Painter and art educator Chen Huei-tong (
As Chen is one of the more important southern-Taiwanese artists, the book may prove valuable for anyone interested in the development of Taiwanese art over the past half a century.
At the age of 65 and still actively working, Chen has already realized the importance of keeping a record of his works.
"It's often difficult to study the works of old or deceased artists because the descriptions of their works are from their children or students who may not know all about their thoughts or their works. This second-hand information often lack depth, so I thought I'd better do it myself," Chen said.
The book's 503 glossy pages also include past and new reviews and introductions, creating an in-depth look at how life in southern Taiwan after World War II nurtured a generation of diligent artists like Chen, who is best-known for his portraits of president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and other vivid portraits.
Ships and human figures, Chen Huei-tong's two favorite subjects, comprised a large part of the collection. "I was born after World War II, in Tainan. It was a materially deficient era. Fishing was the main livelihood of people in my hometown. The fishing boats anchored in the harbor represented hope for a better life," Chen said.
Chen later enlarged the subject to include sailing boats in Western countries. "Ships remained meaningful to me later on as the ocean and the sky associated with the image of sailing boats became more appealing, as the environment became urbanized and densely populated. Ships give you the feeling that you can breathe freely and go anywhere you want to in this world."
Chen's love of portraits comes from his zeal to improve his painting skills. "Handling the expressions on a human face to present the thoughts and life of the subject has always been a major challenge to all painters. How to present a human figure so as express the time and space they live in is not easy, but if successful, a portrait can tell touching stories about the age. I've always been striving to achieve that," Chen said.
The story of Chen painting two portraits of the president also shows the changing cultural atmosphere in Taiwan. "Chen once told me that in the presidential palaces in South American countries he's visited, the presidents proudly showed him the paintings by local artists displayed in their palaces. Although the average income of their citizens is low, they put an admirable emphasis on local art," Chen said. Portraits of the president have replaced photographic portraits on the walls of the guest hall and the lobby at the Presidential Office.
After publishing the collection, Chen said, he has more plans in store. "People have been asking me if I have any more wishes left to fulfill in this life, now that the book is done. But I still have a lot of work to do and I may publish more books. I believe that tomorrow should always be better than today," Chen said.