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LIÚ, Yung Jen 劉永仁



Spatial Gaze Between Arcs and Slants: Liú Yung-jen Solo Exhibition

by Tan Li-Hsin, Associate Professor

College of Arts and Humanities at Sichuan Fine Arts Institute

For work in his exhibition Between Divergence and Convergence, Liú Yung-jen used many arcs and oblique lines in his compositions, as well as added new ink and paper techniques. The resulting visual fields diverge and converge in a lively manner, which is a dynamism that has always been emphasized in his paintings. Generally speaking, this construction of a consciousness based on arcs and oblique lines has served to create dynamic tension on two-dimensional surfaces, and also to guide the viewer's eye by warping his otherwise orthogonal compositions, thus giving rise to a body dynamic and sense of inner momentum in the viewer. If an arc pushes the levelness implied by the horizontal ground in the painting and suggests the latent life energy in the earth will sprout, then it is an expression of converging energy. Likewise, if an area is divided by an oblique line, which thereby creates feelings of collapsing relaxation and permits temporary respite, then the oblique is a sign of divergence. The interpenetration and coexistence of these lines highlight the unique character of Liú's non-figurative painting.


Although the arc and oblique line are visual forms, sweeping statements such as Liú's works are just a certain type of abstract painting should be avoided. At first glance, the work does indeed have many of the physical characteristics of abstract painting, but his work should not be limited to this single genealogy, which is based on organic or geometric abstraction and usually applied in modern art history. This convenient formalist method of classification does not deepen our understanding of Liú's work. For the last hundred years of the abstract art movement, hopes have been placed on the avant-garde to create a completely new visual world, and on the countless desires and memories lurking beneath the surface of visual forms. However, over these hundred years, fundamental doubts about the nature of reality as a world of representation have issued from different fields in the humanities. If we merely follow the history of formalism in the development of abstract art, and apply this ready-made concept when making judgments, we will provoke accusations of being formalist zombies in contemporary art, which is like pickling the life of abstract art in a preservative, thus stifling its freshness, ending its life, and stopping its breath.

In fact, regardless of age or origin in the East or West, a close life connection to abstract forms is inevitable for an abstract artist and their extremely moving abstract works contain some concrete objects—and even if those concrete objects are just concepts, they still elicit unlimited reverie. However, once abstract art is regarded as merely a variation on forms or the asexual reproduction of symbols, the death of abstraction is imminent. 


In other words, abstract forms must be associated with unique life values, which is seen everywhere in the history of abstract art. For example, the vertical and horizontal lines in Piet Mondrian's paintings are sublimated forms of a utopian world; in Barnett Newman's abstraction, we see opposition to the eternal nature of abstraction’s forms, as well as the artist's endless fascination with general abstract concepts; and in the late work of Ellsworth Kelly, reality is abstracted through the shaping of the canvas and an alternative gesture of reification. Therefore, even simple abstract forms will be given concrete significance based on each artist's life experience, and formalism cannot be used to competently interpret abstraction.


Liú Yung-jen's work should be examined following these same guidelines. The abstract shapes and lines in his works suggest natural phenomena—for example, triangles suggest plant forms and arcs suggest the horizon—but these associations are superfluous to understanding the meaning of his symbols. This is because he does not only follow the principle of transforming concrete objects into abstract forms when creating his compositions, but rather, in most works, the meanings of his shapes and lines, and even the colors themselves, are determined by the multiple images produced by relationships among the various elements in his paintings, and also by each viewer's relationship with Liú's work. The significance of this is that a painting must be viewed as a whole and examined in detail at the same time because each painting represents a holistic image. Naturally, each produces its own narrative joy when interpreted as the reproduction of some object, but only by gazing at the minute and yet to be stabilized forms of primordial material can the viewer capture or even touch the source of its life force, and then turn around and grant the original object its whole form. The Möbius-strip-like relationship between the two is not a paradox, nor is it a fixed hierarchical and mechanical procedure. The gap that exists between the concrete details and indistinguishable forms will often reveal the characteristic image rhythm and the material orientation of the object itself in his paintings. As a result, this is brought into the original, already existing and on-site experience of the appearance.


In his At Ease in a Gap series, the static part of the natural landscape that the overall image implies can be made out. On the other hand, the painting's microcosmic boundary created by the skipping tip of the brush is very exciting. It is like the dynamism of a fractal changing through a series of calculations, and seems to be accompanying our eye as it wanders and perceives life growing, organizing, and happening in the movements of the geological landscape. Next, in Liú's Convergence Among Meteorites series, the process of perception is reversed, as an abstract crystal-like structure is considered first, and then the crystallization of a stone-like material caused by the process of motion is assumed. With this changing process of divergence, convergence, gap, and flow, the painter avoids the absolute domination of objective material by his subject matter, and moves towards a unique fusion and dissolution that are similar to the enlightenment provided by phenomenology. The world of existence reveals itself to us through manifestation, so that we will not merely be satisfied with the represented reality in the painting we see.


In addition to these fine paintings, the artist's arrangement of his works in the Wistaria Tea House for this exhibition has been much anticipated. A feature of this exhibition that differs from the neutral white cube of modernist venues is the historical context of the Wistaria Tea House, which is surely bound to bring a different atmosphere and feeling to Liú's artwork with its strong modernist consciousness, and even strengthen the cultural characteristics of these works on paper. This historical space will also create different emotions that inspire viewers to open their minds. It is hoped that this exhibition of works from different periods of the artist's career will provide a glimpse into his experience of convergence and divergence and state of mind while he is creating, and the venue will reshape the attributes of his works, and will cause a transposition of the painting itself and the outside in the same way that life's changes provide us with rich feelings.


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