2007年8月17日 星期五

Su Hsin-Tien Is My Dali

Su Hsin-Tien Is My Dali
Reflections on Su Hsin-Tien's Cyclical Space Painting Retrospective

Author: Chen Juing-hao

(Full text originally posted in MASS-AGE 2007-03-26.)

Picture 1: From the left, Su Hsin-Tien's wife, Su Hsin-Tien poster, TFAM Director Huang Tsai-lang and Su Hui-Yu holding a video camera.

I originally intended to discuss the young multi-disciplinary artist Su Hui-Yu in this article (see Picture 1). However, the opening of Su Hsin-Tien's Cyclical Space Painting Retrospective gave me a tremendous jolt.

I decided that I would like to introduce my readers to Su Hui-Yu's father, Su Hsin-Tien, the so-called "Dali of Taiwan."

Taiwan's art scene has been really "cold" recently.

In the early 1990s art galleries were popular in Taiwan, but now you can only find them in Beijing.

However, on March 10 at 3 p.m., I saw the spirited opening of Su Hsin-Tien's solo exhibition, a spectacular event of the sort that hasn't been seen in Taiwan for some time. To use a Beijing expression, it was "burning hot."

Perhaps my emotions were unstable that day so that I couldn't think straight and wasn't objective enough. To tell the truth, however, I often attend both large and small exhibition openings in Taiwan, and it's been a long time since I've felt that level of enthusiasm emanating from an exhibition. Many exhibitions, even those with big crowds, can still be "cold."

「"Cold" refers to the situation when viewers feel cold or indifferent to the works in an exhibition, as if they were leafing through the newspaper or surfing the Web. They move through the shuffling crowd to leave the exhibition and don't stop to admire the works, let become emotionally transfixed (like a mesmerized cow).

But at Su Hsin-Tien's exhibition, viewers were drawn into the magical world of cyclical space.

While appreciating the paintings, I ran into TFAM Director Huang Tsai-lang. I casually mentioned that "Su Hsin-Tien is like the Dali of Taiwan."

Picture 2: The lively atmosphere at the opening of Su Hsin-Tien's solo exhibition.

At the opening of Su Hsin-Tien's exhibition that day, streams of people arrived to fill the exhibition opening area, and it got even more crowded after the exhibition actually opened.

With such an enthusiastic crowd, the area for the opening ceremony seemed a bit small. Su Hsin-Tien was wearing a black baseball cap and looked as vital as ever.

After the ceremony began, Su spoke carefully and confidently yet still had a sense of humor and the dignity appropriate for a senior artist. He spoke ardently and frankly.

He gave a paper bag to the Taipei City Deputy Mayor and Deputy Speaker of the Taipei City Council. In the bag was a chart showing the history of the world that Su had researched and worked on for a long time. Su said with a touch of irony that he wanted to help Taiwan and local artists find their place in world history.

He then gave a bag to TFAM director Huang Tsai-lang, saying that he wanted to give senior artists a place in Taiwan and wanted people to understand the Hua Wai Painting Association. He then added that the 1A exhibition space was often reserved for foreign exhibitions, but that "I insisted on holding my exhibition here--does anyone really think that my exhibition isn't up to international standards?"

That sentence brought thunderous applause, and Su continued to say many inspiring things as the clapping continued. His speech wasn't recorded, but I could tell his words came from the bottom of his heart, and I was truly moved.

Note 1: Su has just graduated from the fine arts department of National Taiwan Normal University and forms the Hua Wai Painting Association with Lin Rui-ming, Hsu Huai-ci, and Ma Kai-jhao.

They believed that the distinction between painting, sculpture and other traditional media was no longer necessary, and that artists should strive to create new works without limits in either form or media, thus thoroughly destroying the traditional art forms.

The philosophy of the Hua Wai Painting Association was that "We absorb art from all traditions, ancient and modern, East and West. Surrealism, abstract, Pop art, Op art, we take it all in." The method they used was "crush them, understand them" and they advocated "endlessly destroying and creating" in order to find a new creative direction.

In denying the value of traditional art, the foundation of their thinking was aligned with European avant-garde theories. They believed that the inspiration for art needs to come from the authentic feelings of the artist, and thus felt that following or copying others was a hindrance to progress.

This group of artists believed that expansion requires continual breakthrough, continual revolution, including breaking past old forms and focusing on art that came before you.

After the opening ceremony I entered the exhibition space, pausing carefully to trace Su's complete path of artistic development and appreciate his distinctive works.

After gaining a certain understanding, I discovered that Su's unwavering resolve, his autonomy, and his confidence all came from years and years of painting as well as the accumulated knowledge from his studies. He has the deep multi-disciplinary thinking of a scientist or a historian, yet he uses the forms of art to express his observations about the world. With his rich painting concepts and oil painting techniques, as well as his convincing passion and fervor, he is the master teacher who I have been long searching for.

In fact, there has been no shortage of master artists in every era of Taiwan art, but local artists have not been appreciated by society as a whole. When I was studying modern art history I remember that we mainly studied Western theories. The artists who were referenced were also Western and were the famous masters that everyone knew about. This was the end result of the successful Westernization of our education, was it not?

Of course, I don't mean to offend these Western masters, but where are the great master artists of Taiwan?

Why aren't they affirmed and recognized by our government and our education system? Why aren't they included in our art curriculum and given their own individual art museums to commend their efforts?

The problem is especially acute in Taipei, which advertises itself as an international city but doesn't have many art exhibitions or museums or a special artistic atmosphere. There are no museums dedicated and named after local artists in Taipei like the Juming Museum in Taipei County.

Those who have been to New York won't forget the dozens of art galleries and museums next to Central Park. Those who have been to Beijing won't forget the 798 Art District that is brimming with artists and exhibitions. But what about Taipei?

(Ah-ling often has crazy ideas and thinks that Taipei needs to build a few more museums to commemorate the works of artists from different generations. Ideally there would be a separate museum for the 1930s/40s, the 50s/60s, and the 70s/80s. Then Taiwan's residents would frequently see the works of Taiwan's masters and understand their own modern art history. Every city and county in Taiwan has a cultural center, but will you ever visit one when you travel? If each city and county had a museum dedicated to a local artist, for example if Chiayi had a Chen Cheng-bo museum, rather than a cultural center, wouldn't that be better?)

Su Hsin-Tien's speech was full of righteousness and he talked of crucial cultural matters and sensitive artistic issues. Many people wished that he wouldn't stop speaking, and my hands were red and sore from clapping. People were filled with righteous indignation and it has been a long time since I've seen such a passionate scene. The passion and energy that Su provoked with his words are still with me, and I find myself involuntarily recalling the feeling from that day.

I had long heard of the illustrious Su Hsin-Tien but never had the chance to meet him. That day I personally witnessed his charisma.

I asked Su Hui-Yu if having such an extraordinary and admirable father gave him a lot of pressure. Actually, I wasn't familiar with Su Hsin-Tien's works before, and it seems as though Su had gone into hibernation for more than 10 years, devoting himself fully to his painting and his research, as well as his unique boundary-less philosophy. Finally he released a new series of works related to thinking, the universe, space and time, the mutual reliance of solidness and emptiness, and theories regarding the reciprocal relationship between the inner and the outer. Taking the scientific knowledge that he already had , he used his brush to explore questions regarding the wondrous fluctuations of cyclical space and time in the universe


Picture 3: The 1A exhibition room, which is normally reserved for famous artists or special international exhibitions, was used to exhibit Su Hsin-Tien's Cyclical Space Painting Retrospective.
A total of 53 oil paintings were exhibited until June 24.
Photo by Ah-ling.

Observing Su Hsin-Tien's complete retrospective at the TFAM, the design of the exhibit space seems to echo the topic of the exhibition: it seems to shift and cycle with the flow of the exhibition. Seeing the evolution of Su's works, his integration and his expansion, if you analyze it in its entirety it is like a modern art textbook.

Su Hsin-Tien was born in Yunlin County, Beigang Village in 1940. In 1962 he began study at the Fine Arts Department of National Taiwan Normal University (Su Hui-Yu graduated from the same department in 1998), and devoted his youth to avant-garde art.

1967 marked the germination period of the cyclical space concept, which is thoroughly explained in Su's 1998 picture album “ Cyclical Space—Su Hsin-Tien’s Several Dimensional World in Painting”.

In 1971 Su presented his first Cyclical Space work in America. In 1973 he presented an entire exhibition on this theme at the Taipei Provincial Art Museum. In 1981 Su left his teaching job so that he could devote himself and fully concentrate on his research and painting. Cyclical Space attempts to solve the mystery of the vast universe.

Picture 4: No Interior, No Exterior, 1973, oil, canvas, 167x121cm,
Illusive Cycle period, provided by Hui-yu.

In his early period Su used "geometric pieces" to create illusory art (see Picture 4) and explore the latent potential of space. He gradually created art that “linked the internal with the external,” linking the civilized and natural worlds.

The exhibition at the TFAM includes Su Hsin-Tien's 53 oil paintings from 1972 to 2006. Illusive Cycle, Non-objects, Deep Illusion, Multi-dimensional World, Rotating Spaces and Cyclical Horizons, there are six sections in total, each with a chart and table of world history written and prepared especially by Su Hsin-Tien (see Picture 5). Each represents an original view of the world.

In Su Hsin-Tien's essays, he talks about cyclical space. He adopts two different tacks: the first uses distortion and illusion in his paintings to create imaginative cyclical space paintings, the second uses a variety of perspective drawings to portray a world with multiple gravities.


Picture 5: Su Hsin-Tien carefully explains his chart of world history at the exhibition opening, seeming both a scientist and an historian.
Photo by Ah-ling.

The exhibition has paintings that reveal a multi-dimensional world that is very different from the everyday world we know.

Apart from the paintings themselves, the exhibition also includes a variety of concepts, including illusion, gravity reconstruction, space rotating (Picture 6), the theory of relativity, four-dimensional space, hyper space , and surrealism. The works not only satisfy your visual senses but also quench your thirst for knowledge.

Picture 6: Around the World, Su Hsin-Tien, 173x173 cm., 2006,
provided by Hui-yu.

Picture 7: Su Hsin-Tien's cyclical space pieces present surrealistic nature and weather.
Photo by Ah-ling at the TFAM.

With limited canvas space, Su uses a skillful painting style to depict the interrelation between our living spaces and the natural world. Through a special displacement of space and multiple perspectives he creates crooked lines that look broken, but in fact indicate an unbroken cyclical space. There are multiple ambiguities between the space and the environment, and a surrealistic artistic universe is created. Each piece of art is like a surprising garden labyrinth that allows the imagination to stretch on endlessly.

I won't give any more unnecessary details about individual works in the exhibition. I only hope that people will find time to visit the Taipei Fine Arts Museum and use their own two eyes to experience the other world that is represented on Su's canvases.

Translator :( Mark Hammons )