LIÚ, Yung Jen 劉永仁
Each and All:
On Liú Yung-jen's Solo Exhibition The Osmosis of the Origin
by Hong Li-Ju
Professor, National Tsing Hua University Arts Center
If it were necessary to qualify in the simplest terms possible the concerns of painter Liú Yung-jen over the last two decades, then no doubt it would be reverberations between individual works in a series and between elements within his paintings. This concern reached its height in several of Liu's post-1999 series (see #001020). Liú has been continually repeating the same composition, or so it seems, to a stubborn degree. But we can quickly see in the evolution of his work that Liú must create in series to express his particular thoughts about painterly space, and therefore works should not be viewed individually, but rather in groups so that dialogues form among them. As one moves from one work to the next, reverberations between the individual works in a group, like musical variations, create rhythms and dynamic temporal qualities that alternate between warm and cool, bright and dark, empty and full, near and far and different proportions.
As early as 1995, Liú started exploring blue in a series of paintings, using different values of the single color to express spatial depth (see #95118 and #95120). Developing a pattern of continual self derivation, Liu painting arcs at the tops of both large and small canvases that gradually darken toward their lower areas. The result is a series of dark blue underworlds permeated with a mysterious light, each bearing the same composition but reproduced in different values and proportions. The temperature and saturation of his colors create spaces that quickly expand, shrink, advance and recede. Gentle colors and fluid spaces extend from the artist's foundation in Chinese ink painting. His spatial experiments are similar to combining and compressing many different times, and areas of light and shadow into a painting. Liu's uniqueness lies in his ability to communicate a spatial sense and ambiguous worlds that cannot be perceived in everyday visual experience, his ability to transcend single perspectives, and transcend the reliance in abstract painting on areas of color to create rhythms in two-dimensional space.
After 1997, Liú turned to compositions with large areas of color, replacing the more random and relaxed brushstrokes he had used before. After 1998, he gradually started using neutral tones that were randomly and thickly applied to form geometric patterns (#980527). His earlier work relying on curves and random lines may have suggested scenes from nature, but his post-1998 paintings were of man-made objects, such as architecture and industrial products, especially a 1999 series which included realistically portrayed tableware such as knives and forks (#990401). By 2000, Liú was using vaguely identifiable objects to bring the meditative spaces of his paintings into the human world. For instance, if we assume the horn-shaped object suspended in work #001104 is a lantern, then three-dimensional perspective will suggest a close-up interior space, but if it is interpreted as a floating object moving through the night sky, then the sense of perspective quickly disappears and the painting turns into one of low, irregular buildings on the horizon. These objects are reference points in a series of frozen frames, and as we read the entire series, they register our misconceptions about shifting space and elapsing time. Liú was being deliberately ambiguous when he put that difficult to identify, the horn-shaped object in his painting, and thereby enriched his paintings by asking us to imagine the nature of relationships among his different spaces. Ultimately, the true identity of that object is not so important.
Although Liú has always given his work specific titles, such as Deep Breathing, Walled Mind, or The Osmosis of the Origin, his goal has never been to create clear messages or narrative paintings. The titles are an indication of the artist's good intentions but not creative motivations, and interpretation can only be found in the paintings and titles together. As is common in Taiwan, Liu's titles reflect his consideration for the audience, and his paintings are still thematic and meaningful, even if he has no narrative intention. It can be seen that Liu has always sought pure painting elements in his work, and this intention is more evident than a direct narrative or indirect symbolism.
Strictly speaking, we cannot ascribe a specific meaning to the arcs in Liu's paintings of 1995, and according to the German art historian Erwin Panofsky, the arc has never had a specific meaning in any culture at any time in history. In Liu's paintings, they may just be transitions in his hand movement and provide a means of entering and exiting his paintings. The geometric landscapes (huge spaces) and tableware (tight focus) in his 1999 series Walled Mind, and the forms that seem to fly through his later works are the same; the viewer cannot immediately identify their source. Only after looking at a number of works do we start to wonder if his repeating arcs or the other objects are merely a means of discussing painterly space or perhaps possess symbolic value. His more recent works usually bring the viewer back to edge of visual experience; an experience that could be a world of pure formal abstraction whose philosophy is primarily established on the canvas, and also a space that hints at physical phenomena. In these paintings, we can identify a horizon, architecture and other known objects. Does ambiguity, or the inability to derive meaning from forms, make an artist or viewer sometimes feel ill at ease? It seems we feel anxiety when encountering the non-representational work of certain mid-career Taiwanese artists, or the writings of some critics.
Still, we can be sure that Liú has thoroughly explored the notion of systems and order in countless works. From each and all, and the particular properties of painting, he has sought a spatial sense of super-visual experience. And through his marvelous mastery of scale, saturation and value have sought ambiguity in his paintings.