|text by Chia Chi Jason Wang
You grew up in an age when Taiwan was still economically poor and the KMT regime highly repressive. Given such harsh environment, how did you decide to become an artist?
I was born to be an artist. I was very interested in drawing and painting when I was still a child. But the idea of becoming a serious artist did not occur to me until I entered senior high school. Later, It was my mentor Lee Chun-shan, who began to teach me what had been going on in modern, especially Western, art. Besides learning to paint in abstraction under Lee's guidance, I also got interested in human psychology and started to read books on that subject, including those by Freud.
During my college years, I became more politically conscious. One incentive was that I did a lot of researches of my own on Taiwanese folk arts as well as the Chinese woodcut prints in the 1930's at that time. Starting from then, I became more and more aware of Taiwan's social structure and political situation. But I did not try to fuse big themes such as art, psychology, politics, and social issues in my painting until much later. In general, the whole situation in Taiwan during the recent decades was very bad for the development of art.
What kind of artist did you wish to become at that time?
As a matter of fact, I was still too ignorant to know what I really wanted in art. I only knew that I liked new and fresh things. In this respect, Lee Chun-shan's teaching of abstract art and psychology really quenched my thirst.
Back in those days, Taiwan was under the terror of martial law. The whole society was extremely conservative and closed, if not self-isolated. Since abstract art was the only newest trend that we were able to know and learn, it seemed most natural that a more advanced young artist like myself would choose to become an abstract artist.
In retrospect, what was your turning point as an artist? When did it occur?
It happened from 1975 through 1979, during which I devoted myself to researches on the kinds of art that I mentioned earlier. The result was that both Chinese and Taiwanese elements were seen in my paintings. I developed a swift manner in drawing lines; I also mixed the figurative images with my abstract techniques. The change occurred. I began to leave behind what Lee had taught me by adding social experiences and new styles into my works. Different styles were mixed alright, but the result was more superficial than organic. Very vaguely, it was as though I was exploring to find a “Grand Eastern” style for my art.
Also starting from the 1970's, Taiwan was turning itself into an industrial society. The whole landscape and environment changed drastically. To me, it was a great cultural shock, especially when I moved from a small town near the sea in mid-Taiwan to the developing metropolitan Taipei. Thus, from 1980 on, social realism become another stronghold in my painting. I use realistic techniques to express my sarcasm and indirect criticism towards the society.
What have you been doing these years?
Political satire and social criticism have been my main themes, either implicitly or explicitly, since 1975. Recently I am more concerned about the issue of cultural conflicts within Taiwan, which of course are the direct result of political injustice and social disintegration as well. But in my painting, I have presented this issue as the outcome of the dichotomy between the old “Orient” and the modern West. In general, I want my art to be socially oriented; I want to get close to real people of all walks and to know how they live. Wherever I go or live, the society and environment around me will always remain the subjects of my discourse. And my paintings are my discourses.
What are your future plans?
In my last three solo exhibitions, I have painted three series of works, respectively under the topics of “The Phenomena of the Mythical Age,” “Icons and Images of Taiwan,” and “Picturing Taiwan.” This same line of thinking will be carried on. Of course, new explorations are also needed. I always look forward to adding new elements and themes into my works. I hope I will be able to begin my new series on “The Eighteen Arhats”--the title borrowed from Buddhist literature--very soon.
(See Chia Chi Jason Wang, “Taipei in Entropy,” Flash Art, vol. XXIX, No. 187 (3/1996~4/1996), pp. 57-60.)