Hong Yi (洪易) has never had any formal training in the arts, yet he has always been creative. His colored past and bright future is communicated through a collection of his 1993 to 2004 works that are on exhibit at the Huashan Cultural and Creative Industry Center.
A substantial amount of inspiration from this collection comes from Hong's earlier days of pouring tea and slinging pints at various cafes and pubs he operated in Taichung.
The commercial enterprises, however, were often more like tributes to art than moneymaking efforts. His tea house was set up like a museum, displaying works of his favorite European painters, while the theme bars and clubs had more of a performance art feel, he said. One bar named "The Doctor's Room" had wait-resses donning nurses' uniforms while another called "The Church" saw staff dressed as nuns and monks.
It wasn't until 2000 that Hong decided to devote all of his time to art and for the past four years he has had several group and solo exhibitions, in addition to a few commissioned public works around Taiwan.
His current solo exhibition, Taiwan Has Art, Taiwan Has Happiness, explores a range of media. Using oils, acrylics, metals and wood, the exhibition is divided into three parts: sketches, sculptures and paintings.
Many of the sketches are like a diary of his pub days. While the pen, pencil and ink drawings include people and observations of his past, they distort images to take on a fantasy-like and often comic quality.
Commissioned by the National Culture and Arts Foundation to design a figure for an exhibition last year, Hong created a heart-shaped doll sculpture. The mass-produced molds, which use a heart shape for the head, body and feet, are painted and accompanied by ducks or dogs to create unique and often humorous scenes. In a few of the models he has added a small red heart at the dolls' chests, which lights up when a nearby mobile phone rings. It demonstrates, Hong said, how people can become illuminated through communication. Although, that depends on who's calling, he added.
The largest and most important piece, according to the artist, is Prosperity, an oil painting measuring 4.5m x 9.5m. The painting can be viewed in two parts: the top half representing the spirit realm, filled with divine beings, and the lower representing the earthly realm, composed of humans and other animals.
In the center of the painting is Buddha's head, surrounded on both sides by deities who appear to be protecting the Buddha. The religious motifs in the painting are further emphasized by three meditation cushions placed in front of it. The painting and the way it is positioned in relation to the cushions, is similar to a mandala inside a Buddhist temple. While a mandala illustrates the complex order of heaven, earth and hell, Hong seems to be playing with Buddhist imagery to a make a statement on the structure and worship of wealth in society.
The use of both religious and secular icons in his work make Hong's pop culture commentary similar to that of Andy Warhol, according to Rita Yuan-Chien Chang (
There is no boundary between pure art and commercial art. He is good at duplicating and appropriating graphics even to the degree of manipulating and playing with them. He combines art and mass culture and makes mass productions of art works, wrote Chang in an essay detailing the two artists' similarities.