Liao Ren-Yi, 2003
PhD of Aesthetics, Paris University
Aesthetics Professor, Taipei Art University
Translated by San San Yu
When one who engages in self-searching is no longer satisfied with the interpretation of the meaning of life through existing linguistic means, one will venture beyond the linguistic lexicon and the edifice it constructs and create one’s own.
In the adventure, one may encounter spectacular fields of blossoms, withered vines and dead trees, or a completely alien landscape. May the emotional response to a new scene be sorrow, joy or at a loss, one must cope with all these reactions on one’s own. As an artist when searching for his/her own language of expressions, he/she is willing to endure a rollercoaster of ecstasy and loneliness s for he understands that the energy of life is better developed through exploring rather than following the steps already taken. For him/her, the meaning lies in the process of exploration rather than anything.
Discovering the Inner Scene
Abstract Art, emerging in the beginning of the twentieth century, was motivated by the artist’s desire to search for his/her own visual language. It scrutinized not only the conventional views of visual art, but also how art in the past was centered on describing representational images. While Cubism around 1905 marked a departure from the past in perspective, Abstract Art movement since 1910 embodied the exploration for insights and vision beyond one’s eye. With this in mind, one would be able to understand the ”Spiritual” by Kandinsky, ”Neo-Plasticism” in Mondrian, and ”Suprematism” of Malevich. They all look for the meaning and the purpose of art beyond visual elements. Rather than drawing their vision from the external world as artists before them did, abstract artists work ”from within,” the inner world, to represent an artistic contemplation and creation with variety and possibility richer than ever.
After the World War II, l’Art informel was born in Europe under a request for spiritual rediscovery and reestablishment. This, along with the impact of Existentialism, stressed on stimulating the search for the complexes in the sub consciousness and the inexpressible in human experience. Later during the antagonistic period of the Cold War, we also witnessed Abstract Expressionism played rebellious role to painting in the past in North America. Now the artist unreservedly and questionably scrutinizes and himself/herself as the creator of the work in its passionate and fervent form and color. Whether we agree or not with the term ”pure painting” as Clement Greenberg dubbed Abstract Expressionism and valued it with ultimate aesthetic status, Abstract Expressionism epitomized by Jackson Pollock is undoubtedly ”the triumph of American painting.” A triumph not only that it was almost a synonym with American modern painting but also in the emotional depth achieved by the spontaneity and freedom of color and composition.
Although Conceptual Art and Action Art in the 1970s America constantly challenged the aesthetic status of ”pure painting,” Abstract Expressionism remained a most influential movement in the twentieth century art. Practiced by many artists who sought to portray more than the appearance of the material world, Abstract Expressionism provides a means to interpret the inner turmoil and an outlet for one’s internal landscape. With its spirit of liberation, Abstract Expressionism widely influenced artists from Taiwan who lived and worked in the United States in the 70s and 80s.
Exploring the Existential State
Not long after World War II, Taiwanese artists had gradually been exposed to abstract art. Either developing along the styles of Impressionism and Fauvism, or influenced by artists who moved from Mainland China to Taiwan at the time, such as Shi De-Chin and Li Chong-Sheng, they had carried within themselves the fervor to proceed toward a more avant-garde way of expression, that was abstract painting. A few leading artists associations at the time such as ”Eastern Painting Group,” ”The Fifth Moon Painting Group,” and ”Modern Printmaking,” demonstrated this direction of the spirit. During a time when freedom of speech was deprived, modern art in Taiwan served as a window for the air of freedom as well as naturally a way for artists to comprehend the psychic pulsation of their existence.
The late 70s in Taiwan was an era that challenged political and cultural taboo and provided new air for Taiwanese artists to breathe. They anxiously sought spiritual adventure in all aspects. Many third generation abstract artists went to Europe and the United States to seek their own path. Some thus found the elements of their creative energy in the language of American Abstract Expressionism and have now become the driving force in the abstract art movement in Taiwan.
Although Grass-root Realism in literature and Conceptual Art took most of the spotlight in Taiwanese art field and theoretical discourse since the 90s, the exploration in abstract painting have never come to an end, just as flourished as it has been in the United States. After the returning artists, such as Huang Min-Zhe and Wang Fu-Dong, reflected upon the local contemporary art in depth, their work started to show Taiwanese characteristics in their interpretations. As for Yang Chi-Hong who travels extensively between the United States and Taiwan, he has categorized himself in the stream of American abstract painting and has continued to explore the language in this kind. As their work display a growing width and depth along the path of persistent search, the abstract elements in their painting have become more sophisticated and individualistic.
Enriching the Sentimental Vision
Jenny Chen’s art belongs to the family tree of Abstract Expressionism movement. Chen did not formally study art in Taiwan. Because of this, she was not confined to an academic frame of mind when she started. With an anxiety to search for self and life in general, she looked for a way to understand and represent herself as she first landed on America. In her passionate search for self-discovery, she found her resurrection in the color and form of American Abstract Expressionism. For someone like Chen who does not like to use any framework to keep her emotional energy at bay, this is not a coincidence. Clearly, Abstract Expressionism’s unrestrained nature allows her to freely express her sentiments and to revive the expressive impulses deeply rooted in her memory.
In her daily life, Jenny Chen is a simple person. For people who know her, she can only be fully understood through her paintings where her thoughts and reflections of life are expressed.
Her painting is unquestionably sentimental, mirroring her personality. This sentiment is poetically embodied through the tension and movement of colors in her work. The titles of her work are often poetic.
However, we can easily find that with all her sentiments, poetic characteristics, and the bright colors in her work, the tone in her paintings is seriously heavy. Each block of color seems splattered from somewhere up above the painting, trying to encompass the entire space of the painting. These colors do not allow any logical interpretation.
Although the transparency of the acrylic used in her work seems to allow viewers to penetrate into a deeper level, this perception is only an illusion. This makes the work mysterious – there is someplace where we cannot venture.
The weight and mysteriousness of her color are two features of her work. ”The theme of this exhibition is Representation of Phenomenon. Various experiences of each individual are represented through various visual effects from one’s impression on the things such as leaves.” Chen explained. The weight and mysteriousness may be her comprehension and interpretation of her own experiences.
As an abstract painter, Jenny Chen’s internal search creates the depth of visual sentiments in her work. She does not arbitrarily offer a definition about the meaning of life. Her work presents the diligent search for a balance between weight and mysteriousness.
The painting is a record of a difficult journey. Each block of color represents the sorrow and joy experienced and becomes the lexicon of her abstract painting that forms a lavishly sentimental landscape.