplish in the near future?

HX: It’s a secret. But from your question I can tell you are eager to find out what lies ahead for me. That’s great. Maria, we are bound to be friends.

WR: I would like to see these paintings go on tour and I would like to see dialogues surrounding the art. Dialogue engaging solution and possibility and dialogue embracing collaboration and cross cultural understanding.

Gandhi HXiang WRock2

What do you think tomorrow will be like?

HX: Eastern and Western cultures are in a stage of transformation and connection.

WR: Tomorrow is another day. Thank you Maria for the interview and thanks to Public Republic for its role in promoting cross cultural understanding.

Lao Tzu2

Related posts ↓

9 comments so far ↓

  • Nobody has commented yet. Be the first!