Tue, Mar 06, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Artists seeks to preserve Sinjhuang in oils

By Wang Hsuan-ching and Sherry Hsiao  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Artist Chien Wen-jen, middle, displays his paintings of New Taipei City’s Sinjhuang Old Street, which he hopes could help preserve the culture and history of the area.

Photo: Wang Hsuan-ching

An artist in New Taipei City’s Sinjhuang District (新莊) is working to preserve the culture and history of Sinjhuang Old Street (新莊老街) — also known as Sinjhuang Temple Street (新莊廟街) or present-day Sinjhuang Road — through art and action.

Growing up around the beauty of historic Sinjhuang led him to become passionate about arts and history, artist Chien Wen-jen (簡文仁) said.

When he was in school, he wanted to preserve the culture of Sinjhuang Old Street through painting, but he gave up, as he felt that he could not portray the qualities of the historic streets, Chien said.

After graduating from Fu-Hsin Trade and Arts School, he decided to travel around Taiwan with his painting materials, Chien said, adding that he went deep into the Bunun community, walked the Batongguan Ancient Trail (八通關古道), climbed Yushan (玉山), visited historic streets across the nation and interacted with different cultures.

During the Mid-Autumn Festival 17 years ago, as he was walking past the Matsu temple on the street, he was inspired to paint his hometown, completing a painting of the street for the first time, Chien said.

He said he decided to use oil paint because it lasts the longest.

Afterwards, in his spare time, he researched the history of the street and found the former site of Sinjhuang Port, which had long ago been filled, he said.

Using a black-and-white photo, he recreated the scenery of the former Sinjhuang Port in his painting The Vanished Sinjhuang Port (消失的新莊港), he said.

Chien’s family has been living on the street for more than 200 years, he said, adding that his grandfather opened a noodle stand on the first floor of their two-story house, which has been in business for 62 years.

A few years ago, the historic Minnan-style (閩南) street-front house was damaged by a typhoon and his family wanted to rebuild the old house into a five-story townhouse, he said.

However, Chien was unwilling to see the house that his grandfather had left behind be turned into a building like any other, so he convinced his family to spend NT$2 million (US$68,198.51) restoring the house, he said.

He kept the noodle stand on the first floor and turned the attic into an oil painting classroom, where he hosts art exhibitions from time to time, he said.

Chien has created more than 200 oil paintings as he works to explain the history of the street to visitors and neighbors, urging more people to join the movement to protect the culture of Taiwan’s historic streets, he said.

Several of his neighbors decided to rebuild their old houses into modern concrete buildings, Chien said, adding that overcommercialization is one of the reasons the nation’s historic street culture is gradually disappearing.

As an artist, he can only use his paintbrushes to preserve and defend the beauty of the street that defined his childhood, he added.

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