LIÚ, Yung Jen 劉永仁
A Practitioner of Time‧LIÚ Yung-Jen
by curator Tseng Yao-Sheng
One continuous breathing cycle
From dawn to dusk
Begins with the purple sunrise and rests with the orange sunset.
Through the high summer, green lotus seed pods have turned brown, spreading across the pond.
As the autumn days end, golden rice straws have become innumerous haystacks lying in the field.
With a shift of direction, the practitioner has embraced a life of abundance that is boundless.
Liú Yung-Jen is an aesthetic practitioner, whom I have nicknamed “the practitioner.” When we were young, Yung-Jen and I often encouraged each other with the saying, “The Heavens are in ceaseless motion, and those with self-discipline exert themselves steadfastly. The Earth is supportive and natural, and only the self-disciplined ones can bear all things with their virtue.” It is our hope that we could endeavor in bearing more and freeing ourselves in art-making, practicing the idea that everything can be challenged and recreated.
In terms of artistic creation, I observed Yung-Jen’s change of living environment from Taipei to Milan, and shifted his creative focus from ink to oil, from three-dimensional thinking to two-dimensional painting, and from monochromatic ink to splendid colors. During this period, he hunkered down in life and tried to expand his horizon and knowledge, liberating himself from ideological shackles by exploring within to search for breakthrough. More importantly, after he moved back to Taipei, he assumed a curatorial role apart from painting. Through observing other brilliant artists’ creative life and studying their work, he objectively recommended their art with his writing. Such experience has nourished his art with inspiration, allowing to solidify creative work, for which he has eventually gained recognition. From creating elaborate, complicated expression to returning to simple forms with rational color segmentation, he now seeks purity in formal expression while being able to fully visualize his sensibility informed by the surging memories in life.
Haystacks and lotus seed pods are part of Yung-Jen’s life and memories, which he has converted his symbols. Beeswax and lead are materials to preserve these memories. Three-dimensional space is decoded and turned into graphic images, which carry the breathing rhythm that embodies the cycle of life. The arch, on the other hand, manifests his thinking and becomes his artistic vocabulary. With composure, the practitioner has formulated his personal symbolism rooted in memory.
I made Yung-Jen’s acquaintance when he was just twenty years old, but he was already very mature, mellow, enthusiastic and get on well other others. In 1979, I first saw his paintings, which revealed a surprise. His ink paintings did not conform to the traditional pattern and imitation of landscape, flora and fauna. Instead, his images were informed by the misty atmosphere of the Yangming Mountain range, the lone eagles hovering above Datun Mountain, ancient trees with entangling roots growing in steep terrains, or a wise man immersed in vast nature staring into a desolate void. Such aesthetic representations, with a sense of bitter perception of life, formed my very first and unexpected impression of his paintings.
Afterwards, Yung-Jen brought his dense ink art and Eastern aesthetics to study in Milan. Living in the foreign land and immersing himself in the atmosphere informed by Western historic architecture, art, music and design, the Italian living attitude and outlook on life inspired him immensely. The exotic culture and custom propelled him to hold on to his native Eastern culture, and to dialectically reflect, surpass, convert and eventually integrate both cultures before fully representing his self-realization in contemporary art.
From Profound Multiplied by Respiration presented by the Dimension Endowment of Art in 1996 to Breathing as Time and Space presented by YX Art Space in 2019, he has been repeatedly developing “the breathing” theory that he put forth in 1993. This series is naturally included in this exhibition; however, one can see that it has been internalized into various components in his new works, and can be observed from his choices made for his art series, including Cruising Alone, Patrolling the Field, Vacillating Border and other series. In these new works, the division of the images reminds us of the segmented patches of farmlands. The crisscrossing lines are reminiscent of water ditches and narrow industrial trails in common fields while corresponding to the blood circulation in human body and the unending flow of breathing.
Yung-Jen has always paid attention to forms and colors, through which he intuitively expresses how things make him feel. He specifically prefers unrestrainedly applying colors to large areas on the canvas, creating textured layers that look like waves of rice. Such approach is not without a reason since he has been influenced by the artistic conception of “blank space” in the tradition of ink painting. When viewing his paintings for this exhibition, I have moved away from a philosophical perspective and see his paintings as they are. Although Yung-Jen has endeavored in creating solid, sturdy texture of oil painting, one can still detect the overflowing ink spirit that permeates his images. The vivid oil colors are often unexpectedly matched with a swift, wet brushstroke that conveys a freewheeling quality, which can surely be seen as an alternative expression of the half-dry hollow strokes in Chinese calligraphy and the concept of “fragmented strokes with continued ideas.” His formal structure and lineal expressions, though seem concrete at first, border on abstract; in fact, they are distilled from his mental imagery. Different color blocks are joined, creating seams, whereas thick and thin straight lines and arrow-shaped elements in moving trajectories are deployed on variously sized colored planes and blocks. Instead of seeing them as basic geometric shapes formed with circles, rectangles or triangles, one might as well boldly interpret them as expression of Chinese characters that subtly celebrates a sense of poeticness. The characteristic ink strokes with ink spreading from the inside out are solidified by oil paint that hardens from the outside in. Clearly, he has moved away from inscribing and sealing memory with a mixture of lead, beeswax and paint. Contrarily, in the seemingly still images, vibrant vitality is growing in an unstoppable way.
In 2015, I saw for the first time the still paintings of “chairs” hanging on the walls of Yung-Jen’s studio, and immediately decided to include them in this curatorial project. Reviewing this group of works, which is largely different from The Breathing series, the unhindered imagination makes these paintings pure and free from theoretical weight. Drawing inspiration from industrial products, the artist has breathed “the spirit of objects” into these chairs, giving them a sense of vitality. The composition and perspective of these works are different and interesting, painted with delightful colors. In an elegant, harmonious palette, the flatly painted images seemed more luxuriant due to the addition of beeswax, which gives the colors a sense of warmth. A diagonally arranged oval chair extends across the image, conveying a feeling of restfulness. Another chair seems to walk sideways towards the returning practitioner. Two chairs have their backs against each other. One stands firmly on its four legs reaching out its arms to welcome the guest while the other faces the crowd with its back side in a stubborn yet charming manner. The round chair with legs in the shape of a chicken foot looks like it has its own stories to tell. After learning that the artist named this series Temporary Chairs, I tried to find out the poetic lines that inspired the series title in Random Writing After the Seventh Day of July by the Ming poet Su Kui – “Leisurely looking over the river from the tall tower, the new poem seems inadequate to express the autumn mood.” However, these lines do not match the definition I accord these works by the artist – “the haven of Yung-Jen’s creative mind,” which really echoes the unfettered and unpretentious feeling conveyed by his art.
Two paintings have been chosen and, with the assistance of my students, reproduced via 3D printing technology. After being hand painted, some experimental works were created. This attempt became the beginning of making the three-dimensional installations for this exhibition.
Although human beings are three-dimensional living organisms that inhabit the three-dimensional space-time, most of us are accustomed to observing things in two-dimensional means (for instance, capturing images through camera lens). The behavior and habit of emphasizing “looking forward” has reinforced our two-dimensional thinking and expression, which is not strange to the art of painting (except perhaps Cubism). Nevertheless, Yung-Jen has expressed his creative insights through his works a long time ago. His “in/exhale” theory not only corresponds to Eastern philosophy founded on dualism, manifested by various sets of concepts like yin/yang, light/heavy, large/small, etc., he has also incorporated other concepts, such as “overlapping,” “traversing” and “wandering,” into his works, and these concepts are visualized by images that look like trails of shooting stars, twinkling color dots and wandering marks of light. His theory of dualism forms its own system with a distinct context. Since he started learning art, he has profoundly explored the arrangement and thinking of Chinese ink painting, which taught him to view the limited space of a canvas from various directions and include multiple perspectives at the same time. This concept has been assimilated into his aesthetic logic and become part of his art.
Lotus seed pods and haystacks are Yung-Jen’s artistic symbols that continuously emerge in his paintings, implicitly surfacing and re-surfacing in repeatedly overlapping layers. The “forms” themselves have become the subject matter of appreciation here. In this exhibition, he restores two-dimensional painting elements into three-dimensional objects, and further reinforces their texture, material and form, using a single form that can be flipped 180 degrees and viewed from different angles to evoke different objects. Different slanting angles convey dissimilar emotive responses. Three metals symbolize respective seasons, or materialize other concepts. Regardless the definition, these objects are not to be called works; they only express an intention when they are creatively combined.
These three-dimensional creations should be categorized as installation works. The various pans on which they are displayed are filled with acrylic cubes, emery, yellow and white sand. Each piece in this series is interwoven with other elements to give it more and deeper meanings. In terms of the size of the pan, a 35 x 35 cm flat surface is divided into forty-nine smaller blocks (seven rows and seven columns). The transparent acrylic cubes of varying height are painted with colors on the bottom. These different, heterogeneous components are grouped and combined. The installations that seem mutually complementing and generating are interpretations of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, manifesting strategic deployments or visual descriptions of historical romances. Flipping these objects upside down and placing them on different pans and colorful sand, the lotus seed pods immediately turn into haystacks; or, is it the other way around? With the same form, arrangement and installation, different combinations of differently colored pans, sand, material and shine convey the changing cycle of seasons. Unlike the musical majesty of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, the installation embodies a different musing and spirit of Zen rock gardens.
Yung-Jen’s has an uncomplicated personality and possesses keen sensibility. His painting is the embodiment of his inner world. This exhibition reveals a more expansive and colorful aspect. “Breathing” is a prerequisite in perambulation; “Temporary Chair” allows the practitioner to rest and have calmness; as for the experimental installations, they are embodiments of another aspect of the artist’s life. Can the lotus seed pods eventually be developed into another creative route? Or, are they simply a stroke of ingenious inspiration? It is worthy of our imagination and anticipation.
Perhaps, to bravely free oneself from enclosure and realize one’s ideas with vigor and proficiency is indeed the true nature of a practitioner.