I experienced a number of Proustian madeleine moments while sitting in front of Jeng Jun-dian’s (鄭君殿) Louise, a painting of a blonde cherubic girl emerging from a body of water. The painting, one of almost two dozen currently on display at Eslite Gallery (誠品畫廊) in Taipei, elicited memories, if only briefly, of the crystal clear lakes I used to swim in during my youth. Another, Casseroles 1 (鍋子 1), a large-scale still life of kitchen pots and pans, made my stomach rumble with thoughts of my mother preparing a Sunday dinner. That’s what Jeng’s paintings do: they evoke in the mind of the viewer the domestic simplicity and innocence of times past.
But they do so while avoiding any nostalgic, suburban sentimentality because Jeng’s technique keeps the viewer’s gaze within a logical contour of line and color, which, depending on your distance from the painting, shifts back and forth from a lyrical realism to an almost geometric abstraction. It’s this formal multiplicity of perspectives that had the curious effect of snapping me back into the present.
It’s been four years since Jeng held his last solo show, and judging by the number of circular red stickers (indicating a sale) in this exhibition, titled Day In, Day Out (日常生活), the show is a resounding success. Perhaps this is due to the hype that Eslite Gallery has become adept at generating. Yet there is a confidence of style and maturity of technique in this show that were not fully realized in Jeng’s previous works.
Jeng’s early landscapes expressed a neo-impressionist sensibility of rich earthy colors that emphasized the play of light off reflective surfaces: think later Edouard Manet, though with a greater use of blacks and grays.
What: Day In, Day Out (日常生活)
When: Tuesdays to Sundays from 11am to 7pm. Until May 6
Where: Eslite Gallery (誠品畫廊), 5F, 11 Songgao Rd, Taipei City (台北市松高路11號5樓), tel: (02) 8789-3388 X1588
On the Net: www.eslitegallery.com
Over the past decade or so, Jeng has scaled back his palette while evolving a cross-hatching style, for which he layers the surface of the canvas with thousands of single, interconnected brush strokes of solid coloring. Blues and yellows largely disappear in favor of chartreuse, forest green and burnt sienna — the latter he emphasizes in his portraits as well.
But those earlier paintings appear too effusive — the discovery of the technique seemingly controlling Jeng, rather than being controlled by him. He was like a child who has discovered the taste of chocolate and proceeds to gorge on everything in the sweetshop. Laurence (2006 to 2008), a portrait of a woman, for example, suffers from this kind of exuberance. There is a distracting muddle of shading around the right side of the subject’s nose that essentially eliminates its outline. The gradations of color around the left cheek make the woman look as though she is wearing the half-face mask from Phantom of the Opera. It just seems slightly unbalanced — which, on second thought, might have been his purpose.
Regardless, with Day In, Day Out, he has gained greater control over shading, while expanding his color scheme in some paintings, and limiting it in others. No brushstroke is wasted; no shadow seems out of place. Indeed, Jeng seems to be using fewer brushstrokes and achieving an even greater effect.
Take Louise for example. Jeng’s use of rich coloring immediately draws us towards the paintings’ surface — an effect muted in the earlier paintings by the use of browns and greens. Up close, we ponder the delicate yellows and blues, tinged here and there with pinks and reds. As we pull back, we come to appreciate the plasticity of painting as it gradually unfolds its harmonious realism.