LIÚ, Yung Jen 劉永仁



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Aesthetic Moment and Locus of Abstraction

by Wang Po-wei /art critic



In visual art the aesthetic moment is that flitting instant, so brief to be almost timeless when the spectator is at one with the work of art he is looking at, or with actuality of any kind that the spectator himself sees in terms of art, as form and colour.   —Bernard Berenson, Aesthetics and History 


Discussing abstract painting, Meyer Schapiro said that we cannot assume a relationship of opposition between realism and abstraction. as the former is more than simple photographic representation, and the latter may not be completely free from the limitations of objects, or only comply with rules that are internal to the work. For Shapiro, abstraction expresses an order embodied in both the external world and the artist's internal constructs, and following his proposition, abstract cannot be the opposite of concrete, but rather must be generalization opposed to that which is specific. Furthermore, abstraction includes forms, but forms invented to symbolize generalization. If abstraction suggests an artist is seeking to express generalization with objects that he believes are similar, and has also invented his own symbolic system for this means of expression, then in order to investigate this artist's work, we must ask a few questions. What kind of generalization is the artist creating? What basic elements is the artist using in his symbolic system? What kind of compositional relationships and rhythms among these elements exist?



Breathing, Aesthetic Moment and Frame


Starting from the above proposition regarding abstraction, it is easy to understand why Liú Yung-jen has used the concept of breathing to title his works since 1996. With the Chinese term huxi (呼吸), which functions as both the noun “breathing” and the verb “to breathe,” he unifies the object and action, and expresses non-oppositional dualities of self and the world, inside and outside, energy and effect, potential and manifest, and structure and time. Liú believes his work is a crystallization of physical and spiritual breathing that has undergone transformation and sifting. These processes remove certain subordinate elements from the work such that it can never be returned to a state of an object with specificity or concreteness. In this way, Liú's breathing suggests Berenson's aesthetic moment. The occurrence of the aesthetic moment and breathing must undergo a frame transformation before surplus information from the external world can be filtered out. This allows limited information to be filtered through a frame so that higher density condensation becomes recognizable loci or figures. In Liú's early paintings, such as No. 95101 (1995), long fine lines join to form a locus, and stand in opposition to shorter but more substantial brush strokes on the other side. Liú had not precisely calculated the disposition of the painting in his original concept, but rather developed it in his creative process, finally crystallizing the composition of the painting, which became the frame through which viewers experience the work. In his No. 95114 + 95120 (1995), he painted areas of orange to deliberately highlight the frame. This was not precisely calculated in his original concept, but ultimately became an essential factor in his final composition. Liú's main goal in work of this period was to make the ultimate viewing frame emerge under the situation of built-up brushwork, lines and color.



Directionality and Surface


To transform deployment into composition and facilitate a visual experience framework,  Liú originally used a scattered, all-over directionality in his brushwork orientation to form a block surface, thus creating a relatively restless state. This state became more stable as he developed his process over the years. From 1997 to 1999, areas of color gradually overtook an emphasis on brushwork, and there was less overlapping and contact among brushstrokes. The great number of brushstrokes that swallowed one another seen in earlier work no longer interfered with areas of color such that forms were less likely to be erased or made difficult to distinguish after they appeared, and rhythms within these areas were slower than those seen in his previous period. Brushstrokes appear to be made more slowly and in a more determined manner, and the work's overall sense of structure became evident. For example, in his 1999 work Walled Mind 990301, borders around each area of color are more distinct, and even though they are disrupted by nearby brushstrokes, the generation of form is not impeded. Dots of underlying paint accidentally left by traces of brushstrokes were deliberately left in these blocks of color. Although this is a continuation of how he dealt with deployment in the previous period of work, we no longer see the same sense of scattered, all-over directionality in his brushwork. Instead, all of his brushstrokes are oriented in just a few directions. We notice that in this period, Liú had no intentions of fixing a pattern for the use of frameworks in his paintings. In other words, these compositions clearly produce feelings of stability, but are not fixed or unchanging. They possess a relative stability created by boundaries disrupted with brush strokes, which can be seen precisely as recognizable forms that are a little indistinct.



Stability of Borders and Forms


Sometime between 2000 and 2003, Liú started using the concept of breathing on the borders of his forms to explore recognizable forms that are a little indistinct. In his two previous periods, the interactive relationship between form and brushwork did not necessarily happen on the borders of forms. The relationship appeared inside the forms or sometimes on the frames creating the forms. But in his 2000 series Recalling the Earth, Liú gradually moved the focus to the edge. Thinking about edge, he stabilized and tried to deal with energy exchanges between inside and outside the border. During this period, “Y” shaped forms started clearly echoing the arrows indicating direction. For example in his Adjusted Breathing (2000), triangles started separating from column forms and changed shape. In Low-Temperature Wings (2002) and Images of Breathing Overseas (2002), he dealt with these shape changes with breathing passageways, and in Breathing Osmosis 011125 (2001), with a state of suspension on the borders. Forms resembling sheaves of rice straw and lotus pods started to appear more clearly and became the locus of his thinking about breathing, as seen in No. 020207 (2002). Starting with his 2003 work No. 030705, we can clearly see a new emphasis on breathing passageways and openings. From here on, these together with “Y” shaped forms and arrows became the locus of projection and self-reference for his breathing subject. This is also the reason that we see a lotus pod form in the center of his 2007 work Micro Breathing. The formation of the breathing unit as the most important element in this next stage of work can be seen in his 2005 Breathing Patterns. Here, triangles are deployed in a chessboard pattern and cleverly used to suggest the artist's spirit.


State of Breathing


Roughly between 2006 and 2007, Liú embarked on a large scale exploration of breathing, which is clearly mapped out in A Journey of Deep Breathing (2007). On two walls of an exhibition venue, he painted large lotus seed pods, upon which he placed small inverted triangles indicating passageways channeling power. During this period, Liú started using beeswax and lead at the place where forms touched, and painted small lotus pod forms at the ends opposite to this point of contact. He also placed an installation painted with lotus pod forms in the corner where the two walls met. The translucency and fluidity of the wax convey Liú's sustained interest in the effects of dynamism and mediality. When still warm and fluid, the wax mixes with the pigment on the painting to create soothing and relaxing rhythms with a distant stability that clearly expresses the artist's breathing concept. In paintings where wax is applied on top of lead, the luster and rigidity of the lead manifest Liú's suppositions regarding the nature of things and his intrinsic qualities as a creator. As a translucent medium, the wax does not completely hide the qualities of the lead, but transforms its intrinsic characteristics into something more than lead. The harmonizing effect of the wax does not negate its own dynamic quality, and this not only clearly expresses Liú's artistic concept, but is also the best material metaphor for the nature of his personality.


Crystallization and Infiltrating Different Worlds


In around 2008, Liú refined his theme of a breathing subject not only in terms of exploring the state of breathing, but also in terms of the lotus pod form as a symbol for breathing. He attained extreme proficiency, and this is why we can use the designation “crystallization” for Liú's achievements in refining his notion of breathing. In the period since 2008, Liú has been considering relationships between breathing and the world. The Alchemy of Breathing-Core (2013) most clearly expresses his concerns of this period: the breathing subject precisely positioned at the point where two worlds meet. These two worlds are very clearly separate from each other, and only the breathing subject serves as a link between them. This can be seen in the work Breathing Bridge (2016) and in Breathing Oscillation (2016), which have the capacity to break open the visual field. Liú has also been keenly aware of the moving line of energy carried by the breathing subject in his painting. In both Secret Journey of the Crystal (2016) and Aura Space (2016) these lines of energy represent neither an external world order decided in advance, nor the locus of his breathing subject. On the contrary, they are surges caused by breathing lotus pods and led to the creation of the painting.