Not willing to see old buildings fade away, an artist in Greater Tainan is preserving the memory of local neighborhoods with watercolor paintings, especially of the abandoned employee housing of Taiwan Alkali Industrial Corp’s Anshun branch plant.
Tsai Shu-chen (蔡淑珍) has completed 48 paintings since 2008, averaging one per month, for a series of watercolors of neighborhood landscapes, focusing on the sanheyuan (三合院), a traditional U-shaped three-section housing compound, and Japanese-era buildings.
She has been invited by the Tainan Municipal Cultural Center to display her works at the center’s first gallery, where they are on exhibit through Jan. 13.
An art-design graduate, Tsai sketches the outlines of the buildings with a ballpoint pen, instead of using pencil, as is traditional.
With this approach, she was able to depict Japanese-era houses with a more natural likeness, giving fine details to the grain pattern and textures on wooden boards and panels, which has become a renowned special quality of her works.
Tsai said she grew up in the neighborhood around Tainan’s Matsu Temple, which used to abound with old houses and the traditional three-section compounds.
These, along with the aged red bricks and roof tiles and Japanese-era wooden houses — some with a backyard shed for growing melons and vegetables — make up the thematic materials for her canvas tapestry.
She especially likes to paint the abandoned employee housing at the Anshun plant.
“After many years of neglect, through gradual decay and weathering by the elements, these old Japanese-era houses are revealing their advanced age,” she said. “They have quite an austere poetic beauty of their own, with the wood panels in faded colors and mottled appearance, the houses swaying in the wind, making rustling sounds.”
She said it was a pity that these old houses have been demolished one by one over the years.
Many of the buildings portrayed in her works no longer exist.
“For our childhood memories, we can only try to catch a glimpse of them in these paintings,” she said.