Lin Hung-hsing (林弘行), an art teacher for more than 40 years, has chosen an unorthodox way to practice his craft, one that has made him a pariah for much of his career.
Lin has bucked convention with his devotion to painting nudes, embracing it as a process of conversion from a visual aesthetic to an expression of respect for life, despite the conservativeness of Taiwanese society.
Though he faced plenty of frustration over the years, Lin’s work has gained more traction in recent years, the result, he says, of a society that has become more liberal and a public more open to cultural diversity.
His work has appeared in numerous solo and joint exhibitions, including one last month at the Kaohsiung Cultural Center. One of his works was even recently featured on the cover of the Taiwanese journal Literature of the Saline Land (鹽分地帶文學).
“Nude painting began being accepted, little by little, about 10 years ago. When I hold exhibitions now, people of all ages, even children, can appreciate the beauty of art instead of connecting it with pornography,” Lin said with obvious delight over the growing acceptance of his work.
Lin and his friends were true pioneers when they formed a nude painting club in Kaohsiung in the 1980s, defying the strong attachment to traditional values held at the time.
“It was nearly impossible to find nude painting models in the more culturally conservative southern city 30 years ago. Models had to be brought down from Taipei, so we had to spend more on their transportation,” Lin said.
Attitudes toward the art form were decidedly negative, and exhibitions in those days were bound to cause incidents, he said.
“In the early 1980s, the public did not agree with nude painting. Some visitors would storm out of exhibition venues after randomly stumbling into a gallery with my paintings,” Lin said.
“Others who attended with their children would leave right away, muttering in disgust, ‘paintings without clothes,’” he said.
The more challenges, the greater his determination to continue his pursuit in the face of Taiwan’s closed society, he said.
“I didn’t want to give up because I think nude painting is the most basic and important art training. If painters can master nude painting, then they’re likely to be good at drawing any other subject,” Lin said.
Eventually, his situation improved as society evolved and he has even been able to find some professional nude painting models in southern Taiwan, allowing his creativity to run wild.
Even in today’s more tolerant environment, however, painters of nudes still faces limitations. Though models can be found, they are still hard to recruit because the job is anything but easy.
Generally speaking, the models have to hold a pose for 20 minutes without the slightest move before being given a 10-minute break. If the pose is more taxing, the amount of time between breaks is shortened.
Still, his work and the concept of nude painting has gained gradual acceptance in Taiwan and Lin is grateful for the change and the help of his family.
“I’m glad that society today is more liberal and can accept my work. And the most important thing is that I want to say thank you to my wife. She is the greatest source of support in my life,” he said.