Encounter with One’s Original State

JUL.2015 ARTCO no.274 p.80-81

  Chiang Hsun held his first solo exhibition inCaves Art Center in 1989. His second solo show took place seven years later, in1996. In the two decades that followed, he continued to make art and holdexhibitions about every two years. Retrospectively and as a whole, Chiang Hsun’s painting has revolvedaround landscape, flower and body, wavering and groping among the threeseemingly irrelevant motifs. Although calligraphy, poetry and aspiration forreligion have been a thread through his entire oeuvre, in tracing the originsand examining further, I think his work still revolves around combination,separation and dialectics of connotations of landscape, flower and body.


  Regarding the threecreative axes of his painting, whether it is about technique, aesthetics orview on art which is implied therein, they indeed originate from diverserespective sources. Especially the parallels between oil painting and ink washpainting respectively correspond to two major contexts of art creationpertaining to histories of Eastern and Western painting respectively, whichalso indicates the heterogeneity of the background of Chiang Hsun’s art.


  Taking Vernal Equinox(shown in Michael KuGallery in 2013) and the painting series in progress which will be shown nextyear as the objects of micro-observation, one sees the aforementioned creativeaxes and technique tendency inherit aspects of his styles in the past. Yet onthe whole, the works appear thicker, stronger and thus more solid and maturewhile the styles are carried out in rather confident and free manners.


  Yet I think what is themost remarkable in the recent pieces are two transformations which are likemusic variations. The first is seen in the four most eye-catching pieces of VernalEquinox: ‘Summer Solstice’, ‘White Dew’, ‘Vernal Equinox’ and ‘Beginning of Autumn’ which immediately present a particular gesture andmomentum that differ from previous works. The four oil paintings have similaryet different dimensions. They turn away from previous, mainly figurative styles,and express an abstract style that was rare in the artist’s previous works. Especially ‘White Dew’ and ‘Vernal Equinox’ reveal an attempt tointegrate the wrinkle technique of ink wash painting into oil painting, whichis surprisingly beautiful and arouses one’s anticipation.


  In other words, the artist appropriates thewrinkle technique and ink colors of landscape painting as an aesthetic approachin treating volumes and dividing the painting surface, handily shifting thisinto the oil painting series without the slightest trace and representing asheer transformation that catches one’s eyes. The two landscape oil paintings betweenabstraction and the figurative not only have traces of what Chiang Hsun describedas his preferences: Fan Kuan’s straightness and generosity, Guo Xi’s subtle fog as well asLi Tang’stextured valleys, but also resolve the divergent and even somewhat paradoxical diversityin his previous paintings by successfully turning it into the possibility of abrand new integrated language.


  Among these pieces, my favorite is ‘Vernal Equinox’.


  Besides,what also interests me is the artist’s works about body thatare still in progress. Young male nude has been another motif Chiang Hsun hasbeen developing. Yet in the latest body series, the artist has introduced theflower motif which had been established in his earliest works. Thejuxtaposition between the delicacy, dignity, contemplation, beauty of the vaseseries and the essence of desire and unrest delivered through the body seriesproduces paradoxical symbiosis.


  This iseither an investigation on the essence of relation between beauty and desire,or rather a wavering and bewildering self-reflection between the values of the metaphysicaland the physical. I wrote about my ideas and views regarding a novel by ChiangHsun:


  “One often hesitates between repentant love andself-reflection because love and morals are interwoven like a tapestry.Bifurcations abound; sometimes we walk together and sometimes apart. Likespring flowers, the flesh yearns for awakening. Bohemian callings are alsosurging like oracles yet imagination about love always blocks the way.Lingeringly, like theology or metaphysics which arehard to surpass.”


  “The narrator is sometimes serious like an adult andsometimes suddenly changes into a naïve and simple child whosewords lingeringly point to and circulate among individual and all livingcreatures. As if just in a stare, there’s a difference betweenheaven and earth. Indeed, if entrance requires God’s grace, shall one askfor permission upon leaving? Sure, sure, yet could our gestures of welcome andfarewell be different? Similarly, do tears symbolize sorrow or joy?”

  The series is still in progress and it isindeed hard to judge definitively. Yet I feel what’s challenging in it notonly lies in technique and composition or the difficulty in integrating motifs,but also in what the artistic vocabulary is about. Because the most difficultpart of the series is that in contrast to other series, here, the artist mustreveal himself to the public. Since there is no longer any objective sense ofdistance, one’ssubjective individuality must be represented.


  ChiangHsun’s previous series andstyles rather revolved around distanced look and gaze, with the greater self’s value and eternity ofthe universe as central ideas. Yet in this latest series, there is an immediategaze on male body, which is probably a kind of self-resolution toward whatexisted in the past in an attempt to take the self’s flesh as the startingpoint to similarly explore other possibilities of art. Introducing intentionsof flower and religion or responding to original desire’s dynamic challenge throughbeauty and omnibenevolence can indeed be a possible answer, yet the directiontoward which this series is being developed finally falls on the attitude ofthinking(is it a choice of welcome or farewell, of sorrow or joy?)


  Chiang Hsun’s work is persistent.There are implicit and insinuated nuances among his pieces; the axes heexplores are also significant and intriguing. For example, the union of his inkwash painting and oil painting expresses a kind of freedom, where intertwined dialecticsof desire and beauty gradually comes to be revealed transparently. What runs throughand connects all this is a state of mindwhich is crystal clear and simple. Chiang Hsun wrote, “Therefore, walking in theprimitive landscape, one comes to encounter the landscape with one’s original state withoutthe slightest scheme or prejudice from both sides.”


  Encounterwith one’s original state is theessence of Chiang Hsun’s work, which is alsoattributed to his unique scenery and gesture!

Roan Ching-yueh

Professor and Chairperson of Department of Art and Design of Yuan Ze University in Taiwan, Roan Ching-yueh is writer, architect, art critic and curator.

Having published more the thirty books on literature and architecture, Roan has won several awards, including Taiwan Literature Awards (Frist Award of Prose Category and Recommendation Award of Short Novel Category), Wu Yong-fu Literature Awards (2003), Short Novel Award of Central Daily News, Taipei Literature Awards (annual subvention), Asia Weekly's 10 Best  Chinese Language Books (2004), Architecture Critic Award  of the 3rd China Architecture Media Awards (2012), and was nominated for Man Asian Literary Prize (2009), among others.