LIÚ, Yung Jen 劉永仁
by Liú Yung-jen
My concept for painting and form of expression came first from investigating art with ink, and then continued with experiments in different media. Starting in the early 1990s, my painting gradually metamorphosed from figuration to an obscure linear context. I was attracted to eastern philosophy and the simple, low relief forms on Han Dynasty tomb bricks. This prompted me to consider painterly space, the eternity of the moment, and also the extension of the current artistic attitude. A specific goal for my work was to seek opportunities that would broaden my horizons and gradually lead to the creation of images that reveal ambiguity. Furthermore, breathing and creation are mutually constitutive activities which carry associations of inside and outside, or surface and content, and awareness of this duality has served as a reference point in developing my work. I believe painting can express an individual’s understanding of our human lives, and although painters must be well practiced to create images, they still need to avoid the trap of fixed patterns, liberate their passions, and remain vigilant about art's fundamental purpose.
People keep their distance from abstract painting because after all, it is not easy to relax and receive messages carried by such audacious vehicles. But abstract art is really not so hard to fathom—it can be regarded as a visual and perceptual experience involving color and form which resonates with our experience of living, and any feelings that arise while viewing abstract art lead to understanding. To understand my work, you can try to see it this way. I have no way of explaining why I paint the way I do, nor do I ever respond to what the critics write. This is because I don't follow intellectually-based steps when working, but rather rely solely on my intuition. Also, I first create a painting, and then after an interval of time, I return to it to discover new things. This spontaneous process, just like breathing, is not reason based but natural and necessary. Once one understands the feeling of art setting the spirit free, there is no way to stop; it indeed becomes one of life's fundamental desires and just as impossible to forgo as breathing. I express my world view and find a space to breathe through painting. Open space in a painting is very important to me, because when the eyes rest upon a space, a form, a space between forms, or the space within a form, a correlated space expands within the viewer’s spirit that captures the force of breathing.
I am most fascinated by atypical forms arising after representations (the idea of an object) fade. They are the intrinsic forms beneath the surface that arise from the subconscious after intellectual capabilities recede. Renewed awareness of these forms is pleasing because they are authentic, simple and true. When forms and colors are balanced, they take on new characters and rhythmical structures in a way that is natural like breathing, just like my artwork. These structures have existed since the beginning of time, and I just set them free. I do not really arrange them, but rather present their original appearance. I am very surprised at their sequential movement which is related to gravitational attraction and repulsion. I believe painting is the creative axis of life, and is tempered by every breath I take. Painting seems composed in a random or unpredictable space, but is a necessity that exists in harmony and sometimes disharmony.
The lively, hazy atmospheres of ink painting give my work a recognizable context. Poetic, warm and moist, these atmospheres come from my love of the environment in which I have lived and are a driving force in my creative ideas. Hazy and clear thinking gradually become refined through choices I make between mental and technical expression, and then I put them into my paintings. Obviously my sustained artistic posture has already had its imperceptible influence and has become an indispensable force in every part of my work. I try to absorb cultural richness from both physical objects and ideas and transform what I learn into my own visual vocabulary. I do this while developing self-awareness and reaping the profundity in the difference between cultures.
Since 1996 I have pursued the concept of breathing with my artwork. In order to realize this goal, at first I used ink painting, and then acrylic paints, oils, and most recently beeswax and lead. While exploring different strategies such as painting in series or paintings about the environment, I have experimented with many different techniques and materials, but oil and canvas is still my primary media. Expanding space has always been a feeling in my work. I try to create novel presentations of depth. I often ask myself where the entry into the space of the painting lies. Doubts and blocks in my creative process often lead me to explorations of the vast abyss, and mutually permeable boundaries between people and space, and the environment and space. From opening to compressing, the symbols are framed in compositions that balance tension, and this balance is complex in nature yet spontaneous. If this cannot be achieved in a conceptual environment, it is necessary to give voice to my feelings in the creative process.
Deeply moved by thoughts about all the things in the world and even the universe and the transformation of familiar images into powerful symbols, I was inspired to explore the possibility of different materials. As a result, I started to experiment with beeswax and lead. Lead was used as a catalyst in alchemy and therefore its use creates a link between art and alchemy, as well as creates dynamic visual effects and suggests spiritual values. The quality of beeswax together with lead foil, and melted beeswax after it hardens on lead foil, produce an effect of partially hiding the foil. The warmth and moisture of beeswax produces a change in quality as it hardens. I think of beeswax as a kind of oil paint that can be used for writing or poured like molten metal, which results is faintly layered textures. Golden yellow beeswax pools on gray lead foil to express an eternal fleeting moment, and in my paintings this presents an ambiguous half transparent matte surface which creates a visual sensation that dispels confusion yet is difficult to explain.
Creative thinking involves moving about unfettered in imaginative space, and focusing the imagination to create values that are eternal. But in terms of expressive techniques, these eternal values must be formed out of new and novel materials. Most importantly, different materials must present an artist’s consistent thinking. I used beeswax and lead to express the concept of breathing because they were the only materials with the color and qualities I was looking for; furthermore there was no reason to not use them, and their qualities cannot be simulated with paint. The problem was how to reconcile different materials with pigments and canvas to implement a transformation. This involved self expression and concentration on my artistic language. I continually experimented with this issue, and the moment and frame were really settled between the creator's breaths, which is difficult to change.
I often think about contrasting colors and composition problems, and pay special attention to unhurried transitions between neutral and solemn tones, such as what is seen in the dynamism of intermingling sunlight and shadows cast by clouds. I also deliberately avoid the slick look of overly practiced brushwork, but rather try to do the opposite to create a textured feel. Opportunities for liberation are everywhere in painting: creativity exists in painting on walls, between reason and perception, and the marks created by a brush that moves as the artist inhales and exhales, and all of these suggest that the human mind is inexhaustible and continually unfolding. I get the ultimate spiritual strength from making art and the strength to live from breathing, so in principle they are the same.
In this exhibition to be held in early 2015 at Da Xiang Art Space, I hope to see the evolution of my work from 1991 to the present. I paint all the time, and the more I paint, the more energy I release. Breathing is the same; the more I breathe, the more energy I have. As energy circulates it is not expended, as each exhale supports the next inhale. Breathing is like the feeling of intermingling because substances pass through a border and exchange positions, and thus is a process of transcending borders and unnecessary constraints.