2007年4月28日 星期六

Hyperspace-time’s Art: On Su Hsin-Tien’s Painting World

Hyperspace-time’s Art: On Su Hsin-Tien’s Painting World
Dawn Chen-Ping
Since ancient times, man has never ceased to explore the space and time in which he lives. In this respect, there is a Buddhist saying, “neither dying nor being reborn”, while Christianity uses the Book of Genesis to explain the origin of the universe and mankind. Although the various theories may satisfy man in his intellectual quest temporarily, human life is still transient in the real world. When the element of “time” is taken into account, how does man resigned to life and death in the universe try to understand the meaning of his existence?
Artists are known as “the conscience of mankind” because of their sensitivity and the reflection of many human situations in their works. They have a unique way of seeing the world (including the internal and external world), analyzing and exploring the internal spiritual space and the external physical space.
Mr. Su Hsin-Tien, the subject of this essay, is obsessed with the exploration of multi-dimensional space in painting. Apart from creating a series of paintings dealing with the “fourth dimension” and even “infinite space”, he also wrote a treatise on the “flow aesthetics” of his own invention [1] Going beyond artistic creation, he makes philosophical speculation on the position of man and the brevity of life in the spatial and temporal axes. From the late 1960s, Su Hsin-Tien has devoted himself to painting and the formulation of his own art theories like a persistent runner in a marathon, that are manifested within his art in minute details.
In the following three sections “Visual logic and fallacy’, “The philosophical expression of objects and figures” and “Beyond objects – images that capture the essence of life”, I will observe Su Hsin-Tien’s paintings comprehensively in order to provide readers with a full framework of understanding. By returning to the perceptual level of art, I will illustrate the meanings of his paintings and their inspiring artistic qualities.

1. Visual logic and fallacy
While paintings in general focus on the subjects depicted, Su creates works with a “fallacy” that exploits optical illusion on a two-dimensional plane to make viewers reject the seemingly illogical visual space or subjects. This stimulates the viewer’s thinking and urge to search for logical spatial concepts and accustomed optic phenomena on the pictorial surface.
The artist describes his subjects as “absolutely erroneous objects”, whose concept is similar to the “impossible objects” explored in the west starting from the 1950s. While this series of paintings seems logical on the surface, it creates ambiguities by playing with color values and the relationships between the inside and outside of figures. Such works are not intended to show “logical images”, but rather, their purpose to “confound” viewers so that they will question the artist’s incentives and purpose of creation in order to achieve a greater interaction (or the “dialogue” or “dialectics” between the viewer and the piece of work). Such aesthetic activities bring about new feelings and new understanding in viewers, causing them to abandon their old habits of logical seeing, thus, Su’s work touches on the cognitive psychology and framework of viewers. [2]
The style mentioned above can be found in the works of Su’s “initial experimental period” (1969-1970). In the three works With One Leg Past the Hurdle,1970 Erroneous Golden Chair,1970 ,The Wall-less City,1970 , from 1970, the subjects are highlighted through simplification, while detailed depiction is avoided due to the flat application of paint. Viewers’ eyes are drawn to the optical illusions, so that they begin to question the reliability of their sight, thus, producing a “dialectical process” between the viewer and the piece of work. That is, the process of finding a balance between the “illusion” and “truth” of painting though reasonable and unreasonable doubt.
With One Leg Past the Hurdle,1970
Erroneous Golden Chair,1970
The Wall-less City,1970
CYCLICAL SPACE: Su Hsih-tine's Multi-Dimensional World in Painting,1998,P49-51

2. The philosophical expression of objects and figures
In terms of subject matter, Su Hsin-Tien’s paintings fall into two main categories: the depiction of pure objects, and images of figures. Nevertheless, the artist emphasizes not on figurative representation, but the verisimilitude of the objects or “evoking” the viewer experiences visually. The main concept of Su’s paintings is to explore the “philosophy of painting” and engage in philosophical thinking through the depiction of specific subjects and the creation of certain moods (or more neutrally, the reorganization of the motifs).
First, in terms of the exploration of pure objects, we can refer to Su’s Circular But Void (1972). To viewers, the painting seems to purely depict the shape (circular) and texture (steel-like) of the object, while the individual expressive brushwork is reduced. It places special emphasis on creating an almost scientific and seemingly logical relationship between the object and its background. He constructs a space through visual illusion, creating a sort of virtual reality and conforming to the logic of visual conventions. Interestingly, compelled by certain gestalt laws, the viewer begins to trace the outline of the object, until he finds that the contours of the steel object coincide with the spatial boundary of the background, therefore, sharing the same shape and contours, producing the “illusion of dimensions”.
Second, in terms of the paintings centered on images of figures, the figures are usually simplified into monochrome shapes. While delineating a basic human form, they can also indicate expression, movement and mood. For instance,
11室空妙有Amazing Interior
Amazing Interior (1973)
depicts a human figure that seems to be lying face down within a cage, surrounded by three walls, with a lamp suspended from above. The whole work is composed of flat color planes, where the different color tones and gradations of color result in optical illusions and a kind of musical rhythm, echoing Op Art. [3] In another work
06我中有你 You in Me
You in Me (1972)
two human figures overlap, as if they are in each other’s arms, creating romantic associations. By combining the spray painting technique, the background is given a rich texture. The semi-abstract figures, one light and one dark, with their hands cleverly merged, create the illusion that one lies behind the other, causing the viewer’s eyes to shift constantly between the images of the painting, producing a strong sense of movement.
The above-mentioned series of works represents the shape or texture of objects or human figures, but subsequently undermines their logic or physicality to arrive at a philosophical dialectics that transcends the image. The characteristics of these works can also be seen in the “impossible objects” created by Su in other works from his “horizontal movement illusion” period (1971-1979), such as “
09其大無外其小無內No Exterior, No Interior
No Exterior, No Interior (1973)
. Beyond objects – images that capture the essence of life in the universe
After over a decade of research on the “illusion of dimensions” and “absolutely erroneous objects”, Su Hsin-Tien realized that there were limits to the forms expressing the relationships between figure and ground, and moved on to the creation of “depth illusion”. In terms of the representation of space, this group of work bears a distant relation to the ideas of “surrealism”. But through the depiction of figurative space and scenes, Su creates his own brand of illusion – while they may seem logical, they cannot possibly exist in a space with depth. This is different from surrealism in essence. In his work, Su tries to achieve a “universal cyclical space” and visual sensation that baffles the imagination.
For instance, starting from his “non-object” period (1980-1984), the artist has created a series of large figurative works exceeding sizes of 5x4 feet that depict natural scenery or architecture, in which he tries to construct a more virtual space. Through the realistic representation of space and the suggestion of depth, the works effectively guide the movement of the beholder’s eyes, leading the observer to explore the spatial illusions created. The artist also uses symbols, forms and colors to create the suggestion of a cyclical space. When the beholder compares this with the space in which he exists, the works combining logic and fallacies take on philosophical implications in a process of questioning and finding answers.
12宇宙虛空在內部Vacuous Universe Inside
In Vacuous Universe Inside (1983)
Su began to depict more figurative details to provide viewers with more references to their real-life experience. The background incorporates many elements of a natural landscape – the silhouette-like snow-capped mountains, the great waves and a series of shapes resembling swirling clouds. A cube formed by white dots in the centre of the painting suggests a desire of physical exploration.
From the 1980s onwards, Su Hsin-Tien’s paintings manifest the following characteristics: many works are richer in content and show an interest in the depiction of more details, in term of the background of the paintings, Su fills it with more figurative natural landscapes or architectural structures; using this style gives him greater flexibility to convey his philosophical thinking and the symbolic meaning of existence in the universe through his paintings.

Conclusion – the place of Su Hsin-Tien’s paintings in art history
Starting from the ancient Roman wall paintings, man became interested in creating the illusion of three-dimensional space, and had a certain amount of understanding and skill to suggest it. [4] In the Renaissance, the physical world was objectively analyzed and perspective was born, resulting in many works representing the physical space. [5] At the same time, distorted images known as “anamorphosis” were produced as a contrast. [6] While western classical perspective is based on the single vanishing point (also known as central perspective), eastern painting, especially traditional Chinese ink painting, is characterized by multiple vanishing points or so-called “moving perspective”, as well as “parallel perspective”. [7]
Through his paintings and the application of his own art theories, Su Hsin-Tien has broadened the scope of visual art, an illusionist activity, and elevated it to a higher level by introducing the notion of “multi-dimensional space”. He has created another dimension beyond the physical three dimensions, a metaphysical, spiritual space that transcends physical space and time, approaching the essence of human life. Su’s artistic works achieve a “hyperspace-time” feeling that differs from the realm of ordinary experience.
In the 20th century, artists’ interests in space were undiminished and the concept of “the fourth dimension” was explored in their works. In particular, the publication of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity (1916) revolutionized people’s ideas about time and space in the universe. The early Cubist style of representing subjects as many-faceted, the Italian Futurist painters, the Russian Futurists and Suprematists etc. were all considered as related to the exploration of the fourth dimension or “hyperspace philosophy”. [8] The work of Dutch artist M. C. Escher (1898-1972) combines visual illusion of space and cyclical space that creates associations with man’s spiritual space.
Su Hsin-Tien differs from them, in addition to playing with three-dimensional space, by also being interested in the theory of planetary motion. After Einstein, the idea of curved space and time in the universe was established, but in the field of visual art, the theme of a cyclical universe has not been a central subject. Su Hsin-Tien aims at a “mode dominated by the cyclical space”, depicting a series of images that resemble the interlocking of cyclical spaces of the universe, making direct reference to the curved space, creating an ideal, imagined realm for viewers. With his solid theoretical background, Su Hsin-Tien has produced sensational works that have serious repercussions upon contemporary art. In terms of the 21st century art history, Su’s development of a personal vocabulary over the years is enough to secure him a place in international art. At the time of the artistic movement “Painting Beyond Painting Society”, the artistic environment was much less favorable than now. But Su Hsin-Tien has persisted in his efforts to create an international vision for Taiwanese modern art. He fully deserves to be called an avant-garde of contemporary art.

Mr. Su Hsin-Tien was one of my teachers when I studied at the Fu-Hsin Art School (now known as Fu-Hsin Vocational School). At the time, I thought of him as an intellectual teacher and an outstanding artist. A few years later, I joined the staff of the Xie-He High School of Industry and Commerce and had the chance to work with him in the art department headed by him. I was once again impressed by his strong artistic temperament, systematic creative ideas and sense of mission to search for the true meaning of life. I will always cherish the memory of that period.
It is a great honor for me to write an essay on the occasion of Mr. Su’s exhibition. I hope this exhibition will be a huge success.


[1] With regard to “the fourth dimension”, “infinite space”, the treatise on “flow aesthetics” and related theories, see Su Hsin-Tien’s Cyclical Space – Su Hsin-Tien’s Multi-Dimensional Paintings (published by the author, 1998), p.45.
[2] See the studies of “cognitive psychology” on the prior cognitive framework of viewers in looking at paintings.
[3] This painting style was chiefly practiced in the US and the UK from the 1960s to the 1970s. Its exponents created works that exploit purely optical phenomena and visual perception.
[4] Some wall paintings excavated in the ancient city of Pompeii show the illusionistic representation of space with depth.
[5] Examples are Renaissance paintings such as The Last Supper or The School of Athens, which centers on three-dimensional space or uses it as background.
[6] One example is the oil painting The Ambassadors (1533) by Hans Holbein the Younger.
[7] A City of Cathay is one example.
[8] For more details, see note 1, pp.43-45
(Translated by Christine Chan)