Born in Changsha, Hunan, in 1942, Gu Gan is now internationally recognized as a key pioneer of the modernist movement in calligraphic painting on the mainland. Gu studied traditional Chinese painting at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, and turned to calligraphy during the chaotic years of the 1960s.
He was not able to resume his study of painting until 1975, when he was appointed as art editor of the People's Literature Publishing House. Interested in modern art, especially the early-20th-century innovators Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Joan Miró, Gu Gan started to experiment with radical approaches to calligraphy at the China National Art Museum in Beijing in 1985, which earned him the position of chairman of the Society of Modern Calligraphy and Painting. In most of his works, Gu Gan combines traditional Chinese characters, particularly those having archaic and pictographic formulation, with abstract painting.
He has created a new pictorial language that reverses the traditional relationship between calligraphic form and content, and his writings and lectures have had an important impact on the development of a modernist calligraphy.