Sun, Jan 05, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Making a puzzle out of pictures

Lee Hsi-chi, a modern master of contemporary Chinese art, exhibits his latest experiments with rearrangeable paintings in addition to works from the last 10 years

By Vico Lee  /  STAFF REPORTER

Stimulation.

PHOTO COURTESY OF NMH

"The bases for artistic ideas can be many and various. But to me, the most important thing is a national basis, a traditional orientation," said Lee Hsi-chi (李錫奇) of his abstract paintings, which explore the possibilities of traditional Chinese colors and symbols.

In Ten Aspects of My Artistic Life (浮生十帖), Lee's current exhibition at the National Museum of History (國立歷史博物館), the 64-year-old painter is showing his latest experiments with rearrangeable plates on which his pet medium -- lacquer -- is used to bring life to a limited variety of colors presented on a metal surface.

Pleasure, stimulation, monologue, understanding, sadness, an unscarred heart, new worries, happiness, brilliance and dynamism are the subjects of the ten large-format works. The composition of the works, however, is in flux, because they are each made up of several modular rectangular plates. Lee will rearrange them a couple of times during the course of the exhibition to give them a new appearance.

Creating paintings that can be rearranged is an idea Lee has worked on for a decade. Playing a Tangram puzzle he bought as a souvenir in Japan on a sleepless night gave him the idea that paintings could also be moved around like this.

Later when traveling in China's Hubei province, Lee was thrilled by its famous traditional lacquer artefacts. The lacquer objects are left to dry in extreme temperatures, resulting in a cracked surface that is then rubbed smooth.

The cobweb of cracks fascinated Lee, who saw a way of giving the rigid painted surface an organic aspect.

He went to Fuzhou in China, also an important lacquer center, where he learn the whole lacquer process. China is the place Lee often finds his artistic inspiration, while many younger artists have turned to things more "local" or "Taiwanese."

"Artists of my generation favor the `Chinese sentiments.' Nowadays Taiwanese are much influenced by politics. Art has become a political language.

"Art should stay untouched by political trends. It is best if artists reflect local qualities visually. Expressing the `regional' can make really great works. But they should lift the quality of their works to international standards," Lee said.

Lee has been active since the 1950s, teaming up with Yuyu Yang (楊英風), Chen Ting-shih (陳庭詩) and Chiang Han-tong (江漢東) to set up the then radical Modern Print Society (現代版畫會). In Taiwan, Lee was one of the first to move into the then undeveloped field of installation art and performance art.

Over the past 20 years, Lee has devoted himself to expanding the frontiers of painting. His Great Calligraphy series, which detached the meaning from Chinese characters and treated the brush strokes as individual symbols, marked his highest achievement in this style.

Also on show is Lee's late 1990s series A Passage to Solitary Darkness, Memories of the Far and Re-orientation , the last being Lee's best-known series.

Re-orientation was a follow-up to the much earlier Orientation, which applied pop-art ideas to Chinese imagery, and Post-orientation, similarly dealing with Chinese calligraphy.

What: Ten Aspects of My Artistic Life -- Lee Hsi-chi solo exhibition

Where: National Museum of History, No. 49, Nan-hai Rd., Taipei.

When: until Feb. 3

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