Chen Hsing-wan's exhibition is a well-complemented highlight for the 48-year-old artist who has come of age in her career.
The daughter of famed sculptor Chen Hsia-yu (陳夏雨), whose persistence and devotion to art she has inherited, Chen has explored abstract concepts throughout her career, eschewing her mother's sculptive and figurative methods.
The 25 pieces on display at the show were produced during the past two years. Most were brooded over last summer, when Chen lived in Lubeck, Germany, as an exchange artist. For her, that trip was only the latest journey into German culture, for she has long been familiar with and felt the influence of Germany's expressionist movement. Artists such as Max Beckmann, whose emotive works go beyond simple presentation, are her favorite.
In her Taipei show, Chen's abstract, expressive works are presented in two forms: assemblage works in mixed media and black and white ink paintings on rice paper.
Natural, free-flowing lines and materials showing strength and force characterize Chen's work. In her mixed media pieces, ropes are widely used. Slightly twisted or bent, they indicate strength amid a sea of decadence, sadness or chaos. In "Pregnancy," the left-stretching black cloth strip is like the umbilical cord linking the mother's womb to a new life, while in "Wounded Sadness," strips of ropes hanging down with dripping paints seem to indicate dried tears.
For the ink on paper pieces, Chen's running lines are jovial and unrestrained, expressive in an unbound matter. They appeal to visual imagination in a totally free state of mind. Black is the predominant color in the pieces shown here and it also conveys the dark mood of the work.
Chen's latest works center around three themes: her father's death, her visit to Nazi concentration camps in Dachau, Sacssenhausen and Ravensbruke, and her personal experience with nature. Composer Gorecki's Symphony 3, a sober and solemn piece that inspired Chen to visit the concentration camp, will be played at the gallery.
Art critic and independent curator Shih Jui-jen (石瑞仁) contrasted Chen's mixed media pieces with her ink paintings by saying they represented "the dance of death vs the song of life."
"Chen's assemblage pieces do not just attend to form and visual effects. They reveal the travel experience and view of life of the artist," Shih said. In particular, Shih pointed out that Chen has traveled to the Sahara Desert several times since 1991. "She saw how nature and time have beaten great civilizations and an artistic expression based on grieving and mourning tones began to take shape."
Using "the dance of death" to sum up Chen's assemblage pieces, Shih refers to them as "powerful, visually challenging and alluring."
The ink paintings, of smaller sizes compared to the mixed media pieces, are organic, still developing, and full of lingering images, according to Chen. "They are open to visual exploration."
The ink paintings are more personal, meant to transcend tradition and reveal inner feelings, and at the same time, to appeal to visual effects and formalism. "Whereas the media and materials themselves are neutral and her artistic expressions are abstract in nature, all the indications and sentiments are purified and transformed into simple, two dimensional, black and white symbols," explained Shih.In general, Shih concluded that Chen's assemblage works are products of western influences and are strong enough to encourage reflection on the destiny of death. Her ink paintings, on the other hand, are deeply rooted in traditional Chinese art presentation but have transformed the method into a far more lively form that shows the energy of life.
Chen has come a long way since she graduated from the National Academy of Art. She started to study with master Li Chung-shen (李仲生), widely dubbed as the father of modern art in Taiwan, in 1981. Li showed her how to be improvisational and expressive with her artistic creation, such as pouring pigment on to the paper and letting the ink flow, or following unconscious hand movement to build up lines and images.
Chen had her first solo exhibition in 1984 in Taipei, and has reached out since then to far flung places such as Cairo, Paris, and Lubeck, Germany.