Sun, Oct 03, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Portrait of a 90-year-old artist still at his peak

Chang Yi-hsiung is still inspired to produce new work, despite having done so much

By Derek Lee  /  STAFF REPORTER

Clown in Red, oil on canvas.

PHOTO COURTESY OF NATIONAL MUSEUM OF HISTORY

Boldness and directness were two of the most distinctive features of Chang Yi-hsiung's (張義雄) work before 1987. Hardened by his poverty-stricken life in Taiwan and Japan, Chang was moved to apply thick and heavy strokes -- often with dark and gloomy colors -- to his oil paintings. This period was categorized as Chang's "period of black strokes" by former director of Taipei Fine Arts Museum Huang Kuang-nan (黃光男).

Before this time, Huang said, Chang painted in the 1960s "with great passion and true feelings, and his vitality was reflected violently in his works."

Now, at the age of 90, Chang has outlived most of his local contemporaries and he is still active as an artist. In fact, he takes his art career so seriously that he even thought of hanging himself after believing (for a short while) that he had run out of inspiration as an artist.

Interestingly, the idea of committing suicide inspired him to win an award for his multi-media work Zero at the Salon d'Automne in 2001, a place where Chang's works were highly regarded in the past.

When martial law was still a factor in Taiwan in 1987, Chang decided at 73 years of age to settle down permanently with his family in Paris. From this point on, his rocky life took a drastic turn. His European experience enabled him to appreciate the fortune and sweetness of life.

He breathed the air of true creative freedom for the first time and indulged himself artistically, admiring in particular Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse and Paul Cezanne's masterpieces and their uncompromising spirit toward art.

The following year, Chang became the first Taiwanese artist to receive the French Governmental Annuity for his outstanding achievement in art.

"In sharp contrast to his early works expressing the harsh side of life, or anti-authoritarian sentiments, the color spectrum Chang utilized in paintings -- either in oil or watercolor -- displayed much softer and gentler tones after living in Paris," said Chang's old friend and artist Lee Chin-hsien (李欽賢).

Huang labels Chang's paintings done in Europe "the period of white" for their bright, colorful works which reflect his peaceful state of mind.

The Retrospective Exhibition of Chang Yi-hsiung presents visitors with more than 120 pieces of Chang's art, which cover the period from 1944 to last year.

Chang's works are often categorized into time periods, as already made clear, but they were also divided by subject matter, such as the distinguished "Clown" series.

This is one of Chang's favorite subjects since he sometimes played the clown in real life, either as a way to earn a meager income performing on the street in Japan or to entertain his friends in his early years. The facial expressions of his clowns change from gloomy to smiling, depending on the artist's world view at that time.

Chang's portraits and scenic views can be rather provocative. For example, a large-size tryptich in deep blue colors is called Bottom of the Sea and depicts a scene from an air disaster that occurred many years ago in Taoyuan. It reveals broken bodies scattered all over the place. It is visually shocking, though not

disgusting.

Huang Yun-chuan (黃永川), acting director of the National Museum of History, said that Chang's pursuit of artistic excellence had been long and hard, but it has enhanced his legendary status. Chang's passion for art never faded, he said, and these collected works clearly reflect Chang's every step on the path to great art.

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