Chen Shui-tsai was born in Qigu Township, Tainan County in 1946. He graduated from the Tainan Teachers College (known as the National University of Tainan today) in 1964 and assumed a teaching career in Hougang Elementary School in his hometown. He studied painting under Kuo Po-chuan during this time and was immensely inspired. He was admitted to the Department of Fine Arts, National Taiwan Normal University in 1967, assigned to teach in Kaohsiung upon graduation in 1971, and has since lived in the city. He was hired by the Department of Architecture, National Cheng Kung University in 1981. In the same year, Chen released the “Truck” series at his first solo exhibition at the American Center in Taipei. Chen in the 1980s was an active participant of the art community in Kaohsiung. With fellow artists, he organized the Southern Artists Alliance and the Kaohsiung City Modern Painting Association, held the “Kui / Fine Arts Exhibition,” and founded the “Art Life” bimonthly and “Dragon Art” magazine. He holds such exhibitions, along with public speeches and forums, to advocate locally-inspired art and the reformation of modern art.
Chen’s early works are poetic and introspective. His style went through major changes in the 1980s as his daily life experiences in Kaohsiung became the subject matters of his artworks. One instance is the industrial city portrayed in the “Truck” series in 1981. Since then, life in a city has been his main painting theme. Chen created the “Wall” series and the metaphoric “Human Head” series in the 1990s to express the crowdedness, repression and dirtiness of urban life. His “Vicissitudes” series consisting portraits of his family members indicate his lamentation for the past time and the changing world. Through the “Notion of Others, Self, and Living Souls” series created after year 2000, he provides his observations of the city people using dynamic brushstrokes and bright colors. With an acute eye for his living environments, Chen defines modern life through his own urban experiences before turning it into concrete images.
The solemn-looking human faces in this series are profoundly symbolic. The author uses thick layers of dark black paint to wipe out all facial features. He so attentively blurs the human faces with fine brushstrokes that it becomes hard to identify them. This results in a coldish, melancholic visual power. In the simplest possible form, the author shows the underlying negative aspects of people in modern cities.
When nostalgic nativist painting was in vogue in the 1970s, Kaohsiung was also rapidly being industrialized and urbanized. The establishment of export processing zones, shipyards, steelworks, petroleum plants, etc., enhanced the status of Kaohsiung as an industrial city and attracted young people from agricultural villages to seek jobs there. The city’s population exceeded a million in 1975 as the metropolis took in nearby satellite townships. In 1979, it was upgraded as the second municipality under the direct jurisdiction of the Central Government of Taiwan.
Chen Shui-tsai settled down in the southern city of Kaohsiung as soon as he graduated from college, and saw that industrialization was bringing about many drawbacks for it. Chen’s works are all about objective reflections on humanity and the environment. He knew that the romantically nostalgic nativist approach would not be suitable for the fast changing city. He decided to break away from the mainstream, choosing the most fitting subject matters from what he saw in the city or among the ordinary people. His expressionist method and intuitive use of color help him portray the people, events, and objects in his daily life. He also participates in art projects, writes reviews, and edits/ publishes articles and books to more actively push art forward in Kaohsiung. He is a critical figure in the Kaohsiung art scene for he gathers up the southern artists and raises their awareness.
|Chinese title：||人頭 1994-07|
|English title：||Human Head 1994-07|
|Medium / Classification：||Oil paints and Acrylic colors|
|Collection Unit：||Collection of the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts|
|Contact method for authorization：||
KAOHSIUNG MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS
|Related Exhibition：||"The Pioneers" of Taiwanese Artists, 1941-1950|
|Related Work：||Human Head 1994-01 Truck III Truck II|