曾雍甯的作品更多是充滿著動感，有的是規律的律動，有的是不安的噪動，好像是要蓄勢待發的動能，或是生生不息的生長力，如《 花彩搖曳01》、《 花彩搖曳02》、《 花彩搖曳03》、《綻放64》、《綻放65》等，有一些三角形很像是植物的葉子，三角形充滿張力，富有動感，也使得以圓形為主的畫面產生更多變化。
Starting from Tzeng Yong-ning’s Gold Foil
by Elaine Suyu Liu
Tzeng Yong-ning considers himself as a “barbarian,” because the environment he grew up in, was either the countryside, in mountains or by the sea. Due to his childhood interest in art and the encouragement of his father, who was an amateur photographer, Tzeng spent a great deal of time in nature, sketching, taking photographs, and ultimately leaving a large portfolio of botanical illustrations, all of which later served as inspiration for his art. His first solo exhibition came to be titled Barbarian Garden.
Barbarian Garden was a testament to Tzeng Yong-ning’s childhood experience with nature and art. Subsequently, the exhibition opened the doors to Taipei National University of the Arts (TNUA), when Tzeng bid farewell to over five years of independent study in his hometown of Lukang.
Attending TNUA in 2005 was a turning point for Tzeng Yong-ning. The “barbarian’ from central Taiwan faced a metropolitan city drastically different from the small town he knew so well. Fortunately, campus life was not too complicated. The real challenge was art, in learning and creation. In terms of selecting media, while oil, acrylic, watercolor, and Chinese ink were the staples at the University, Tzeng Yong-ning chose the “unprofessional” ball-point pen. Prior to his enrollment to TNUA, Tzeng had already worked with ball-point pen for several years, but if he continued with ball-point pen, why bother with university at all? Even if he wanted to pursue higher learning at university, he faced challenges different than students with conventional training, because there were no instructors who specialized in ball-point pen. The path he chose was one never chosen before. In terms of the media of ball-point pen itself, there are many technical limitations, whereas oil or acrylic paint can easily spread, blend, layer, and manipulate in general. Also, in comparison with watercolor or Chinese ink, the pen was not spontaneous and did not respond favorably to water. Each of these limitations Tzeng had to overcome and develop his own method of painting in response to convention media. Fortunately, TNUA was open to new ideas and encouraged students to explore freely. At the time, new media and experimentation was emerging in the art world, and Tzeng received the attention of faculty members and critics including Chu Teh-i, Ava Hsueh, and Lai Chi-man. During the installation of Barbarian Garden, Lai even picked out a piece and became Tzeng’s first collector.
In both 2004 and 2005, Tzeng Yong-ning was nominated for the Taipei Art Award, and in 2006, he won the Li Chong-sheng Foudnation’s Visual Art Award, thereby becoming the youngest receipt in the Award’s history. He enjoyed even more recognition in 2008, when he received the Taiwan Award by the Asian Cultural Council, and its sponsorship for a travel and study program to China and Japan for several months. Since then, Tzeng has been invited to various group exhibitions, art fairs, and solo shows by commercial galleries, and has been well on his way in becoming a full-time artist. Also, much to the relief of his supportive parents, his was gaining popularity in the art market.
Since the validation of Barbarian Garden by the art world, Tzeng Yong-ning has produced new works every year, as well as developed several different series, and has essentially made his presence as an emerging young artist. In addition to sheer physical audacity, his art is a testament of his creative spirit. Working with ball-point pen is highly labour-intensive. There are no shortcuts, and no energy can be spared. Inside his studio, lies countless empty pen cartridges: an extraordinary sight. Furthermore, on the paper of his work, tens of millions of lines, build and overlap in complex images, filling the entire composition, in which each and every line represents the daily labour of the artist.
However, the real challenge to the labour is in form and content. In his mastery of the ball-point pen, Tzeng Yong-ning starts with fundamental elements. Starting with individual dots and lines, and progressing with intense repetition, dots and lines accumulate to shapes and planes, like cells reprocessing itself to create larger and more complex cells in an endless process. His works are not narratives, and are often simply titled Flower or Garden. With added complex geometric patterns, there is great tension between the figurative and abstract elements. He goes as far as to abandon the flower’s imagery and colors, to sketch compositions exclusively with lines. The trace or imprint of the ball-point on the paper reflects his strong artistic will.
Tzeng Yong-ning’s relationship with the ball-point pen continues to grow and develop.This year in 2019 his newest series, Flowers, featuring the addition of gold-foil reflects his spirit as an alchemist, in a never ending search for truth in art. The first work in the gold-foil series was debuted at the Glowing Nature exhibition this year at the Changhua Art Museum. Although it was not the largest piece in the exhibition, it received a great deal of attention. The circle is essentially a trademark in Tzeng Yong-ning’s work, but one with a diameter of over one and a half meters is brand new. Set in an encompassing sea of gold-foil, the work immediately grasps the viewer’s attention. Within the large circle are countless smaller circles of various colors, styles, and patterns. Each of the smaller circles interact and correspond with one another, in a sense of movement, in a image reminiscent of a mandala. In terms of the gold-foil that surrounds the large circle, the metallic shine is not only visually striking, but also sets an solemn and divine atmosphere. With the entire work framed by a deep purple wall, a further mysterious atmosphere is created, in a quasi-religious manner.
The term mandala is Sanskrit in origin meaning a divine circle, center or gathering, and is a geometric configuration of symbols that traces its origin to Hinduism and Buddhism with profound meaning. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) believes that the mandala is a prototype of human collective subconsciousness, and that when one draws a mandala, one reflects the current state of mind as a form of art therapy.
This present exhibition is centered around three gold-foil works, also reminiscent of the image of mandalas. While Tzeng Yong-ning’s approach to art is fundamentally different than that of mandala painting, the visual imagery of a circle encompassed in gold is spiritually engaging. The shape of the circle is embedded in human history. A child picking up a pen instinctively draws circles, and individuals tend to gather in circles, the only shape that includes everyone equally. This preference for circles is found across different cultures. The ancient Greeks believed it was the most perfect shape, while the Chinese saw it as the most complete. Furthermore, from the prehistoric monument Stonehenge in England to the colosseum of ancient Rome, as well as the circular halos placed behind depictions of saints and deities in numerous religious traditions, the shape has also been associated with greatness and the divine. Circles are a key element in Tzeng Yong-ning’s art,. Found in nearly all of his works are circles of various sizes and patterns, symbolizing harmony, circulation, energy, and perfection.
Of course, other shapes are found in Tzeng Yong-ning’s art as well, but many are variations of the perfect shape, such as ovals or half circles. However, the circle is most prevalent and dominant. In the gold-foil Flower series, a large circle dominates the composition, and is in turn filled with countless smaller circles, of various patterns, colors, and sizes. Packed together tightly, there is a sense of unity and harmony, due to the fact that all the individuals are grouped together, in a comprehensive whole. Yet, each circle is lively and energetic, seemingly expanding outwards, floating upwards, or squeezing each other. Encompassed in a field of gold, the large circle embodies a solemn planet, sitting scared and elegant in the serenity of space.
Tzeng Yong-ning has shared many times that while at work, when he hears the soft sound created by the friction of the ball-point pen on the corse surface of the paper, his mind becomes at ease. Sometimes it reminds him of the sound of his mother sowing, that is the swaying sound of the peddle of a traditional sewing machine. It is a rhythm he is accustomed to and a source of comfort, similar to the effect of creating a mandala.
Gold-foil in an integral part of the Flower series. It is his masterpiece of the year. Applying the foil itself is also labour-intensive, as well as unforgiving in terms of mistakes. He had worked with the idea in his head for a long time, and had bought the foil in a temple in Kyoto, Japan, over five years ago, but the idea only came to fruition this year. Why gold foil? It too is related to his childhood and his hometown of Lukang. Having spent many childhood years, playing in and out of the many historic temples throughout the town, the architectural elements and iconography of the temples became integral to his understanding and appreciation for art and culture. During his trip to Kyoto, visiting temples was the most memorable. In addition to how the architectural space is conceived and functioned, he was most impressed by the abundance use of gold. Symbolizing dignity and divinity, and color gold is commonly found throughout temples, and was an element Tzeng Yong-ning recognized since childhood. He also found the use of gold-foil in Kyoto more elegant and brilliantly applied than the temples in Taiwan, and there he decided to purchase some for future use, despite the costly nature of the material.
Tzeng Yong-ning prefers bright colors, such as the yellow often found in his works, which brighten up his compositions. Gold is essentially a brighter and shinier shade of yellow. The color gold directly alludes to the material gold, which represents power and wealth. Throughout history, gold is commonly used in works of art, such as in portraits of nobility, or the religious iconography of the Medieval Period. During the Renaissance, the Three Graces in Sandro Botticelli’s (1445 – 1510) Primavera are adorned with flowing golden locks, while Titian (1490 – 1576) was celebrated for his mastery of color, especially for his preference for the divine color. Closer to modern times, Austrian Symbolist Gustive Klimt adopted the gold as the primary color in his art, with the result being highly decorative and strongly mysterious. In addition to just the color, Klimt applied gold foil to his paintings, furthering the visual effect of the color. Klimt also employed the use of various geometric shapes and patterns, such as swirls and circles, to create a striking and pleasing image. The same use of shapes and patterns is found in Tzeng Yong-ning’s work, and with the further incorporation of gold-foil, similarities between Tzeng and Klimt become increasingly abundant, especially the sense of romanticism, aura of divine mystery, and artistic passion.
Tzeng Yong-ning’s works are filled with the sense of movement. Some are patterned rhythms, while others are wholly dynamic, filed with momentum and life. In Flower 070101, Flower 070102, Flower 070103, Bloom 64, and Bloom 65 some triangles appear similar to the leaves of plants, and their repetition simulates organic growth. Their presence also provides variation and contrast to the predominances of circles.
In recent years, Tzeng Yong-ning has become increasing proficient in the use of geometric shapes. Such use engages the composition, heightens the sense of depth and three-dimensionality, and thereby challenges the limitations of the ball-point pen. Furthermore, the shapes are not represented with simple lines, but with planes of colors. In the exchange of colors, circles overlap and interact with various shapes, seemingly organically and full of rhythm. As there is a certain order or pattern to the arrangement or progression of shapes, the composition does not descend into chaos, which is often a challenge faced by the artist, to be overcome with vision and perseverance.
Despite the success of the Barbarian Garden and the secure foothold it created, Tzeng Yong-ning never dared to slow down in his art. From theme to content, from composition to size, as well as the complexity of each image and the constant renewal of his will to create art, he has the spirit of an alchemist. The goal of alchemy is not to create gold, but to create the purest substance, and to find the truth within, that is the ultimate pursuit in Tzeng Yong-ning’s art.
A Song of Water and Fire
Liu Kuo-sung’s Water-Rubbing
Xue Song’s Burnt Collage
by Elaine Suyu Liu
Painting with water and fire, in both historical and modern times, is a challenge in media. The founder of the Fifth’s Moon Painting Group, Liu Kuo-sung, who advocated “revolution against the brush,” began experimenting with the technique of “Water-Rubbing” since the 1970s. Liu’s pioneered technique involves dripping ink into water, then adding turpentine to manipulate the flow of the ink in the water, and finally placing paper onto the water’s surface to capture a “rubbing” of the ink’s pattern.
Liu Kuo-sung said: “I am most pleased with the Water-Rubbing series. In terms of ratio, it is more spontaneous, and less artificial.” Liu believes that too much artifice will lead to rigidness, and only spontaneity will allow for true liveliness.
Water-Rubbing essentially captures and records the endless possibilities of how ink flows through and mixes with water, and therefore provides Liu with endless inspiration. While Liu Kuo-sung’s Space series requires a planned general composition prior to execution, the Water-Rubbing series truly illustrates his belief of simply going with the flow, or painting with total spontaneity. High Tide of Qiantang River of 1974 is a great early example of the series, where the entirety of the background was created with “Water-Rubbing,” and only adored with additional collage pieces such as the moon and mountains. In Flowing Mountain Peaks of 1976, the naturally rising and sloping lines of “Water-Rubbing” alone comprise the peaks of valleys of the formal composition. In Water and Cloud Share the Same Source of 1977, the natural and delicate lines of “Water-Rubbing” surpasses any depiction done by the brush. In White Snow is White of 1982, the effects of “Water-Rubbing” brilliantly mimics the clarity and radiance of fresh snow, and is given depth with light washes of fine ink. Mountain Light Blown Into Winkles of 1985 utilizes “Water-Rubbing” to create the grain patterns of the mountain, with further layers of ink added on that natural foundation. With the “Water-Rubbing” technique, Liu Kuo-sung abandoned the conventional use of the brush and earned the title of “The Father of Modern Ink Painting” in both Taiwan and Mainland China.
The practice of painting with fire in China can be traced back to the Qin and Han Dynasties, and is still prevalent today in the region around the ancient capital of Xi’an. In the Western tradition, Modernist such as Yves Klein, have experimented with the element, and have achieved an unique visuality far beyond any likeness of the brush. Chinese Contemporary artists have also emerged on the international spotlight by playing with fire, such as Cai Guoqiang with his explosives and fireworks, and Xue Song with his collages of brunt and charred images.
The origin of Xue Song’s brunt collage is quite dramatic. Having had two fires break out in his studio in the 90s, a distressed Xue found inspiration from ashes left by the destruction. The nature of fire is to consume and destroy, fueling both fear and a strange satisfaction. Xue’s burnt images are branded with a new visuality, and also given new meaning through rearrangement as collages pieces on the canvas. In turn, the process of destruction and reconstruction, and symbolic death and rebirth, creates a new artistic vocabulary.
Another major feature of Xue Song’s art is his integration of traditional Chinese painting motifs, especially his fondness and knowledge of calligraphy and landscape paintings. Whether his composition adopts the appearance of a Classical Chinese landscape or canonical calligraphy, or features brunt images of the genre within the artwork, Xue Song’s art is filled with the spirit of traditional ink painting, in which innovation is derived from tradition, and new media of born out of conventional ready-made materials.
西洋的風景畫直到十七世紀融入了豐富的個人感情而引起世人驚嘆，如義大利的羅倫(Claude Lorrain, 1600-1682)、 荷蘭的路斯達爾(Jacob van Ruisdael, 1628-1682)，英國藝術史學家宮布利希(E. H. Gombrich, 1909-2001)認為路斯達爾：「發現了北方風景的詩意，就如同羅倫之發現義大利景致裡的詩意，也許在他之前，沒有一個藝術家能像他一樣，在畫筆所反映的自然裡表現這麼多的個人感受與情懷。」[i]
同樣是以風景為主題的郭凱，也總是依靠直覺進行感性地繪製具有詩意的畫作，他主張「自覺的風景」，自謂「自覺才能自省，自省豐富玄想的感知，滋養心靈的風景」。[ii]他反覆思索當代美國攝影家法蘭克(Robert Frank)所說: 「我總是嘗試著從外表看到內部的東西，我試圖講出那真實的東西。但也許，除了那些外在的東西，並沒有什麼真正的真實；而那些外在的東西，正飛快的改變著…。」作品其實就是內在世界的投射，這與郭凱的創作理念「重要的不是風景，而是內心的景象」不謀而合。
郭凱雖然研讀的是西畫，甚至為了畫藝精進，遠赴巴黎訪學，但血液裡畢竟被源遠流長的徽州文化所浸潤，對於故里的青山綠水、花草樹木都有深情，至於被歲月與文化洗禮的古宅、祠堂更是迷戀，他用畫筆一再地呈現這種情懷，村落前的石牌坊、莊嚴大氣的祠堂，他用各種形式反覆呈現，如《徽州印象No. 1》、《氤氳古坊》是從遠處視角入畫，畫出了牌坊矗立在低矮的民宅之中，顯現高大雄偉的氣勢；而《徽州No. 2》、《古祠春意》則單純描繪牌坊的正面，把巨大方正的牌坊放在畫面的正中心，但是畫面卻不流於呆板，因為郭凱注入了許多迷人的元素，而顯得很有看頭，如《徽州No. 2》構圖嚴謹而複雜，畫中有畫，繁複的建築圖案簡化為各種幾何形層疊交錯，而古老牆面的錯落斑駁也以大大小小的方塊，表現歲月的滄桑；《古祠春意》也採用許多獨特的技法，如在畫布上刮、塗、揉、抹、擦等，畫面上的肌理變得層次豐富，表現出光陰摧殘的痕跡，又有一種朦朧之美。古祠前方有橫空而出的繽紛枝葉，點點滴滴的桃紅與翠綠，就把春天的生機盎然呈現無遺。
“I believe a painting should be like a poem, a song, or a beautiful prose. That is why painting a painting should be like writing a poem, singing a song, or writing a piece of prose.” – Fu Baoshi (1904 – 1965).
The first impression given by Guo Kai’s paintings is like that of a poem, a song, or a beautiful piece of prose. Poetry in painting has always been an integral part of classical Chinese painting, and Guo Kai’s paintings are particularly poetic. Plain and unadorned titles, such as Spring Stream, Winter Water, Reflection of the Bridge, or Quiet Pavilion, paired with his paintings become pieces of silent poetry. Not to mention the more classical titles, such as Early Spring Rain, Autumn Mountain Peak,Snowfall in Secluded Valley, or Empty Mountain Spring, which resonate strongly with the poetry of the Tang (618 – 907) and Song (1127 – 1279) Dynasties.
Landscape painting in the Western tradition was not embedded with strong poetic and personal emotion until the Seventeenth Century, with artists Claude Lorrain (1600 – 1682) and Jacob van Ruisdael (1628 – 1682). The art historian E. H. Gombrich said, “…it was [Jacob van Ruisdael] who discovered the poetry of northern landscape as much as Claude discovered the poetry of Italian scenery. Perhaps no artist before him had contrived to express so much of his own feelings and moods through their reflection in nature.”
Jacob van Ruisdael was praised by the writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe(1749 -1832) as a poet among painters. The subject matter of van Ruisdael’s paintings was almost exclusively landscapes, ranging from pastoral to marine. Unlike other Dutch painters of the period, van Ruisdael did not depict the scenery realistically as it appeared, but instead rearranged the compositional structures such as trees, clouds, and natural light as he saw fit, especially in his depictions of the sky.
Guo Kai, whose subject matter is also landscape, also draws upon personal emotion and intuition for his poetic images. Guo aims to maintain a “conscious landscape,” which he describes as “conscious and thus introspective, introspective and fanatic perceptions nourish the mind’s landscape.”He repeatedly reflects on a quote by the contemporary photographer Robert Frank (b. 1924): “I am always on the outside, trying to look inside, trying to say something that is true. But maybe nothing is really true. Except what’s out there. And what’s out there is constantly changing.” An artwork is a projection of the artist’s inner world, and this coincides with Guo Kai’s artist statement: “what is important is not the landscape, but the image in one’s mind.”
Like for Jacob van Ruisdael, the sky and clouds also play important roles in Guo Kai’s compositions, often to the point of dominating over half of the image. In Snow & Mist, Purple Cloud, and Autumn Mist, the sky’s large ratio over the land creates a distant field of vision, poetically rendering the scenery grand and vast. Han Zhou (c. 1094 – ?) of the Song Dynasty wrote in his treatise on landscape painting: “the essence of mountains and rivers [i.e. the landscape] lies in the clouds.” The role of clouds in Chinese landscape paintings is not only a pictorial device for negative space, but also for the sense of movement. In comparison to stationary elements such as rocks and trees, clouds are uniquely dynamic and constantly changing, and with correct use bring the painting to life.
In contrast with the physical elements within a landscape, other elements that share the same semi-physical qualities as sky and clouds are mist and rain, which play important roles in Guo Kai’s paintings. Mist and rain gives Guo’s images an atmospheric sense of vastness and obscurity, which is reminiscent of the Taoist (Daoist) concept of Yin and Yang, and the balance between the physical with the non-physical. In order to represent the non-physical, Guo Kai developed an unique set of painting techniques specifically designed for this aesthetic, such as light muted colors, controlled and highly-articulated brushwork, the use of a very dry brush, wiping excess paint off the canvas, or allowing the paint to run freely down the canvas. From this idiosyncratic oeuvre of personal techniques, Guo Kai transmits the essence of traditional Chinese landscape painting in an aesthetic that is poetic and distinctly his own.
“The place of a life time, the dream of Huizhou.” Southern Anhui province, known in the past as the ancient state of Huizhou, is rich in historic buildings from the Ming (1368 – 1644) and Qing (1644 – 1911) Dynasties, as well as beautiful natural scenery, from which Guo Kai draws inexhaustible inspiration. Guo often travels to the countryside of southern Anhui to sketch from life, either with students or by himself. Going for weeks at a time, he has maintained this practice for over twenty years, and has set foot in every corner of the countryside, in every season, through rain and snow. In addition to sketching, he also takes photographs to capture the moment for further inspiration back in his studio.
However, Guo Kai’s paintings are not realistic representations of the scenery, as he is far more interested in representing the conception of the scenery and what it conveys. In his works, the classic features of Huizhou, dark ceramic tiles and whitewashed walls, ancient temples and pagodas, or bridges and canals, are faithfully captured but deliberately reconstructed. Some compositions are simply the artist’s own imagination. Take for example, the village in the recent Misty Remote Village; the line of houses is a reconstruction of several structures from different photographs. Guo Kai values “intuition, such that intuition activates an authentic understanding and self.” He believes, “only through self-understanding can truth be expressed in painting.” This notion coincides with the ancient Chinese belief of painting from the heart, rather than the eye. However, Guo Kai does not abandon painting what he sees, and therefore his works appear seemingly realistic and yet surreal at the same time. In fact, the appeal of Guo’s works, besides to his heightened sense of aesthetics, is his unity of emotion and scenery, which in turn is a revelation of his outlook on life, in terms of nature, human life, and philosophy.
The use of high perspective overlooking a distance in certain works is a projection of Guo Kai’s grand outlook on nature and life. In works such as Pale Shadows of Floating Clouds I, Pale Shadows of Floating Clouds II, and First Snow Over the Ridge, the foreground and mid-ground is placed uniquely low, thereby raising the vantage point. The natural landscape and historic architecture is blended together in the distance, where black ceramic tiles and whitewalls walls are nestled between stretches of green fields and a backdrop of a rising mountains. By placing the viewer on a high vantage point overlooking the landscape from afar, Guo creates a vision of a distant utopia, seemingly accessible to the viewer.
Guo Kai also makes use of long horizontal compositions. By structuring the composition on an expanded horizon, a panoramic sense of openness is created. Buildings of various heights are lined on the horizontal axis and set in front of densely packed trees, bobbing up on down across the axis. The undulating lines of buildings and trees are in turned echoed by the mountain ranges in the background, forming a visual rhythmic pattern in which every element is in perfect harmony. In order to further illustrate the sense of expansiveness, he often splits the composition onto two canvases. The visual advantage of a diptych is the sense of expansion created by the composition’s continuation from one canvas to another, as seen in Autumn Mistand Autumn Estate, in which the field of vision covering buildings and fields seem unbound and endless.
Where the Yangtze River cuts across southern Anhui, the land is ridden with rivers, waterways, and bridges. Traditional houses are often built right on the edge of the river, in a picturesque fashion. Guo Kai is particularly interested in the reflections in the water. In long horizontal compositions, he often reserves half of the image for the water’s reflection alone. In Autumn Reflection, Tranquil Landscape No. 2, Colors in Shadows, and Dream of Huizhou, more emphasis is placed on the water’s reflection than the scenery above, demonstrating Guo Kai’s interest in the water’s wavy and dreamy projection of the world, rather than the actual world itself.
Although Guo Kai’s field of study has always been Western painting, for which he went to Paris to perfect, his roots lie deep in the land of Huizhou, where the history and culture stretches back thousands of years. His identification with his homeland, his love for the native flowers and trees, his knowledge of the historical architecture are all recorded by his brush and canvas. Local icons such as monumental gateways or grand ancestral halls are repeatedly portrayed in his paintings. In Impression of Huizhou No. 1and Ancient Square, the subject is represented from a distance, in which the monumental gateway stands out and dominates the composition, thereby symbolizing its social role in the village. On the other hand, in Huizhou No. 2and Ancestral Temple in Spring, the building’s facades are directly presented in two-dimension. However, Guo Kai infuses the seemingly simple image with other painterly elements. In Huizhou No. 2, the composition is a complex deconstruction and reconstruction of various architectural details, symbolizing the building’s growth and decay over hundreds of years. Ancestral Temple in Springdemonstrates several of Guo Kai’s painting techniques, especially the technique of wiping paint off the surface of the canvas, while allowing a remainder of paint in the fine creases of the canvas. This creates a weathered look, which perfectly resembles the patina on an antique wall. In contrast with the aged building, bright colors and flowing lines of flowers and vines are added to the facade, thereby livening the composition.
Elegant colors are major features in the art of Guo Kai, in which the neutral color gray is a prominent theme. However, in the past three years, his overall gray-toned images are starting to show hints of bright colors, such as Colors in Shadows, White Bridge No. 2, and Autumn Estate. Despite the brighter palette, the painted image remains soft and elegant, due to his restraint in the use and placement of these colors, never in large clumps, and always neutralized by softer tones. More importantly, Guo Kai is particular in mixing the perfect tone before applying it to the canvas, and never allows paint to mix while on the canvas. Despite the use of thin paint, Guo’s paintings are far from being without surface texture. His textures are usually created by altering the paint after it has been applied, with different utensils, including a painting knife or paper towels. By removing paint rather than adding it on, the texture of his paintings recalls his restraint and control with color, as well as his general less-is-more approach and philosophy to painting.
Also in recent years, Guo Kai has devoted himself in studying the medium of tempera, which requires mixing powdered color pigments into egg yolk, the binding agent for the pigments. Tempera allows the image to become more transparent and smooth, as paint itself is more translucent compared to oil paint, and therefore reflects light in a soft and silky manner. Guo Kai’s extensive study of the medium has allowed him mastery over the technique, as well as innovations in his art. He believes painting technique itself can become a subject matter, and the advancement in technique elevates the subject. Ultimately, his art speaks for itself, and always captures the viewer’s attention in wondering how it was painted, which has always been a personal goal of his.
Guo Kai often finds himself lingering in historic buildings and ancestral halls. He feels that the former inhabitants of the buildings are not distant from him, and can imagine the tales of the great families or the precepts of the ancestors being handed down to him. Although most of the historic buildings of Huizhou have stood there for three to five hundred years, compared to the long length of Chinese history, which traces back over four thousand years, the buildings are relatively recent and close to our times. This understanding of time is alarmingly close to mysticism, but Guo Kai does not delve into it. In any case, the ancient and bygone have always attracted him, and his photograph studies of patina on the antique walls number to the hundreds. In the past two years, his journey through ancient China has taken him pass the Ming and Qing dynasties, into the golden age of Chinese painting during the Song and Yuan (1271 – 1368), and the spirit of past masters are born again in his recent works. In Mist & Pine, Snow Over Autumn Peak, Blue Mountain, andEmpty Mountain Spring, one can sense elegant and enigmatic nature of ancient paintings reemerging on Guo Kai’s canvases and brought back to life by the touch of his brush, like a faraway breeze gently carrying the spirit of the Song and Yuan dynasties.
 Ink Asia是國際第一個以水墨畫為主題的藝術博覽會，每年年底在香港會議展覽中心舉行，今年突破傳統水墨畫的定義，將富有水墨精神的作品納入，媒材不拘一格，特別邀請薛松舉行個展。
 明代文學家屠隆《考槃餘事》墨箋一節曰: 「余嘗謂松煙墨深重而不姿媚，油煙墨姿媚而不深重。」
Pine, Smoke, Ink – the Art of Xue Song
Pine smoke ink, famous throughout China, is a type of precious inkstick made from pine soot, or the deposition of smoke particles from burning pinewood. Xue Song, who is named after the great pines (song in Chinese) of Yellow Mountain, begins his collages by burning printed images, in which the ashes are collected and mixed into his paint; this artistic practice and synthetic medium can be regarded as a new Pine, Smoke, Ink.
Since the late 1990s, Xue Song has made extensive use of traditional Chinese calligraphy and painting, either as ready-made images for his burnt collage, or as classical themes to be reinvented in a contemporary context. Although his practice is derived from Pop Art, it carries a profound sense of Chinese culture and the spirit of ink painting. The artistic practice of Pine, Smoke, Ink opens a new chapter in genre of Modern Ink.
The Chinese revere the pine tree. The pine’s weathered bark and twisting trunk has captured the imagination of painters and poets for ages. In terms of symbolism and aesthetic, the pine has formed a classic genre. The pine trees of Yellow Mountain are famous throughout China, particularly the Welcoming Pine. Bore out of a rock and perched on a cliffside, the tree is not only a landmark of the local province of Anhui, but also a favorite subject for generations of painters.
In 1965, Xue Song was born in the northernmost county in Anhui Province, Dangshan. Known for its cultivation of pears, a tradition tracing back two millennia, the county has been crowned the “Pear Capital of China.” Although Xue Song was born in the prosperous Pearl Capital, his birth was during a turbulent time, for both his country and his family. His father Xue Huanzhou named him Song, meaning “Pine” in Chinese, after the Marshal Chen Yi’s (1901 – 1972) poem, Green Pine:
Snow weighs heavy on the green pine,
The green pine stands stiff and straight.
To know the pine’s height and purity,
Wait until the snow melts.
Chen Yi wrote Green Pine during a great snowstorm in the winter of 1961, a time in which the country was mounting with internal strive and foreign pressure. Borrowing the imagery of the snowstorm, Chen wrote of a pine tree standing in defiance against the harshness of the winter snow, as an allusion or reminder to himself to be brave in face of adversity. At the time of Xue Song’ birth, his family was also faced with hardship. His father was originally the music teacher of Dangshan First Junior High School, where his mother was the principle. But caught in the chaos of the Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976), his mother was met with repeated political persecution. When Xue Song reached the age of three, due to the constant torment and suppression, her spirit finally collapsed, and she died of gastric cancer. Xue Song’s father was also regularly persecuted, and frequently jailed in a cow pen. After his mother passed away, Xue Song’s father could no longer support him and his four siblings, so his father was forced to send the childern away to their relatives. Xue Song’s two sisters and second elder brother was sent to the countryside with their grandparents, while he and his eldest brother was sent elsewhere in the countryside with an uncle.
Xue Song’s childhood experience was as harsh as a snowstorm, and his mother’s early death has always been an unceasing pain in his life. Even so, Xue Song’s personality became what his fathered had hoped for, “stiff and straight.” What his strict father did not expect, however; was the optimistic and cheerful side of his personality. Although life in the countryside was difficult, there Xue Song felt free and happy. Everyday was spent playing outside with other children. He rarely studied and knew only how to fish and catch shrimp. By the second grade, he did not even know pinyin (Chinese alphabet), and so his father brought him back to the county.
Xue Song was not only “stiff and straight” from an early age, but also stubborn and unyielding. His father wished for him to learn music, but he was only interested in painting. For this, his father beat him on more than one occasion, but Xue Song’s mind was already set. Since elementary school, he spent all of his time drawing, and in junior high school, he often cut class to draw. For two whole years, he spent in his elder brother’s friend’s spare room at the local university, drawing away furiously.
“Everyday was painting. The winter was very cold, and the windows were all broken, which let the cold air in. After I was finished drawing, I would burn the paper to keep warm. …My foundation in sketching was laid during those two years.”
The painter Pan Tianshou (1897 – 1971) once said, “As an artist one must “be audacious and attentive, and plan for the long-term; the problem is the lack of perseverance.” Having embarked on the path of painting, Xue Song must indeed have audacity and an attentive nature, but more importantly, an unyielding perseverance. Xue Song often imitated paintings from albums of past masters, and so he passed the entry examinations for fine arts with ease. But the humanities requirements always held him back. Only after three years since his high school graduation was he finally enrolled in the stage design department at the Shanghai Theatre Academy; he was already twenty years old.
Having read the Adventures of Sanmao comics as a child, and filled with imagination about Shanghai, Xue Song’s move to the modern metropolis was like a duck takes to the water. Comparable to Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (2001), Xue’s courage, imagination, and creativity, as well as the free, easygoing, and adventurous side of his personality was finally allowed to roam free in the new city, and what he detested about the social stigmas of the past were completely left behind. Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s was the forefront of Modern Art in China, and since the economic reforms of the 1980s, the city has been began to surpass its former glory. Arriving in Shanghai in 1985, Xue Song ushered in the new era. At the Shanghai Theatre Academy, his instructor Chen Junde said to him, “Facing the canvas, you are your own God.” For Xue Song, this was awakening and enlightening, and gave him a strong sense of self-confidence to find his place in the world of art.
Intentionally or otherwise, pine trees often appear in Xue Song’s works. This is partially due to the predominance of the pine tree as a genre in traditional Chinese painting. But it may also be due to Xue Song’s subconscious identification with his namesake tree. As early as 1996, he painted Welcoming Pine, and twenty years later, Yellow Mountain Pine was painted. Both works feature a large pine tree lodged on a Yellow Mountain peak, and both break the conventional composition of traditional Chinese painting, by placing the subject directly in the center. Yellow Mountain Pine of 2016 even places the background mountains at the bottom of the composition, thereby elevating the presence of the tree in a striking manner. The imagery is reminiscent of the first verse of Li Shangyin’s (c. 813 – 858) poem, Lofty Pine:
The lofty pine rises above the woods,
Accompanying me toward the horizon.
Although Xue Song left home in his youth to pursue contemporary art, now in middle age, he retraces his steps time and time again.
Smoke and Xue Song share an unbreakable bond. He has a cigarette in hand all day long, and the most prominent feature of his art is the burning of printed images, in which the burnt fragments are pasted onto the canvas as collage. Considering the amount of burnt images required to fill a canvas, his studio is usually ridden with smoke.
This year in 2017, Sweden’s leading air purifier company Blueair is entering the Chinese market, and has invited Xue Song to act as spokesperson and decorate the front panels of three air purifiers for a promotional video. In the video, Xue Song kept with the script and said that because he burned paper regularly, he is afraid of inhaling excessive fumes and is in particular need of air purifiers. When I was watching the video with him, upon hearing this line, I could not help myself but to say to him, “You are not afraid!”
Being afraid just is not Xue Song!
I wonder when Blueair chose Xue Song as their spokesperson, if they understood his relationship with smoke. Xue Song does indeed need air purifiers, but in terms of improving his health, quitting smoking might be a higher priority! As his friends all know, he not only has a taste for drinking, but also for cigarettes. Regardless of his addictions, the burning of printed images is at the very core of Xue Song’s art, something he cannot easily abandon.
In the careers of artists, it is not uncommon to find dramatic turning points, often known to the world as celebrated stories. The more exciting, unusual, or tragic, the more memorable it becomes. For example, Pablo Picasso’s surges of creativity often parallels the coming and going of women in his life. Vincent van Gogh’s self-mutilation of his ear is forever immortalized in his self-portrait. Liu Kuo-sung (b. 1932), the father of Modern Ink Painting, climbed Mount Everest in 2000, and upon his descend, due to the sudden change in air pressure, became deaf in one ear. But from the loss of hearing, Liu gained the inspiration for a new series, the renowned Tibetan Suites. Finally, what Xue Song is known for is how he found inspiration in the fiery ashes of his art.
Fires broke out in Xue Song’s studio twice; once at the end of 1990 and once more roughly six months later. The fires were devastating, especially the second one, which thoroughly destroyed what had survived from the first. But from the ashes lying on his studio floor, Xue Song was to build a new world.
Like the pine trees of Yellow Mountain, fire only fueled Xue Song’s transformation, as he discovered the visual impact, symbolism, and also gestural significance of the burnt images. For Xue, the fire was an accident, but it was not accidental. Had he not already experimented tirelessly with the medium of collage, or had he not sought to express themes of discontent and destruction, the fire could have broken out ten times more, and it would have been inconsequential to his art.
Opportunity comes to those who are prepared!
Following 1992, Xue Song began countless experiments with fire. At first, the experiments were more of a chaotic frenzy, and gradually they became more controlled and productive, as Xue shifted his attention and energy from the sensation of burning itself, to what he was burning and how. In his own words; he painted the target first, before he shot the arrow. Having set a target in mind, then begins the cutting, burning, and pasting of the printed images he collects.
Since the dawn of mankind, human beings have always had a loving and fearful complex with fire. The invention of fire sparked the human civilization, and fire has since been a symbol of power. In Greek Mythology, the titan Prometheus stole fire to give to mankind and thereby angered the god Zeus, who condemned him to eternal torment by bounding him to a rock and having an eagle feed on his liver, which would grow back only to be eaten again the next day. The first Emperor of China, Shihuangdi (c. 259 – 210 BCE) is infamous for burning heterodox books in his efforts to consolidate central power and unify thought. Fire is greatly destructive, but in its destruction, it allows for new life. By burning and partially destroying ready-made images, and reassembling the burnt fragments on the canvas in a different context, Xue Song’s artistic practice embodies destruction and rebirth and also deconstruction and reconstruction. Xue acknowledges, “When the paper is being burned, there is a special kind of satisfaction and excitement.”
Xu Gang once described Xue Song as “a man of few words, …cool and calm, not easily startled or surprised, [and] unwilling to chase after fame or wealth.” After becoming well-acquainted with Xue Song, I found Xu Gang’s description quite on point, especially when he pointed out that Xue Song’s birthplace of Dangshan is also the region the Daoist philosophers Laozi (c. 604 – 531 BCE) and Zhuangzi (c.369 – 286) are believed to have originated, and so his personality carries “the legacy of Laozi and Zhuangzi’s birthplace.” Although Xue Song does not deny such claims, he maintains that “being born in China proper is actually very suffocating; there are many traditional frameworks limiting you. He also lamented that, during his participation in the first Inner Mongolia Biennale this October, he felt the people beyond the Great Wall were frank and easygoing, just like the other Chinese ethnic minorities he has met, who have all been warm and high-spirited.
In his youth, Xue Song was a man of even fewer words, and in a crowd of people, he just kept to himself. Only after three rounds of drinks, does he begin to lighten up. Aside from drinking, smoking cigarettes is also an outlet for him. Perhaps the smoke from burning the images for his collage achieves the same effect.
The black ink on Xue Song’s canvases is not ordinary paint or Chinese ink, but is something his own creation – the ashes of incinerated images mixed together with acrylic paint, otherwise known as Pine, Smoke, Ink.
When Xue Song was attending the Shanghai Theatre Academy, the traditional Chinese painter instructor, Zhang Peizhu, believed he was skilled in drawing and the lines of sketches were lively. Zhang often gave him Chinese rice paper for him to try traditional ink painting, and so Xue Song’s relationship with ink painting began. However, at that time Xue Song was infatuated with Western and Modernist Art, and strongly detested all things conservative or traditional. Remarkably enough, he has kept with ink painting ever since. What is even more remarkable is his growing appreciation for traditional arts and culture as he grows older. As for this reversal, Xue Song was not aware of it at first, and only later realized this was his own culture coming forward.
In comparison with many other contemporary Chinese artists of the same generation, Xue Song has a deeper appreciation for traditional Chinese culture, and has drawn inspiration from it earlier. When he began his burnt collages in 1992, Xue chose many images of written calligraphy and calligraphy from stone rubbings, as seen in Metamorphosis and Hearts Together, in which the fusion of ancient characters with strange shapes strengthened the depth of the work. In 1996, he created his first landscape painting, simply titled Landscape. A hill is placed in the foreground and is surrounded by burnt fragments of calligraphy in the sky behind. The mountain in the mid-ground is composed of images of ancient Chinese paintings, while the central image is flanked on both sides by two long red banners with abstract lines representing calligraphy. In terms of formal composition, the central image is the centerpiece in traditional Chinese painting, and the flanking banners are the accompanying couplets of calligraphy.
This year in 2017, Xue Song is invited for a solo exhibition at the third annual Ink Asia art fair in Hong Kong. For the exhibition, Xue Song paired several landscape paintings with corresponding couplets in the manner of 1996’s Landscape. In terms of both form and style, the landscapes bare a closer resemblance to traditional Chinese painting, and because the couplets were created separately, they allow for a reinterpretation of the centerpieces, with the style of calligraphy, the additional colors, and the contents of the collage fragments. Xue Song’s latest works, Landscape and Ink, are even more ingenious; he uses the reproductions of paintings by the Ming Dynasty master, Wen Zhengming (1470 – 1559) from the National Palace Museum in Taipei, in which he cuts out silhouettes of the Chinese characters for “landscape” and “ink” (shanshui and shuimo), pastes them elsewhere on the painting, and then fills cutouts with images of calligraphy, thereby playing with the traditional notion of solid and void in Chinese painting. The lower right corner of the collages are impressed with his personal seal, bearing the words: “Made by Xue Song.” From traditional Chinese painting, Xue Song draws inspiration in the formats of framing and mounting, as well as the manner in which they are hung and presented. For a painting from 2016, Sailing Amongst Mountains, the characters “Out with the Old, In with the New” were added on top, strengthening the sense of tradition in the style of the Chinese literati, and also adding a form of self-commentary to his own artistic practice.
Calligraphy is a reoccurring motif in Xue Song’s art; not only as images in his collage, but also as its own series of paintings, the Calligraphy Imagery series. For large-scale exhibitions at the National Art Museum of China and the Xi’an Art Museum, he pieced together individual square canvases of 60 centimeters, each containing a single character, with the largest polyptych up to forty-eight squares. The series attracted a great deal of attention at the exhibitions and forty pieces were collected by the National Art Museum. Calligraphy Imagery demonstrates Xue Song’s understanding of the traditional aesthetics of calligraphy, in terms of the proportion in composition, the flow and direction of lines, and the speed and strength of execution. For each character, Xue selects only a portion of the character in order to remove meaning from the word, and to highlight the abstract beauty in Chinese calligraphy. What is also interesting is his use of vibrant colors in contrast to the conventional black in rendering calligraphy. The background colors are also equally diverse, both in compliment or in contrast with the character’s colors and contours. While the image is traditional, the use of colors is not, and is instead a feature of Pop Art. This series is strong in terms of visual impact, and a classic example of the blending of tradition and modernity, as well as and of Western and Eastern cultures.
Xue Song said, “The Landscape series is a kind of emotional compensation for my youth, or for something I lost in the past.” The meaning behind his Symbolic Landscape series is worthy of attention. In the earliest example from the series, X Landscape, the “X” was painted in black ink, and later on in the series, the color was changed to red, becoming even more visually striking. During the Cultural Revolution, the names of political target were written on so-called “Big Character Posters,” and crossed-out with a large “X.” By crossing-out the image of a traditional Chinese landscape, Xue Song hints at the rejection of traditional arts and culture. However, similar to many of the victims of the Cultural Revolution, who were in fact innocent intellectuals, traditional Chinese landscape painting was never without merit. In his rejection of the traditional genre during his youth, how complete or severe was Xue Song’s rejection? With a growing appreciation for the genre in middle age, Xue Song marks the landscape with a giant red “X” as a symbol of a broken age and as a scar of the past, with a sense of regret and remorse.
The 2005 triptych Symboled Landscape features not only a “X,” but also several stark red arrows, in which the symbolism becomes even richer. The arrows mark the general structural composition of traditional landscapes, as well as suggest the presence and intrusion of Western culture, or specifically Western art, in Chinese painting.
Chinese ink reserves a prominent position in Xue Song’s art. Unlike the traditional notion of “Five Shades of Ink,” Xue’s ink is solely black, which he finds most expressive. He has repeatedly borrowed images of the monk Hongren’s (1610 – 1663) landscape paintings, on one hand as a tribute to the master, but also because his landscapes are minimal in composition and his brushstrokes are simple and defined, which are well-suited for representation with Xue Song’s synthetic medium of ash and acrylic paint. However, the synthetic ink is less effective for representing the fluidity of conventional Chinese ink, because it is much denser and heavier. Xue Song actually prefers the heavy nature of his synthetic ink, because it creates a bold texture, which traditional ink cannot produce. The source of inspiration can be found in all of his works, and in terms of his landscapes, the inspiration is generally derived from famous paintings or styles of past masters, which are rearranged according to the needs of the given composition. He retains the outlines of the formal composition, but the areas interior and exterior of the outlines are filled with burnt fragments of other images, some of which are interrelating, while others are conflicting. The fragments are its own medium in addition to ink or paint, and relationship between the fragments and the overall image can be more effective in expression in comparison to conventional painting.
Xue Song also pursues the effect of commercial advertisement in his paintings, to attract attention in the most simple and direct way. He often divides his images in large solid colors, in which black ink appears even bolder, effecting outlining the image. The Adventures of Sanmao and Feng Zikai are frequently featured in Xue Song’s works. The reason behind the choice of these images is due to Xue Song’s interest in comic books as a child, and during the SARS outbreak of 2003, Xue revisited these comics and found a sense peace and comfort in the parables of traditional Chinese values. Additionally, the images of comics are simple and the outlines are concise, and its themes are familiar to modern Chinese people. All of these qualities fall in line with the elements of Pop Art, allowing Xue Song to unleash the potential of his synthetic ink.
As for Xue Song’s earlier ventures into other genres and styles of painting, the incursions were mostly by chance, and rather experimental. Only after experience and reflection did these various ventures gradually develop into specific series. In recent years, the Landscape series has become more and more expansive, with sub-series such as the classic Mustard Garden Manuel of Painting, and tributes to past masters including the Emperor Huizong of Song (1082 – 1135), the eccentric Bada Shanren (Zhu Da, c. 1626 – 1705), and the modernist Xu Beihong (1895 – 1953), in which Xue Song draws from China’s long and illustrious history of painting to fuel and reflect his own interest in the identity of the Chinese literati.
In 2013, I invited Xue Song to Taiwan for an art creation project, Eights Vies of Taiwan. This was the first time he represented real sceneries into his contemporary landscape paintings. Implementing his system of burnt collage, Xue integrated images of Taiwanese Aboriginal Peoples with Chinese settlers, and also traditional Chinese calligraphy and painting with modern skyscrapers. In a melting pot of cultures, Xue not only visually summarized three hundred years of Taiwanese history, but also accurately portrayed the island’s ethnic and cultural diversity.
The success of the Eight Views of Taiwan led to the Eight Views of Macau, and with the foundations laid on the former project, Xue Song easily found inspiration for Macau in terms of subject matter, composition, and collage material. There are many historical cathedrals in Macau from the colonial era, and after visiting Macau Xue Song traveled to Milan, Italy for a group exhibition, where he collected large volumes of books on Medieval and Renaissance religious painting, specially for the Eight Views of Macau project. Moreover, for his collage of the new MGM hotel, he used fake bank notes of different countries, as a stark allusion to what the hotel and casino is truly composed of.
Due to the fact collage requires great quantities of printed images, in his constant search for collage material, Xue Song has develop a taste for collecting vintage books and other printed materials. Since 1994, Xue has collected over five hundred artworks from the Communist Era (1949 – c. 1980s), including propaganda prints and political paintings. Also, in the last seven or eight years, he has collected over five hundred Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints. His passion for collection is growing steadily; his budget for books alone is over a hundred thousand yuans a year, and the amount spent for his art collection is incalculable. The art of collection has always been part of traditional Chinese literati culture, but for a contemporary Pop Artist, to be passionate of the ancient past, is perhaps due to the artistic practice and his synthetic medium of Pine, Smoke, Ink.
Curator Elaine Suyu Liu
 Liu Chun, Dialogue with Xue Song, Shanxi Publishing Group, 2015; pg. 17.
 The Adventures of Sanmao, created in 1935 by Zhang Leping (1910 – 1992), is a popular comic book series about an orphaned boy named Sanmao, set in Shanghai during the 1930s and 1940s with themes of war and colonization.
 Interview with Xue Song by the author at his studio on Moganshan Road, Shanghai on November 8th, 2007, in which he displayed the video that was to be officially released the following day at the Shanghai Art021 Art Exposition.
 Xu Gang, “Xue Song and the Neo-Shanghai Style” in Xue Song: Works 1988 – 2013, Singapore Museum of Contemporary Art, 2013, pg. 25.
 Xu, Ibid., pg. 25.
 Interview with Xue Song by the author at his studio on Moganshan Road, Shanghai on November 8th, 2007.
 Liu Chun, Dialogue with Xue Song, pg. 202.
林磐聳創作《聽雨》正值壯年之秋，此前一年，他毅然決然地辭去台灣師範大學副校長的職位，比一般預計的六十歲退休，提早了五年，提早退休的想法之一就是為了專心創作。隨後，他更加海闊天空，開創「大山無價」系列，其中一幅《退思》充分傳達了退休後的心情，在該畫的背後，以毛筆寫下他的感言: 「二○十二年八月一日台師大退休，人生里程轉彎，值得記錄，有如Milestone的巨碑。」「大山無價」系列不只 標示了他人生的里程轉彎，更是藝術上的一個里程碑，有別於過去的「我的台灣」系列，不只是畫面突破單純的台灣圖象，而且在尺幅、筆法上都有更多的變化及創新，除了特有的點滴、點描法之外，也加入了潑墨、暈染等技法，與《聽雨》同樣尺幅的作品如《夢的島嶼》(2012年)、《繁華》(2012年)、《疊翠》(2013年)等，俱皆佳品。近年來他還在成扇、圓形的紙面上創作，富有新意；今年最新的一件作品《行旅五帖》共五條幅，其實是一種直立式的長卷，多點透視，由下而上，五條幅中，有疏有密，分開陳列，形成新穎有趣的視覺效果。
常有人戲術林磐聳是台灣設計界的過動兒，因為他經常出差、旅行，行跡遍佈全世界，而林磐聳則認為，人有很多種，有些人屬於動物性格，有些人屬於植物性格，他由於從小在海邊長大，所以自行歸納為海洋性格，就是那種流動不息的海洋特質促使他產生飄泊不定的個性，因此長久以來投入國際設計推廣與交流活動，樂此不疲。他酷愛旅行，這是他保持創意的泉源之一，能激發五感共鳴，是一個人心靈的壯遊(Grand Touring of Mind)。他覺得，放空的同時，也是汲取靈感最好的觸媒。他保持創意的泉源之二是閱讀，他經常手不釋卷，博覽群書，他聲稱，旅行也是一種閱讀，這與古人的「行萬里路，讀萬卷書」不謀而合。
A Perfect State of Being
– Record of the Art of Lin Pang-soong at 60
In youth I listened to the rain in house of song, red candles dimly lit the silk bed curtains.
In my prime, I listened to rain traveling on boats, the river broad and the clouds low, geese wailing in the west wind
And now I listen to rain in a monk’s hut, my hair streaked with grey
Sorrow and joy, meetings and partings, are all nothing in the end, let the rain drip on the steps till the break of day
In several of this year’s speeches, Lin (Apex) Pang-soong referred to the poem Listening to Rain, by the Southern Song Dynasty poet Jiang Jie (c. 1245 – 1310), who vividly described the circumstances of listening to rain in three different stages of life, as it unfolds. Lin Pang-soong, whose hair is similarly “streaked with grey,” has gone through an ambitious youth and a lively prime, and has now realized that “sorrow and joy, meetings and partings, are all nothing in the end.” So, he can listen to rain throughout the night, with his mind as calm as standing water, clearly reflecting all things with ease.
The steady beat of raindrops falling is comforting, and most capable of stirring up the sentiments of artists. Painted by Lin Pang-soong in 2013, the ink on paper painting Listening to Rain depicts the island of Taiwan shrouded in rain and mist. The painting is a masterpiece in terms of both composition and conception, and is a significant milestone in Lin’s painting career. Listening to Rain (136 x 70 cm) records Lin’s ambitious venture into large-scale compositions and his experience with techniques of ink wash, which not only enhance the sense of depth, but also create the misty atmosphere of the rain. Both the scale and technique are seldomly seen in his past works.
Lin Pang-soong’s creation of Listening to Rain was during the transition between his prime and his later years. The year before its creation, he resolutely decided to resign from his position as vice-chancellor of National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU), thereby retiring five years short of the standard retirement age of sixty. One of the main reasons for the early retirement is to concentrate on painting. Soon after, he further expanded his oeuvre and began the Invaluable Mountains series, in which the painting Invaluable Mountains: Retreat fully conveys the mood of retirement. On the back of the painting, rendered in calligraphy, he left “August 1, 2012, the day of the great retirement from NTNU, a change in the trajectory of life, worth recording, like a monument milestone.” The Invaluable Mountains series not only marked a transition in the trajectory of his life, but moreover a direction in his art. In contrast to his past My Homeland series, there is a breakthrough from the stock images of Taiwan, as well as the use of new painting techniques. In addition to pointillism, ink wash incorporated, as seen in Listening to Rain, and also other large-scale work, such as Dream Island of 2012, Flourishing of 2012, and Pinnacle of 2013. In recent years, Lin has found new inspiration in fan-shaped and circular formats. This year’s newest work, Traveling Pentaptych, is an ensemble of five hanging scrolls; with multi-point perspectives and compositional variations between dense and sparse, visually it is exceptionally engaging.
If I open the window in my heart, you will see colors of spring light.
Sung by Fung Fei-fei (1953 – 2012), the Taiwanese classic, If I Open the Window in My Heart, is elegant in its melody and lyrics, and has been used by Lin Pang-soong to describe how he entered the world of art. The one who opened the window of his heart was his father, Lin Ching-yun. Ching-yun is one of Taiwan’s pioneering photographers. From an early age, Pang-soong watched his father photograph their native county and felt his father’s attachment to the land. He often listened in on his father discussing with other photographers topics such as composition, color, and light, and the artistic seed was thereby planted in young Pang-soong’s heart. Ching-yun also had a passion for Western classical music, which he also passed onto Pang-soong, as something that nourishes the soul.
The Southern Song poet Jiang Jie came from a distinguished family, passed the highest level of government exams at a early age, and served as a high official. He was both privileged and famous for his literary talents, being known as the Cherry Blossom Scholar. Lin Pang-soong was also successful at an early age. While studying Fine Arts at NTNU, Lin established a workshop with other classmates in junior year. Their first business was to recreate the image of a nearby kindergarten. Gradually, Lin entered the field of corporate identity systems. In 1985, at twenty-five years old, Lin published a book on the subject, which has been republished continuously since, placing him at the forefront of corporate identity design in Taiwan and earning him the title “the Master of Design in Taiwan.”
Despite his early accomplishments, Lin Pang-soong remained humble and honest, which reflects not only his self-cultivation, but more importantly his family education. Although Lin Ching-yun has passed away for many years, his legacy and memory is stilled cherished by his friends and family.
During the Spring Festival (Lunar New Year) of 2005, Lin Pang-soong returned to his childhood home in Tungkang and saw the golden pothos planted by his late father. Lin suddenly felt a surge of inspiration and painted an arrangement of golden pothos in the shape of Taiwan, thereby creating the My Homeland series. The series began as live sketches, assembling plants, flowers, rocks, commonly seen in Taiwan, as well as abstract lines and patterns into the shape of the Taiwan island. Ever since, it has become almost a daily ritual, creating an image every couple of days, in a dialogue with his late parents and also the land of Taiwan.
A drink of icy water on a cold day, the taste is in my heart.
Lin Pang-soong often describes his approach to painting as “a drink of icy water on a cold day, the taste is in my heart.” His approach is slow and steady, like the flow of a long and winding river. Everyday he paints a little; slowly but surely, dot by dot, he pieces the image together, and from 2005 to the present, what he has amassed is a sight to behold. This describes not only his mental approach, but also the technical. With the Chinese brush and sometimes the technical pen, he progressed from early sketches to pointillism, constructing the composition through the build-up of dots alone. This in itself is a form of art; while others perceive it as tedious work, Lin takes pleasure in it. In January and April of this year, Lin’s exhibitions at the Fo Guang Yuan Art Museums in Taichung and Kaohsiung respectively, was titled A State of Being, evoking his approach to art, as reflecting the exhibition venue with poetic resonance.
People often jokingly describe Lin Pang-soong as hyper-active in Taiwan’s field of design, as he is constantly traveling the world. In response, Lin believes there are many types of people; some are like animals, while others are like plants. As Lin grew up by the ocean, he regards himself to be like the sea. It is precisely the rising and falling of tides that keeps him floating and drifting, tirelessly immersing himself in international design events. He happens to also have a passion for traveling, which serves as a source of inspiration to him, stimulating his perception of the world, as a personal grand tour for the mind. He believes, times of leisure is when inspiration strikes best. A second source of inspiration for him is from reading, and he is often found with a book in hand. He voices his belief that traveling is a form of reading, which exemplifies the Chinese idiom “travel ten thousand miles, read ten thousand books.”
Yet, excessive travel is not conducive to creating art, especially for energy-demanding large-scale artworks. Lin Pang-soong overcomes this problem by insisting on painting every day; even only for an hour to two, he forces himself to find time, usually early in the morning to late at night. He is adept in finding and making time to paint, such as time spent in the car, on the plane or even in meetings. After many years, he came to the conclusion that “if there is plenty of time, paint a large painting; if there is little time, paint a small painting.” In Lin’s living room hangs a piece of calligraphy by the traditional Chinese painter, and his former colleague, professor Cheng Shan-hsi (b. 1932), of the characters: “Diligently Treasure Time (Qin Mian Xi Shi),” which he sees as a motto to live by.
Walking my own path, a perfect state
In 2007 Lin Pang-soong received the National Award of Art in the Fine Arts category at the age of fifty, as the youngest award winner of the Fine Arts category as well as the first designer in the award’s history. Lin thereby created a new field of opportunities for visual designers, by bringing the profession onto the fine art stage. Although, his achievements in design in Taiwan are well-renowned, he humbly maintains that he had chosen a different path early in his career. He says “it was not an easy path, but it allowed me to see a different perspective in life; and because those who went down this path are few, I have the good fortune of being recognized.”
Back in Lin Pang-soong’s student days at the Fine Arts department of NTNU, visual design was not a prestigious field. However, having received numerous national and international awards since his entry in the field, has boosted his confidence as well as those of his colleagues in their vocation. Looking back on the path, it was not only a matter of “good fortune.”
Having received the National Award of Art at “half way to a hundred” is symbolic to Lin Pang-soong. It is a turning point onto another path, dedicated to painting. His success in design plays both a positive and negative role on his art. He is driven by his reputation, which can also be a burden. Fortunately, he has the spirit of the sea, in which “the sea encompasses a hundred rivers, it is great because of its capacity,” thereby encouraging him to forge another path.
On my curated project, Silkroad – A Contemplative Journey, during the summer of 2011, Lin Pang-soong worked almost exclusively with the medium of the folding fan, jokingly wishing to make attract many “fans.” I believe he is generous and modest, and his works great and moving. My opinion is also shared by his fans who made the exhibitions at Fo Guang Yuan Art Museums possible. I would like to acknowledge the warm enthusiasm of Ms. Huang Shu-chen, and also the Venerable Masters Chue Chu, Ju Chang, Ju Chuan, and Yu Chuan, for their support for Lin’s A State of Being – The Art of Lin Pang-soong at 60 exhibitions at both Taichung and Kaohsiung’s Fo Guang Yuan Art Museums. To have such exhibitions at the age of sixty is especially meaningful for Lin.
A.S.O. Culture & Art Foundation is another fan of Lin Pang-soong. Upon my introduction of Lin to the CEO of the foundation, Ms. Kelly Kuang, the foundation found Lin to be very agreeable and was pleased to sponsor him in this year’s exhibitions. When I first told Lin on the phone of the sponsorship, he immediately came up with a name for the exhibition, Walking My Own Path. At first, it did not dawn on me, until he pointed out that the foundation came from the mother company of leather shoes. I found his quick and witty response admirable.
Lin Pang-soong recalls, every ten years or so his life is met with turning points. At fifty, he received the greatest art award in Taiwan. Quoting Confucius’ phase “knowing the mandate of heaven at fifty,” Lin believes his mandate is art. One of the painting featured in the exhibitions at the Fo Guang Yuan Art Museums, Complete Freedom, perfectly resembles Lin’s present self. The painting’s circular format is densely filled with circles and dots of all sizes, like a magnificent constellation of stars in the night sky. Continuing the same quote from above, this year Lin Pang-soong will officially enter into the “year in which one’s ears are accepting [of truth, at sixty years old].” In terms of accepting, the quote speaks of one’s ability to accept everything one hears, without alarm or distress. Is this not a state of complete freedom or perfect being?
by Elaine Suyu Liu
(Translated by Timothy Chang)
Early Summer 2017, Great Taipei New Town
 Jiang Jie’s poem, Crossing Wu River by Boat, uses the imagery of cherry blossoms, and was therefore known as the Cherry Blossom Scholar.
 Taiwan Art: Image & Packaging published by the General Association of Chinese Culture in 2003, called Lin the “Master of Design in Taiwan.” Great Commercial Design Award published by the Ministry of Economic Affairs in 2004 called Lin the “Light of Design in Taiwan.”
The Art of Wei Xiong
Landscape paintings in the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279) were often microcosms, reflecting the social, political, or philosophical ideals of the artists. With the rise of Neo-confucianism and the reinterpretation of Chinese philosophy, triggered by the introduction of Buddhist metaphysics, landscape paintings began to embody a more metaphysical aspect. Beyond merely representing social order through hierarchical compositions of mountains and trees, Song artists sought to address questions of higher significance, by outlining the patterns and principles that underlie all phenomena.
The artist Wei Xiong also expresses interests in similar philosophical concerns in her landscape paintings. Inspired by the traditional Chinese concern with man’s place in nature, Xiong’s modern understanding formulates the concept into the question of the Self versus Others. Not only is she interested in man’s connectivity to other beings and the natural world, but also in a possible relation to a divine force. While her mind engages in thought experiments tackling such concerns, her brush leaves traces of her thought behind, in the form of lines, colors, and sometimes space.
Examining Xiong’s paintings from 2011 to 2017 in Unaltered Landscapes, while her subject matter remains the same, there is an evident transition in style. As she ponders deeper into her philosophical enquires, Xiong’s landscapes become increasingly more abstract. In her earlier Landscape series, sketchy lines converge diagonally, forming the outlines of mountains in the fashion of linear representation. In her Tide and more recent series, this mode of representation gives way to more expressive brushstrokes. While certain lines seem reminiscent of mountain peaks, the overall composition does not constitute a formal landscape. These images are best understood as mindscapes of the artist, in which lines, colors, and space reflect her thoughts or emotions. Xiong’s lines can be free, whimsical, bland, sudden, heavy, obtrusive, or violent, which equate to a wide range of emotions, including ease, playfulness, boredom, sorrow, anger, and frustration. However, in Xiong’s most recent works, such as 1607-2B, her lines undergo an intense transformation, becoming nearly all uniform in direction and length. This ultimately reflects a heightened concentration in her energy and an extraordinary state of mind.
As Wei Xiong’s mind wonders deeply into the realm of metaphysics, in either Chan Buddhist teachings of Emptiness or Taoist Non-action, her landscapes transcend into total abstraction and brutal minimalism. All forms of traditional symbolism and linear representation is forgotten and left behind. There is only evidence of space and time, left by the artist’s brush. While the formal qualities her so-called landscapes have dramatically changed, the spirit behind the image remains unaltered. Like the Song artists, Wei Xiong seeks to address philosophical concerns within the boundaries of her canvas, in which the painted image appears as enigmatic as that of the ancients before her, leaving only traces of her mind to be deciphered.
by Timothy Chang