Art Basel HK 2018 Chu Weibor and Fong Chung-Ray booklet
2018 17×23.5 cm 40pages
Revisiting the Origin of Taiwan’s Modern Art in the 1960s
One: The Development of Art and Its Current Manifestation under the Cold-War Structure
“Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945-1946”, an extensive exhibition that looks back on post-war development through the perspective of art was unveiled in Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany in October, 2016. It proposes a reflection on how two political entities utilized art to initiate a rivalry between realism and abstract art in the 70 years since the end of the Second World War and delves into the displacement and migration as a result of war which ultimately gave rise to the multiple metropolises around the globe. Taiwan was not made part of this exhibition of 218 artists; as for art in the ethnic Chinese regions, Chinese Nationalist Realism, the “art form” employed in the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, is the extent of its inclusion. Taiwan, evidently, does not exist in the realm of global art.
Two: “Chinese” Modern Art Is or Is Not in Taiwan?
Who possesses the power of discourse to map out the territory of the global art? What one must recognize prior to answering the question is that there have been two approaches to defining “China” post war. The core of Chinese modern art movement was able to find solace and nurture in the comparatively stable island of Taiwan all the while stimulated because of Taiwan’s sensitive strategic location. Bearing the notion of “Chinese learning for essence, Western learning for application” in mind, modern art proceeded to blossom in Taiwan. In contrast with China’s “art” that serves solely the purpose of political propaganda, Taiwan in fact bears a great responsibility.
Chinese modern art movement began as early as the 1920s in China. In 1949, a number of China’s modern art painters arrived in Taiwan and continued to cultivate the very core of Chinese modern art. Still employing the methods and experiences from China, they set the wheels of another wave of modernist painting movement in motion in Taiwan. Amongst these painters, Li Chunsheng and Chu Teh-Chun held modernist painting group exhibitions in Taipei Zhongshan Hall while Li Chunsheng began teaching, and his first students later became members of Eastern Art Association. It was during this time when the Eastern Art Association and the Fifth Moon Group, another group devoted to Taiwan’s modern painting, jointly advocate for modern paintings which attributed to its success and reached its height of popularity during Taiwan’s modern art movement in the early 1960s, challenging the institution’s then impressionist inclination as influenced by those who had studied abroad in Japan.
Three: The Revolutionaries of Modern Art Movement in Taiwan
In the 1960s, the joint effort of Eastern Art Association and the Fifth Moon Group with the flourishing art associations throughout Taiwan enabled a thrive in the development of art. The progressiveness of this generation of artists had in turn projected a great influence on its successors. With the introduction of modern art concept, coupled with an approach that integrated the East and West, a powerful stance was thereby proposed. In May of 2016, Asia Art Center presented the group exhibition “1960-The Origin of Taiwan’s Modern Art” to illustrate the distinct spirit of the era, inviting artists Wang Panyuan, Chen Tingshih, Yang Yuyu, Walasse Ting, Chu Weibor, Ho Kan, Fong Chung Ray, Chuang Che, Lee Shichi and Han Hsiangning. Through the works of these artists of the Eastern Art Association and the Fifth Moon Group, the phenomenon that is the growth and surge of modern art in post-war Taiwan is revisited.
While these artists had each organized independent art associations, they never sheltered themselves; they would participate in others’ gatherings, exhibitions, exchange critiques and information as well as jointly “rebel” with a progressive and liberal stance. They questioned the traditional use of brushes in Chinese paintings, and challenged the pedagogical structure and the ideology of institutions. However, as more members decided to move abroad, associations’ activities began to dissipate. Even abroad, the Chinese artists remained in close contact; from Taiwan to Europe and America, these artists are the pioneers and message bearers of modern art.
In 2018, Asia Art Center will bring two artists into the limelight in Art Basel Hong Kong. A retrospective approach is applied to retrace the history of modern art in Taiwan with Chu Weibor of the Eastern Art Association and Fong Chung Ray of the Fifth Moon Group aligned next to one another, forming into a “comparative model” of double axes.
Four: “Sunyata” – Chu Weibor of the Eastern Art Association (1929- , Age 89)
Chu Weibor of the Eastern Art Association was a military man but grew exceptionally drawn to art. He began studying under Liao Jichun following his move to Taiwan and joined the Eastern Art Association in 1958, indirectly inspired by his friend Li Chunsheng’s teachings. As a third generation seamster, Chu Weibor acknowledges the inherent texture of materials and colors, employing his fine workmanship to construct a sense of space; his minimalistic style is not impersonal but rather grounded and warm.
Chu Weibor of the Eastern Art Association strives to seek and express the “Eastern spirit” as his most valuable motivation when creating artwork with any material or in any form. While observing his creative career which now spans over 60 years, one can sense the self-awareness incited when faced with the clash of the new waves of Western aesthetics; this same self-awareness prompts him to sculpt out the integrity of aesthetics residing within artistic concepts through Eastern philosophies.
In comparison, Fontana, the founder of “Spatialism”, felt inclined to eradicate pre-existing Formalist ideas through acts of puncturing, slashing and digging, which are all static states after acts of destructions; Chu Weibor’s “po” (rupture) is, on the other hand, subtle and natural, through methods of folding and creasing the cotton or linen, they convey an air of genuineness and authenticity through the interwoven lines. His methodical cutting technique slices open the picture delicately, allowing the multihued fabrics filled in the back to pour out openly, freely yet subtly. The warmth in Chu Weibor’s work originates from his usage of the imagery of “circle” to unify “all things” – this is precisely a change that occurs as a result of constantly complying with a “repetitive” rhythm; “the formless as the essence” is both a spirit and realm of Zen embodied in his work and a method to transition from the expression of mock traditional Chinese landscape works to one that fuses the philosophies of both Taoism and Zen – the expression of “conformity”. The artistic approach of “Taoist ‘conformity’ and Zen Buddhist ‘sunyata’ (emptiness)” are the principal methods in his mixed media works.
Five: “Traveler” – Fong Chung Ray of the Fifth Moon Group (1934- , Age 84)
Fong Chung Ray of the Fifth Moon Group graduated from the Department of Fine Arts of Fu Hsing Kang College. Whether it be creations from the 1960s or works after his distinct shift in the 1990s, what has remained constant is the fun in rendering in a sea of rustic tones. In the early times, he would combine ink with calligraphy; the calligraphic lines dance and jump as if waltzing in the air. Fong Chung Ray’s calligraphy is not simply lines of character strokes but the lines of painting, and this method has reversed Chinese characters back to their pictorial significance; Fong’s breakthrough in traditional ink artwork using the rendering technique achieved an abstract ink form, echoing the writings in Buddhist scriptures. Text, ink media, imagery and Buddhist teaching, the four are fundamentally aligned thus can perfectly harmonize while maintaining the layers of distance.
Since the 1990s, Fong Chung Ray has founded a new method of painting by painting onto plastics and printed the image onto paper or canvas, producing the combination of ink with acrylics and experimental paint printmaking. The varied hues of paper and ink, asymmetrical shapes of the irregular papers along with the contrasting transparent and opaque colors create beauty in irregularity, of which the abstract landscape artwork through collage techniques was the most unique. It seemed to be a form of “creating” artwork which is oddly similar to the notion of “naturally occurring” as proposed by Impressionism. Nevertheless, upon further investigation, as Fong has found solace in Buddhism since 1982, he has internalized and realized in his art “the evanescence of time, the ultimate illusion” that describes this world, thus treating art as a form a meditation, drawing more parallels between the “creating” of art with the “epiphany” as emphasized by Zen Buddhism.
It is through this epiphany that Fong is able to retrace his steps by situating himself on a certain height. The serene colors are pieced together to create the effect of mottled walls, a curiously calm and tranquil scent emanates from the work when one observes with their eyes; an abundance in energy coupled with profoundly genuine feelings, his work stirs up sentiments but is not emotional. And now, the solidity and authenticity in Fong’s artwork is in full bloom as he marches into his eighties.
Six: Brief Summary – The Eastern Spirit is Not Wistful Nostalgia but an Issue of Value
If one were to categorize “contemporary art” as a kaleidoscope of our society since the 1980s, a time when constant calls for reforms and freedom echo through the air, there must be a so-called “contemporary” in the 1960s: the then revolutionary prowess and resilience are well-worth our time to rediscover and properly position them in history after the 60 years since the war ended. In its recent history until now, Taiwan has faced a 50-year-long colonization by the Japanese and a 38-year-long period of martial law following Kuomintang’s retreat to Taiwan; this tiny island has long been rid of its voice, passively allowing foreign political regimes to dominate and intervene in its cultural development. We must know the origin of Taiwan’s modern art and its development as it sat in the rift separating the two confronting sides in the chilling Cold War era, and how Taiwan was able to retain its local, cultural identity as it witnessed the great and absolute influence of Cold War – what is more, the development of art of this place as well as the continuation and regurgitation of the art discourse coming from the East, the West, China, Taiwan and Japan have identified the complexity in Taiwan’s identity. Asia Art Center has been an active contributor to the local art scene for 35 years, and we will curate an exhibition for 89-year-old Chu Weibor and 84-year-old Fong Chung Ray where history and form are compared and contrasted in Art Basel Hong Kong in 2018, proudly illustrating the fact that the one of the luckiest draws in Chinese culture occurred in Taiwan. The robust city of art – Hong Kong – will be where Asia Art Center, the Eastern Art Association and the Fifth Moon Group bring forth our shared value.