Curator: PAN Hsien-Jen (Member of the Research Team, NTMoFA)
History is an interweaving of time, space, people, and events. Art in Taiwan also continues to intermingle with society and culture in different periods of time, resulting in a complicated, dynamic structure. As political and economic conditions change in nearly 70 years after the end of WWII, the art community and artistic trends also become more diverse and fast-changing. It can be said the development of art as an expressive language is closely related to the ongoing history and cannot be achieved overnight. The life experience and choices of Taiwanese artists, too, are heavily influenced by social circumstances simultaneously, although sometimes inexplicitly. Art in Taiwan has continued to mutate and flow; it is especially entangled with the post WWII history that extends into the present day. Showcasing the works of artists of different generations (referred to as “Nian-ji” in Chinese, meaning “grader”) in the “Pioneers of Taiwanese Artists” is not, however, to cut history into bits and pieces. Rather, it is to manifest how these artists, each standing at a particular point in history, present their sets of values through art as Taiwanese art continues to grow.
A total of 20 Taiwanese artists born between 1941 and 1950 are selected for this exhibition. By highlighting the characteristics and social significance of their artworks, we hope to present the times they lived through, as well as how culture, history and artistic creations intertwine. We also hope to offer an observation of how they managed to craft a window for the art of Taiwan with their unique thoughts and persistence during those times and why they decided to do so.
The third-graders (1941-1950) were born around the end of the Second World War. They were the first generation to be raised and educated entirely in Taiwan, as compared to the last generation of people who were either ruled by the Japanese or lived in mainland China. After the 823 Artillery Bombardment ended, political tension was eased across the Taiwan Strait. The nationalist government then carried out policies like “replacing agriculture with industry” and “winning OEM deals with the low wage advantage,” which enabled the economy of Taiwan to grow steadily in the 1960s. The nine-year compulsory education scheme implemented in 1968, furthermore, improved education penetration rate that serves as a solid foundation for the nation’s long-term development. During the youthful years of the third-graders (1960s-1970s), the country went through several structural changes in its economy, education and society. It was also during that time, when Taiwan experienced major political crises and diplomatic failures, that the public was inspired to reflect on the society. Although the many rules cast by the totalitarian ruling power remained strict as ever, people grew to care more for the “back to reality” ideal and the local culture by day, and responses and actions were raking place wide and wild around Taiwan.
The third-grader artists emerged between the mid and late 1960s. By 1970s and 1980s, most of them had attained mature painting styles. It was also during the 1970s that the art community of Taiwan started to reflect upon western art after going through the modern painting movements in the 1950s and 1960s. The artists, inheriting the revolutionist spirit, dealt with the issues of “back to reality” and “caring for the native culture” as they created the selected artworks. They also adjusted themselves when ideals and reality clash amidst social changes. Although they were born in the same period of time, these pioneering artists, dedicated to fulfilling their artistic ideals even when they must go against the mainstream, chose very different paths. As they gain life experiences, they also seek to transcend their artistic selves at different career stages.
Brainstorm New Thoughts While Revisiting Tradition
Due to its complicated past, Taiwan is constantly faced with cultural confrontations, transformations and rebirths. Under such changeable circumstances, the Taiwanese art has also been shaped into a unique one. One must note that the majority of residents in Taiwan are Han Chinese. No matter when they or their early family members immigrated to Taiwan, most of them identify with the Chinese culture as a kind of ethnic symbol. However, when the island was restored by the nationalist government after WWII, 50 years of separation from the mainland Chinese culture resulted in multiple disputes between the Chinese and the Japanese culture, as well as the east and the west. Between the 1950s and the 1960s, major conflicts took place in the art community, too, such as the debate over what could be considered authentic Chinese painting. The modern ink painting movement/revolution also emerged during that time. Having lived through the turbulent times, the “third graders,” born between 1941 and 1950, now adopt a more accommodating attitude towards discrepancies between tradition and modernity. They no longer feel they are responsible for creating the “right” culture for the island. Instead, they ponder on the role which tradition plays in art.
Lee Chung-chung’s father Lee Ching-yu graduated from the Beijin Jinghua Art College with a concentration in traditional Chinese painting. Exposed to the art of ink and wash since early childhood, Lee Chung-chung became profoundly interested in the art genre and devoted herself to modernizing it in the 1970s. Bearing in mind the ideal of “embellishing the oriental with the west while learning the new” of the modern ink painting movement of the 1960s, she continues to find more succinct ways to paint in abstract forms until today. Her masterly use of compact ink layers and semi-spontaneous writings make brushstrokes and ink the critical elements of a painting again. Lee’s works are clean-cut and full of rhythm. She is able to grasp the force and tone of calligraphy in modern forms, while showing deep, touching aesthetics of the Chinese literati.
Yuan Zhan was trained to be an artist when she was young, but only resumed painting in the late 1980s after working for the National Palace Museum as a historical object restoration expert for years. Based on what she learned from work, she transcribes the essence of traditional Chinese art and sets herself free from the constraints of painting schools. She uses decorative structures and colors to subvert literati aesthetics, rendering new meanings to old charm using a contemporary language. She manifests a creative will to seek the new and the different. Yuan’s heavy ink color paintings are based on the concept of “gaining new insights through restudying old materials.” She furthermore wants to twists the Chinese painting around, such as the free use of color that aims to make her artworks more fitting to the contemporary times. She has axed a way to modernity for traditional Chinese painting by renewing her thoughts all the time.
Luo Cing’s ink and wash paintings center on the integration of modern daily life experience and traditional Chinese art values, as well as unprecedented visual expressions created by the artist. Although he is not trained academically to be an artist, he did study painting under Pu Hsin-yu and Monk Ru Yu when he was young. He has especially delved into the artistic language used in the flower and bird painting of the north and the splash ink painting of the south. Because he studied foreign languages and compared literature at university, he has been able to develop a critical view of modern painting and Chinese and western aesthetics of his own. He emphasizes that being modern means embracing new knowledge and new life styles in an industrial civilization. In addition, good art can only result from moments of life. Even when an artist uses traditional ink and wash to create art, he or she will still have to present visual experience as creatively as possible. Modern technology, cultural objects, birds-eye-views, and thick hard ink lines are common in his works. Such is his ideals practiced in a strongly experimental way.
Hung Gen-shen is another artist who uses ink and wash to create art. He studied modern painting schools to build a creative approach of his own in the 1970s. This has also enabled him to more freely experiment materials and techniques. Hung has a deep sense of reality. His works carry strong personal characteristics and care for the society, in particular the art community and local culture of southern Taiwan. He stresses that materials, techniques and subject matters should complement one another, and that an artist should never solely focus on finding new forms. In order to better describe his living environments and his inner thoughts, he not only applies different materials to create powerful signs and structures, but also reflects upon the human nature and the environment through indicative or metaphoric shapes inspired by his home community.
Besides ink and wash painting, calligraphy is one other important type of traditional Chinese art. The writer, the writings, and the characters are impossibly close to one another in traditional Chinese calligraphy. But since the end of WWII, as calligraphy experiments originating in Japan were introduced to Taiwan, many began to ruminate “what constitutes calligraphy” as they broke away from convention for more creative space and shapes. Like others, Dong Yang-zih began to explore the potential of Chinese calligraphy in modern times in the 1970s. Even until today, she still believes that “every stroke must be meaningful” while applying western painting compositions and art theories to her artworks. She often writes down powerful short sentences on gigantic paper to express her feelings for the Chinese words. In fact, her woks are characterized by vitality and freewill. She would go beyond all restraints of form and content to create a strong visual style using variations of Chinese characters. She is able to build dynamic landscapes on the paper. She has even tried to introduce calligraphy to people’s daily lives and modern art through various means, such as interactive space, body movement, and digital technology.
People return to tradition because they adore the historical past. Taiwan experienced a series of diplomatic blows in the 1970s, including its withdrawal from the United Nations in 1971, as well as the breaking off of diplomatic relations with Japan in 1972 and the United States in 1978. Such eventually brought about a national identity crisis and a loss of faith. Because western powers could no longer be depended upon and the mainland was out of reach, the intellectuals started to set up a cultural foothold on this island. Protesting against academia and longing for the avantgarde, SHI Song actively participated in the experiments of art materials in the late 1960s as he made a name for himself in the literary writing scene. The overseas study in Paris made him ponder on the relationships between art and life and literature and society. He then became even surer that art is rooted in life. Upon returning to Taiwan, he turned to native art and led others to seek a sense of belonging in their home culture. He sees himself as a “craft maker” and the creative process a kind of ascetic labor. With time, this unique art perspective of his has transformed into a philosophy of life, which is to observe one’s mind through manual labor. For him, painting and writing are ways to reflect upon life and its true meaning. Since the late 1980s, in particular, SHI Song has found a fitting perspective to observe himself and the world through canonical Buddhist texts. Art has enabled him to return to a primal state of being with a concentrated mind.
For Hsi Muren, the primal state of being is perhaps more about ethnicity and self identity. Born in Mongolia, Hsi Muren came to Taiwan with her family when she was a little child. She developed a great writing style when she was still a college student. Her poetry and prose are amiable, sincere, gentle and heartfelt. Nevertheless, while her writings are hailed by critics and readers alike, painting is her true life-long pursuit. The artist’s painting and writing harmonize with one another, in the meantime exuding a unique personal nostalgia for birthplace Mongolia, childhood hometown Sichuan, and adulthood residence Taiwan. Lotuses are a long-time subject matter in her works. They are often presented in personified forms in a dramatic setting. Hsi Muren has faithfully followed her path of life to create her paintings and writings. As a result, she seems to be distant from the literary movements and artistic auras of different times. In 1989, she returned to her homeland Mongolia for the first time, which enhanced interest in the nomadic culture. Today, her paintings look more open and solid than before.
Set Free Formalities While Gazing At That Very Moment
Abstract painting reached its peak in Taiwan when Paul Chiang was a college student in Taiwan. Influenced by the movement, he and his classmates founded the “Centennial Painting Group” to showcase their abstract expressionist works. Upon graduation, he began an overseas artist’s career, first residing in France and then in the United States, for more than 30 years. Taking abstractionism as a main approach, Chiang has solely focused on practicing his artistic ideals. The changing art trends between the 1970s and the 1990s in Taiwan—even around the world—have never had any direct impact on him. He believes that a simple creative approach can touch the softest spot of one’s heart, and that the captured moment in his paintings can reflect the viewers’ own existence. His works are profoundly religious and poetic, indicating his aspiration for peace of mind and spiritual rest. He is among the few Taiwanese artists dedicated to pursuing the spiritual in art.
Yeh Chu-sheng also takes an abstract approach to art. His works center on the exploration of material and space. He incorporates ready-made objects with signals, ideographs and a variety of other materials for a different texture and more exuberant charm. Yeh became an influential figure in the art community of Taiwan in the early 1980s as he returned from Spain. He participated in a group exhibition entitled “The Other Space” organized by the Spring Gallery in Tapei, 1984, and joined the Studio of Contemporary Art. He also displayed works at “The New Style of Southern Taiwan,” another exhibition for young artists. He gradually came up with abstract installations made of various materials and ready-made objects to embellish his paintings. He hopes to draw inner psychological responses from his spectators through his strongly materialistic works. This attempt has opened a new window for abstract painting in the 80s’ Taiwan. In the meantime, he takes environmental ethics and ecological awareness as his subject matters to explore the relationship between mankind and nature. He is among the few artists in Taiwan who reflects on environmental and ecological issues through art.
Huang Ming-je is a different type of third-grader artists. Born to a farmer’s family in Yilan, northeastern Taiwan, he has never been trained by schools in Taiwan. He is almost entirely a self-learned artist. During his overseas study trips, he immersed himself in the works of great western artists to bring out his artistic potential. He first received attention with his masterly realist techniques, but participated in various public fine arts exhibitions with human portraits with a strong decorative style in the early 1980s. His dreamlike, romantic figures full of metaphors made him a bright new star in those competitions. From then on, he gradually shifted to deeply expressive semi-abstract and abstract styles. His works are most characterized by phantom-like human figures. Be it realist or abstract, human figures are his long-time painting motif. They are often autobiographical, too.
Hsieh Tong-liang began his artistic career by making traditional realist sculptures, and has been highly acclaimed for his exact, vivid descriptions of the subject matters. He was adored by public fine arts exhibitions a lot in early years. Hsieh is never content with a single style, however, and always seeks breakthroughs in creating art. With time, he has developed both semi-abstract and abstract approaches of his own. All o the sculpture series, such as “Realism,” “Variation,” “Void,” “Round,” “Square,” “Life,” and “Impermanence,” are based on his observations of life and its transience. He uses the most fitting expressions to deal with human relations issues while manifesting a deep humanistic spirit. In a way, Hsieh’s career development reflects the shift of the sculpture art community of Taiwan from traditionalism to contemporariness. The fact that Hsieh replaced plaster with glass fiber greatly improved sculpting in Taiwan, both material and skill wise. Over the last decades, he has cultivated many excellent sculptors. He has truly dedicated immensely to passing down the Taiwanese sculpture art.
In the late 1970s, in response to the “back to reality” and “care for the native culture” ideals of the cultural people, the artists in Taiwan initiated a nativist painting movement that emphasizes realist portrayals of the native land. Many young nativist painters adopted photorealism originating from the US to create detailed realist paintings with the help of cameras and projectors, and Juo You-ruei is among the first ones. Using this approach, she released the “Banana” series at the American Cultural Center in Tapei in 1975. In the 1980s, she further released the “Shadow” and “Wall” series, using this camera/projector-assisted method to create refined artworks all the time. Her goal, however, is not to re-present the subject matters as realistically as she can. Rather, she hopes to show the traces of time tenderly through a microcosmic gaze. In this way, her artworks are entirely different from the authentic photorealist paintings in which non-narrative portrayals of the world are made in a cold tone.
Chang Chao-tang has been a photographer for more than 50 years. He uses photography as a creative method that transcends pure documentation. He has always retained an absurd, surrealistic visual charm in his real-life photos. It is by keeping a distance that he shows his sensible care for mankind. In the early post-war years, new photography meeting government propaganda needs and salon-style photography conforming to cultural policies were the mainstream. By reading extensively on modern art and cultural trends, Chang developed a photographic language of his own so detached from reality of the time and yet so closely observing people’s minds. His works manifest the existential vacuum and are full of visual expressiveness. He opened a new window of opportunity for photographers in a chilling political era while exerting critical influence on the transformation of contemporary photography in Taiwan.
Daniel Lee pursued further studies in the US when he graduated from college, and has since then resided there as a professional photographer. He manipulates images to gaze back at reality, reflecting upon a capitalist world with a human touch. Lee first dived into the highly competitive advertising industry as he graduated there, and spent 20 solid years slowly shifting his focus from commercial, reportage, to art photography. When digital photography emerged in the 1990s, he seized the chance to become a digital art photographer. Since then, he has created a visual language of his own that incorporates contemporary cultural elements with virtual reality. His animalhuman portraits are full of metaphors, reflecting the relationship between urbanity and mankind. The portraits are like Lee’s creative trademarks. To make this kind of portraits, he would observe the photographed people’s facial and body features before manipulating their images using digital editing software. It seems he is able to dig into one’s wildest nature and visualize it. Although they may look exaggerating and sometimes weird, they are also convincing because “appearance is influenced by mind.”
Transcend Appearance While Penetrating Reality
Kaohsiung in the 1970s was an aspiring industrial city with lots of construction and development projects going on. It was being urbanized at a fast pace. Chen Shui-tsai settled down in this southern city 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 romantic nostalgia of the nativist movement of the time would not be suitable for the changing Kaohsiung. 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 approach and intuitive use of color help him manifest the people, events, and objects in his daily life. Chen not only projects his insights on society through his artworks. He also participates in relevant projects and writes reviews to more actively push art forward in Kaohsiung. He has since then established a poignant, straightforward style for writing critical reviews. This is not only very different from that of his counterparts in Taipei, but also has a profound influence on gathering up the southern artists and raising their awareness.
J. C. KUO became an office worker as soon as he graduated from college. It was only years later, at age 41, that he took up a full-time artist’s career. The 1970s was a formative period for him, because he conducted a field research on folk art in Taiwan sponsored by the Asia Foundation in the United States. This allowed him to delve more deeply into laymen art and the lower-class culture, and further decided to abandon the romantic imagination of nostalgic Taiwan embraced by the mainstream art community. He would highlight the impacts of industrialization and urbanization on the society and propose critiques on the present circumstances. Guo is especially interested in the cultural vitality of the lower class in Taiwan, as well as social unrests—such have always been his creative focal point. In the 1980s, he adopted dramatic compositions, contrasting garnish colors, and stark black contours to create art. His works emphasize the many contradictions and conflicts in the Taiwanese society, exuding penetrating visual power. By 1989, he has created an impressive number of highly acclaimed works. Various social issues are taken into his works to be analyzed, derided, and decoded. His works represent both the artist’s observations and judgments of contemporary Taiwan.
Yang Cheng-yuan excels in both oil painting and printmaking. His two kinds of works can serve as reference to one another. Yang emphasizes that one must create art by reflecting on one’s own culture. He often juxtaposes graphics, characters and signs to reconstruct what he remembers about and identifies with the Taiwanese culture in his minds. From the late 1980s on, Yang has being dealing with the intertwined relationship of history and culture. His themed creations, such as “Famous Historic Sites of Taiwan,” “The Time and Space of Taiwan,” and “Modern Architecture in Taiwan,” explore the present and the past with a surrealistic touch, exuding delicate quiet charm. In these works, the many different signs are clues which spectators can use to decipher the artist’s thoughts. In fact, because the signs are often juxtaposed, they are able to render even richer layers of meanings. Yang’s works are like a lens that refracts lights across times. They allow the spectators to meditate the multi-faceted Taiwanese culture as they appreciate one historical scene after another.
Chen Lai-hsin graduated from the prestigious National College of Arts in Taiwan but consciously refrained from the academic approach to art so as to follow his true creative desires and emotional impulses. As he stated, “Facing my own people, I have almost forgot about art. I can’t pretend to be happily making plein-air paintings while disadvantaged old farmers shed their sweat and tears in rice fields. Isolation and helplessness are the truths underneath this idyllic land.” Chen’s paintings are composed of free-running brushstrokes and strong colors. They carry an early 20-century European expressionist touch and are based on the artist’s affection for the local laymen culture. They are straightforward, succinct and powerful. Unlike nativist realist painters of the 1970s, who chose their subject matters from a nostalgic past, Chen has traveled across the cities, towns, mountains, seas, streets and alleys participating in social movements with the crowds before creating any of his heartfelt artworks. His painting brush is like a knife revealing hidden truths. As a result, his paintings are emotionally contagious.
Chiu Ya-tsai had never received any official art education, nor had he studied under any art masters. He made a living by drawing comic strips in the early years, and read a wide range of classical literature while doing military service. Both paved the way for his painting and writing career. In the painting community of Taiwan, no other artists have ever nurtured themselves so much with classical literature than Chiu. Through the masterpieces of Yukio Mishima, William Shakespeare and Fyodor Dostoevsky, Chiu acquired a deeper understanding of people and humanity. In fact, the characters in classical literature have a profound influence on his creative style. Lonesome individuals are Chiu’s long-time painting motif. He would use lonely travelers, miserable scholars, artists, and other kinds of intellectuals to express a sensitive state of mind. Dejection permeates his refined, elegant artworks, which modern viewers can easily relate to in their daily lives.
Hsieh Chun-te is a versatile artist. Other than photography, over the years, he has achieved critical results in design, advertising, MTV, installation art, feature film, documentary, and digital film. His works alone show the development of both fine art and commercial media in Taiwan since the 1970s. His focus has also shifted drastically in different periods of time, such as reproduction and experimentation in modernist photography, love for the local culture in reportage photography, and market expansion in commercial photography. Multifaceted and ever-changing are the most salient characters of Hsieh’s works. It is also since the 70s that Hsieh has completed a variety of longterm photography projects, such as “Homeland,” “Our People, Our Land,” and “Faces of an Era,” in which the photographed space is incorporated with the variation of time. Such is his alternative attempt to discuss the nature of photography and how truthful photography can be.
The media and form of art are becoming more complicated since the late 1960s in Taiwan. Influenced by this trend, the aforementioned third-grader artists tried hard to establish their own career paths own through experimenting art. Due to the changing circumstances, the choices to be made, and their respective life experiences, these artists exert their influence in different time periods and therefore their achievements cannot be summarized easily. Even so, we still find that they share one thing in common—no matter they stick to the same approach or adjust it during the course, their creations always closely reflect their experiences in life. It is after long years that they have all managed to establish methods and styles of their own. In fact, because they have been true to themselves, the ends results become all the more precious. By fulfilling their own ideals, they also make the Taiwanese art shine like never before.
The term "grader" appeared in year 2000 of the Georgian calendar (which equals year 89 of the Republic of China calendar) for the first time on www.mypaper.pchome.com.tw as created by a group of writers born in the 1960s including Mimiko (pseudonym). They set up a blog called the "Student Affairs Office for Fifth Graders" to write about childhood memories and teenage experiences shared by the 60s generation. They called themselves the "fifth graders" because year 1961-1970 of the Georgian calendar equals year 50-59 of the R.O.C. calendar. As the term caught on, people started to call those born between year 60-69 of the R.O.C. calendar the "sixth graders," year 70-79 the seventh graders, and so on. Today, "grader" has become an alternative term for "generation" in Taiwan. –Quoted from "Graders: a preliminary study of the grader phenomenon" by Cheng Huan-liang.