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LIÚ, Yung Jen 劉永仁



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“Symbolism” and “Reality”

in an “Aesthetic of Multiplicity”

by Art Critic, Independent Curator Sun Li-chuan

translated by Andrew Wilson


Although Liú Yung-jen’s earlier oil paintings fully reflect the artist’s position caught between East and West, it was in fact the detached attitude towards the cosmos, inherent in Eastern painting, that allowed him to identify a painting mechanism of specific expressionism in western painting form during his time in Italy. In this sense, the analysis and rationality of creative elements in western painting proved powerful tools in interpreting his Asian origins. Since returning to Taiwan in 1996, from Liú Yung-jen has not only displayed the strong sense of self-examination of someone immersed in a western art environment, he has also simultaneously offered us the self-introspection of an individual returning to Asian society.


Any overview of Liú Yung-jen’s abstract painting, reveals that despite diverting from the creative path of traditional Chinese painting during his eight years studying in Italy, so that his work now incorporates western colors, light and the internal abstraction of space, the evolution and cognitive development of his style is still clearly a product of the journey of collision and change, from east to west and back. This process has included changes in living environment, things absorbed from different cultures, the transformation of individual artistic expressive modes and the creation and development of a painting language. All of which are in themselves a rich indication of the process of transformation that has taken place in the artist’s individual internal creative approach.


The Aesthetic of “Multiplicity”


During his first solo exhibition on returning to Taiwan in 1996, “Profound Multiplied by Respiration”, Liú Yung-jen’s faced full square his internal transformation as a result of western culture. Addressing the “possibility of the realm of images going beyond extension” he put forward the concept of an “aesthetic of multiplicity”.


In his 1999 work “Walled Mind” his discussion of “the resonance of the multiplicity of deep windows” was once again an extension of the “aesthetic of multiplicity”, but also displayed in temperament and atmosphere, a major departure from the earlier work.


In fact, what the artist means by “multiple” here is a discourse on time and space, inherent in a philosophy of the multifarious. This differs considerably from the random use of space and shapes by most abstract artists, wherein they pursue a pure level of abstraction, utilize colored blocks or areas. It is also distinctive from abstract cognitive pieces that pursue only time (speed or space), and traces (emphasizing concrete emotions and irrational shapes). In other words, “multiplicity” refers to a constant dialogue between time and space that involves steady movement of position or perspective. Moreover, this “multifarious philosophy” also differs from the “purity” of abstract space and the “exclusivity” or “unitary” viewpoint of non representational thinking.


That is to say, the artist’s 1996 pieces are completely different from the western modernist abstract works in terms of cognitive approach. In these he utilizes “overlapping”, “movement back and forth” and “positional flexibility”, to create on his canvas traces that resemble the tail of a comet, the irregular flashes of colored dots and disassociated points of light. Whilst constantly representing or symbolizing, the artist is simultaneously hiding, covering, piling images one on top of the other. Moreover, a comparison of this process of constant “addition” and “uncertain” adjustments, with the earlier “subtraction” approach of abstract painting, its pursuit of “purity”, “exclusivity”, “uniformity” and “certainty”, fully highlights Liú Yung-jen’s “multiple” attitudes towards “abstraction”. In other words, his approach to the abstract differs from the original impulse of abstract painting to pursue the “abstract”. It would be more accurate to say that Liú Yung-jen is not particularly interested in either the “abstract” or the “representational”. His real concern lies in the diversity of power and mechanism that comes from a certain spiritual vision, beyond both “representation” and “abstraction”.


Multiple Equilibrium and Relative Duality


Although the “diversity of power and mechanism that comes from a certain spiritual vision” is an extremely abstract description, Liú Yung-jen has said he “often considers the possibility of the realm of images going beyond extension”. In this sense, the constant surpassing and extension of images brims with the possibility of fully probing his spiritual vision. It is this in this that we realize what the artist has called “multiple” cognition, as the Liú gives testimony to his own profound experience of this unstable multiple passing through of space.


As a result of overlapping, movement in and out, left and right, the canvas surface is no longer merely a visual compression of space common to abstract art. Indeed, it moves towards the spatial development of some kind of spiritual vision. On a still deeper level, the work extends from materialist painting materials into a form of just such a spatial vision. As part of this, multifarious philosophy takes as its basic themes “levels” and “times”. Each is a profound expression of the artist’s self-consciousness, whilst the revelation of each level or time represents the expressive tension and equilibrium of the internal force from the previous level or time.


This internal expressive tension and equilibrium are constructed on the foundation of the traditional concept of relative duality. Hence the juxtaposition of Yin/Yang, good/bad, positive/negative, male/female, fast/slow, static/mobile, light/dark, space/time, all of which allude to the existence of relative elements in the world of material, feeling and spirit. The existence of balance and tension in this “force” has been one of the major characteristics of Liú Yung-jen’s work over the last three years.


Thus, in addition to partially extending this “multiple” equilibrium and relative “duality”, the “multifarious” philosophy of Liú Yung-jen’s “Walled Mind” in 1999, is still an attempt to extend this axis of creativity. Moreover, he uses the “the resonance of the multiplicity of deep windows” as an echo of what we have called “the possibility of the realm of images going beyond extension”, continuing the dialectic of visual experience, in an attempt to develop something visually new.


Symbolism and Reality


The artist’s work from 1996-1999, whether produced in Italy or after returning to Taiwan, express a spiritual vision and space that is much more than just a philosophical reflection, as they also reflect his life. Thus, they represent the visual “transformation” internal life undergoes after multiple movements in and out, a “transformation” that is itself full of hidden “symbolism” and “reality”.


The symbolism of the abstract and the appearance of the power of chaos can be seen as symbolic elements of Liú Yung-jen’s works. Consequently, changes in the visual language or spiritual atmosphere of the pieces are in fact a reflection of the “reality” of real life.


In the 1996 untitled pieces, No 96428 and 96427, the artist simply uses red and yellow as the basic tone of his work, dividing one into two (or perhaps blending two as one). In these, the yellow surface breaks into the red area, combining what represents two different abstract states, and thereby calling to mind the artist’s own world of abstraction. First of all the hee uses red points in the yellow area and yellow points in the red area to return the Chinese multi-perspective ink painting tradition to the large colored block structures of western abstract painting. Here, the red and yellow points are painted at speed, the artist’s abstract state of mind wandering from the traces. If we borrow from the Asian concept where each brush stroke conveys meaning, then this alludes to the breaking forth of a certain internal and external power from the artist, Liú Yung-jen. Thus, the rapid oil painting strokes draw together “symbols” from an abstract state that differ from those in most abstract paintings.


These abstract state “symbols” allude to the “reality” of the artist’s “real” life. If we compare Liú Yung-jen’s work before returning home with more recent pieces (over the last year) there is a clear contrast between the release of the former and the cultivation of the latter. For example, although the movements, flashing and arcing of the points of light in Liu’s 1996 works has its own abstract symbolism, their movement also awakens one to the potential vitality of life. The colored blocks that cut through the tranquility of the work, releasing and yet unstable, are full of an expansive tension that is at once melancholic and unstable.


In contrast, the stability and antithesis, the clear relative colors and colored blocks, the practical disappearance of stroke meaning and the movement of the spots of light, in the artist’s 1999 works, form a tighter structure. But despite that, they are still very different from his work produced in Italy. Liú Yung-jen suggests this difference “originates in the artist’s reaction to environmental change”. Thus, “Walled Mind” is an examination of “the symbolic walls in the mind, strengthened or intensified by cognition, continually probing the dialectical relationship between transition and change”. Only when the seeds of meaning flower as a result of the artist’s refusal to think or imagine how to convey his thoughts, can the meaning of art be infinite and lasting. In other words, the differences in the artist’s earlier and later works come about as a result of the influence of the different environmental “realities” in Italy and Taiwan.




At this point, there is no need to discuss the content of Liú Yung-jen’s 1996 works “Elsewhere” or “Walled Mind”. What we can be certain about is that although the work of an abstract artist does not directly depict or reflect environmental reality, faced with life changes inherent in the environment, it is an unavoidable truth that such work will display this “reality” through an alternative appearance or force.


Thus Liú Yung-jen’s work in Italy shows a sort of release, extravagance, dynamism and expansiveness, that can be usefully contrasted against the cultivation, introspection, immobility and contraction of his work since returning to Taiwan. As a result of the lack of an imperative to face the restrictions of life during his time in Italy, that LiúYung-jen was able to freely roam the world of abstract art and release his creative energies. This can be juxtaposed to the control mechanisms of life pressure and restricted living space he has experienced in Taiwan.


From the above, we can see that Liú Yung-jen’s works not only individually show abstract “symbols”. They also concretely display abstract painting under conditions of environmental change, through the correspondence of self-questioning and contemporary spirit, and the “synchronous” Zeitgeist or reflection of the moment in different environments. This serves to prove that abstract art can in fact sometimes reflect better the influence and interaction of the contemporary environment with art than representational art, even going as far as to present a more direct “reality”.


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