Richard Lin
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Actionless. Stillness. Silence
文 / David Frazier

Richard Lin began exhibiting‘minimalist’ paintings inLondon galleries five years beforethe term was coined, and his studiesin white were admired by no lessthan Joan Miro. An ongoing exhibitat the Kaohsiung Museum ofFine Arts chronicles hisextraordinary career

Seeing how Taiwan’s cultural institutions tendto recognize artistic success as something thathappens abroad rather than at home, it’s strangeto see how little fanfare has been generated by anew retrospective on Richard Lin (林壽宇), who isquite probably Taiwan’s most accomplished livingmodern artist.

Lin, now 78, began exhibiting spare minimalist canvasesin elite London galleries during the late-1950s, several yearsbefore the term “minimalism” was even coined. In 1964, hebecame the first artist from Taiwan to exhibit in Germany’sDocumenta exhibition, one of the world’s most importantperiodic surveys of contemporary art. And a year later, herepresented Great Britain at the Pittsburgh Biennial, animportant exhibition at the time, along with Francis Bacon, apainter now firmly entrenched in the canon of late modernism.Lin’s works can now be found in top museum collections,including London’s Tate Modern, Rome’s National Gallery ofModern Art and dozens of others.

In the late 1960s, the Spanish surrealist Joan Miro himselfwas tremendously impressed by Lin’s paintings, which werecomposed of rectangular blocks that offered delicate studiesin shades and textures of the color white.

“Miro came to my studio in London,” remembers Lin,speaking on the telephone from his home in the industrialseaside town of Dali in Taichung County. “He went to theMarlborough Gallery and asked to see some young Britishartists’ work, and they showed him several artists thatMarlborough represented, and he chose to come to mystudio only.”

One of the first books on art Lin had bought after arrivingin London in 1952 was on Miro’s art. Lin recounts, “So Ishowed him, ‘Miro, I bought a book on you by [the famouscritic] Clement Greenberg.’ And he said, ‘Do you have anycrayon.’ He took my daughter’s crayon and made a drawingon the cover of that book. And then he said, ‘In the world ofwhite, no one can exceed you.’”

One is Everything: 50 Years of Work by Richard Lin fills themajor galleries of the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts withthe artist’s grand canvases of stark blacks and whites that arecomposed according to the basic geometries of rectangles,triangles and circles. It begins with Lin’s early contemplativecanvases of blurry forms that were inspired by the abstractexpressionists — especially Mark Rothko. The show thenmoves into his purification of geometry around 1960, his white period that followed, his 1984 declaration of the deathof painting and his later move into minimal sculpture andsculptural installation.

Lin is descended from the Lin family of Wufeng, anhistorically important clan in Taiwan since the mid-18thcentury. He was sent to Hong Kong for schooling in 1949 andthree years later to London, though not, he claims, to escapethe political turmoil of the era.

“The first year I was living in Hong Kong, Chiang Kai-shek(蔣介石) lost Shanghai,” he laughs. “It was just a coincidence. Iwas seeking an education.”

Lin studied architecture at Regent Street Polytechnic (nowthe University of Westminster), and soon after graduationturned to painting and found himself represented by one ofLondon’s top art galleries, Gimpel Fils. The gallery was pushinga new wave of modernism in its main showrooms whilecontinuing to deal in impressionists and even Rembrandts outof its private rooms.

When Lin painted his Two White Squares in 1960 — a tallcanvas with two identical white squares painted side by side— it was still five years before the first mention of the term“minimalism” by an art critic.

Lin himself considers the work to be a key to hisdevelopment and one of his favorites because with it paintingbecomes “completely formless.”

In contrast to the emotionalism of the abstractexpressionists, Lin says, “The personal emotion side must besuppressed in my art,” adding that in this particular piece,“The intellect has found a victory.”

“Actionless. Stillness. Silence,” he continues, listing theTaoist ideals that offered him inspiration. “Stillness is veryimportant to me. Painting to me is my religious expression.I still think so. Painting to me must be just there. It’s myaltarpiece, something untouched by human hands. Thereforeall the gestures disappeared.”

Despite his position near the epicenter of London’s versionof the wild, avant-garde art scene of the 1960s, Lin says he “livedlike a hermit,” moving to the coast of Wales, growing vegetablesin the garden and painting his nearly all-white canvases.In 1975, Lin had a disagreement with his dealers — by thistime the Marlborough Gallery — who asked him to changehis style.

“You know what they actually told me?” says Lin. “‘Allartists are whores! Prostitutes! So why can’t you give up whatyou’ve been doing and enter photorealism, because that’s how you become fashionable in New York.’”

Lin ended his contract, returned to Taiwan four years later,and stayed for most of the next decade. Though commercialsuccess at home came slowly, in 1983 he became the firstliving artist to have a work enter the collection of the NationalPalace Museum, and in 1985 he had a sculpture purchased bythe newly established Taipei Fine Arts Museum.

In 1984, he also declared the “death of painting.” True to hisword, he hasn’t painted since, though he has created shapedcanvases and assemblages of canvases.

Lin’s refusal to paint is consistent with the end ofminimalism elsewhere. Instead of putting forms on canvas, thecanvas became the form, and then forms came off the gallerywalls and were installed in three-dimensional space. This isgenerally believed to be how installation art came about.

In the current retrospective in Kaohsiung, Lin’s recentworks — both assemblages of flat shapes on the wall andassemblages of metal parts laid out on the floor — are in factsome of his most handsome. He has also taken to using readymades,including stacking objects purchased from Ikea, intosimple shapes. There’s a neat irony to these last pieces — apioneer of minimalism re-appropriating mass-produced goodsthat are essentially copying his own ideas about design.

But it’s not always best to mention “minimalism” to Lin,who finds the label vexing.

“Minimalism did not exist when I was doing it,” he exclaims.

After that, it takes some coddling before I get him to admit,“Certainly, I did not come under the influence of minimalismas such, though perhaps I assisted in forming that philosophy.”

Taipei Times 2010/07/14
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