Living With Shadows

‘Everything has its own shadow even if in the darkest space which can’t be recognized. Sometimes shadows are just like the memory, appearing clearly or indistinctly. One thing I believe is that shadows can’t be eliminated from the object, unless the object vanished into the air.’

My childhood is my “shadow”. At the time I always unaccompanied in childhood and the person who was most close to me was my mother. She was an operator in a marble factory. I went with her everyday but was not allowed to disturb her job. Therefore, I got plenty of time for myself. At the time, I was five years old and isolated. Actually, I do not consciously know why my childhood has transformed with this invisible effect later. It is gradually becoming a significant influence on the process of my creation. I came from Taipei, a big city like New York, where I feel loneliness even in the crowds of people. I have a number of friends, but I would rather quiet than noisy and always keep a safe distance from them. I treated them with respect, that’s the real meaning of distance for me. Although I feel distance is not the most important key to maintaining a friendship. I observe everything carefully from a distance, and pay attention to it. It’s a benefit for me when I had academic training from 1984 to 1994. During that time I painted landscapes and portraits and began to know about some western artists like, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Millet, Pissarro, Degas and Van Gogh. Several years into my studies I was delighted to also learn about Giacometti, Anselm Kiefer, Gerhard Richter and Antonio Lopez. I was very excited to see their works in some albums because of the way they explore varied patterns of personal language. This is very important for an artist during the process of learning how to develop the personal voice.

Before 2000, the year I left my country to come to New York, I was still doing impressionistic, romantic and mystical styles of painting. Once in New York, the capital of art, I felt like a stranger. Different cultures, different language and a different atmosphere; I automatically felt isolated. In my first year in New York, I had difficulty to paint with confidence. I felt bitter and was suffering at the time. I made some “flower” paintings. But when I look back and review those paintings now, they kind of reveal a secure feeling. Because I am confident painting realistically, I have quite a clear concept of how I want things represented. In the conception, to see what’s wrong, this is so difficult. To make it right is easy. For instance, in realistic painting, there are lots of principles for a painter like me to make a beautiful or popular painting that had been done before by other artists. But it’s hard to create different ideas that include both technique and concept from the history of art and a personal voice. However, I am totally dissatisfied with the “flower” series, because what I intended to represent, the ideas of “beauty” or “elegancy”, the flower was already a beautiful vision by itself. So the question I have to ask myself was what’s the critical meaning of beauty that I have to probe into?
Then I realized, every thing could be beautiful, depending on how it is represented. After that, I painted “Chair”. The lonely chair occupies the whole scale, and then I exaggerated and simplified the chair with black color. The light behind it and the shadow implies the idea of isolation. The purple conveys the feeling of ominous and also makes a harmonious quality with the black lonely chair. For me, it is one kind of beautiful pattern. Even though the chair is not usually considered “a thing of beauty”, I feel it could be an attractive theme through my personal representation. Light and shadow are important characters in my paintings because they deliver a significant element – the ambiance of loneliness. What about the ambiance? I think it is particularly about the “individual atmosphere”. I hope to especially express   personal sensitivity and experience through my work and motivate the viewer to feel the same mood that I convey perhaps he/she does not regard it from daily life. Take my painting “Who Are You?” for another example. A lone cat stands still in the dark. The long shadow emphasizes the feeling of loneliness and the dark color suggests a dull space where the people might not noticed before. I really like it because I have a cat who always keeps a safe distance from me while making his personal observations. And so do I.

After “Who Are You?” I was excited and started to discover some ideas from mundane objects, which I hadn’t noticed before. Those ideas definitely related to my   experiences and memories. When I recalled them and represented them onto the canvas, I felt just like my cat observing something from a safe distance. In both “Dear Mom…” and “Little Bag”, I was concerned about the scale as well as the color. I preferred not to put too many different colors for each subject, because I considered them the mood of loneliness. The feeling was emphasized by a monochromatic or neutral color that would supply a different kind of atmosphere in the painting. If I represented the subject with real color, then it would turn into a real object or portrait. In doing so the real color would evoke the preconception of the audience’s experience and the mood of loneliness or isolation would be reduced simultaneously as they became aware of the real color. Then the subject became nothing but a portrait. As another important element, the scale definitely influences the subject matter. The effect is according to the proportion of subject matter in relation to the size of the canvas. I reserve more empty spaces around the subject; hence the audience can feel more of a sense of loneliness.
In this group of paintings, I used a lot of blurring to dim the images, making the subject matter become more intriguing or unbelievable and represent the ideas of memories of mundane life. The blurring makes the subject out of focus and blends it with the empty space that surrounds. Therefore, the audience can catch a sense of atmosphere at first and then think about something farther. In “137th St.”, “Rivers”, “7 1/2 inches” and “Springs”, this conveys my ideas. In “Rivers”, the viewers have different opinions. Because the urinal had been represented by M. Duchamp or other artists and carried an established concept in art history. But for me, the convenient function of the urinal is more important than its position in art history because it is something I use every day. Its symbolism is the same as the other mundane subjects and I just like to represent it in an aesthetic way. In “Rivers”, the urinal seems to be installed in a public place and surrounded by an ambiguous atmosphere. The audience not only perceives the space between the urinal and themselves, but also regards themselves as a part of this specific place that relates to the mood of isolation and real experience. The blurred image conveys the feeling of unbelievable, which emphasizes the idea of loneliness. It seems out of focus, as if the participant is thinking about something else, or is preoccupied. The “Springs” represents the same idea. The empty space of surrounding the sink, which is big enough to become an environment, and the audience, is not necessary to step up. You may feel you can enter it. Hence, you become aware of your own environment and become a participant. That sense that you are there yourself, a participant – rather than merely being a spectator.

Maybe it’s the experience of a lonely childhood, which became a mysterious shadow in my life. I hardly have interest in humans. It is not easy to have such spiritual interaction between people and me. That’s why the human figures seldom show up in my works. It’s my character. Sometimes we could be moved by a piece of paper or a dying rose, because they conjure up a lot of images for the viewer. In “Rest” and “The End”, both of them intend to express the feeling of atmosphere as well. The chair in “Rest”, is in my studio, and always braces me up when I am exhausted. But it sits alone with its shadow, when it is taking a break. It seems like me. In “The End”, a wall of my studio, the empty space embraces the little pieces of papers. While the audience looks into the painting, attracted by details, the neutral color and blurred marks suggest a distance between the viewer and the wall. The emptiness creates particular environment and implies something beyond the object. And the emptiness drops a hint of sadness. It’s an intimate conversation with each mundane subject through my painting. That is not necessary to have real words with them at all. Each of them brings its own story behind itself, just like its shadow. They are always together.

This thesis was accompanied with my solo exhibition at Compton-Goethals Gallery - New York, Dec.2002

The painting is "Yesterday", oil on canvas, 127cmX203cm, 2005