Sat, Jul 28, 2018 - Page 14 News List

Bilingual Arts: The Art of Chen Uen pt. III

Photo 1: “Opening sequence of the Han Feizi section” from The First Emperor of China, 1998. Ink and charcoal on kent paper.

Photo courtesy of Chung Meng-shun, Chen Uen Studio

BY the time he produced The First Emperor of China (1998), the unrestrained quality, meticulous detail and sumptuousness of Chen Uen’s (1958-2016) manga art had reached its apogee. Even setting aside his storylines and storyboarding, the design of the characters alone was hugely impressive. The entrance, for example, of the First Emperor Qin Shihuang’s nine ministers and military officers (photo 1) in the opening sequence of the Han Feizi section, depicted each character with their own unique, distinct personality. Visually, each character seemed imbued with metaphorical symbolism, giving one the sense that a quick glance was all that was needed to understand what they were thinking, and what they had been through in life.

Around 2000, Chen Uen was asked to design characters and scenes for the Japanese computer game Chen Uen no San Goku Shi (Chen Uen’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms). The entire set of over 100 sketches of characters made for this game are featured in the “Legacy of Chen Uen: Art, Life and Philosophy” exhibition now on at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, allowing visitors to marvel at the range of techniques and styles he used, and how varied and realistic the faces of the characters in the Three Kingdoms stories are. According to Chen’s student Chung Meng-shun and son, Cheng Chih-yu, he had found inspiration for the faces from graduation yearbooks and old photographs from the late Qing/early Republican period.

It is important for characters in both manga comics and computer games to be instantly distinguishable from the others, to make it easy for the reader or the gamer to be able to follow the story. The online game San Guo Online that Chen Uen worked on in China was the first to introduce symbolic cultural elements such as ancient bronzes, blue-and-white porcelains and Chinese knots to create characters with exaggerated design elements (photo 2) for the online fantasy game.

Chen Uen used everything within his reach: comics, carving, computer games; the nib pen, the Chinese brush, the toothbrush, rollers, computers, plastic bags and sand; abstraction and realism; the East and the West; quoting the texture of pineapples for armor, or the shape of pencil shavings to express martial art movements: he blended all of these in a grand synchronism, much like our everyday lives are a mixture of so many sources.

The cultural symbols of the National Palace Museum’s collection and the orthodox history of dynastic rise and fall have gained a foothold in Taiwan. The “Legacy of Chen Uen: Art, Life and Philosophy” exhibition is a commentary to the debate surrounding the identity of the National Palace Museum.

(Translated by Paul Cooper)







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