While animal lovers are looking forward the Taipei Zoo opening its panda exhibit early next month for viewing of its current star attraction — panda cub Yuan Zai (圓仔) — an artist has marked the occasion early by carving miniature sculptures of Yuanzai and her parents.
His sharp eyes and dexterity allowed Chen Forng-shean (陳逢顯) create a vivid likeness of the giant pandas in a micro-world of 0.5mm to 0.7mm by placing them inside the eye of a needle.
Chen worked as an engraver at the Central Engraving and Printing Plant, which is responsible for the production of banknotes, Treasury bills, postage stamps and other governmental security documents.
After he retired three years ago, he turned to art, specializing in miniature sculptures, with works ranging from Santa Claus to the animals of the Chinese zodiac. On average he makes one work per month.
“The giant panda family is sculpted from tree resin. Their colors and expressions were done with an ink paintbrush, one stroke at a time. As ink tends to disperse, I made many mistakes and had several failures,” Chen said.
After finishing the three pandas, he inserted them into the eye of a needle to highlight the attention to detail and the skill that had gone into the work.
Besides his miniature sculptures in the eye of a needle, the retiree has also been promoting the art of brick and ceramic tile carving. His studio is open to the public on Sundays to encourage people to learn more about his art form.
Chen said wood carving was quite popular in the past, but museums also have treasures in the form of bricks and tiles from Chinese dynasties, some dating back thousands of years.
“Building bricks and ceramic tiles are the best medium for exhibiting art styles of a time, from the ancient times to the present day. They do not easily erode and are easy to store. This is why I have a passion for producing art on bricks and ceramic tiles,” he said.
“In Taiwan, we can see carving on bricks and ceramic tiles because our traditional houses were built in the Minnan-Taiwanese style. However, times have changed and it is a shame that bricks are increasingly seen not as works of art, but simply as construction material,” he added.
Chen also teaches brick artwork at a high school.
“I hope to see a revitalization in brick and ceramic tile arts in the near future,” he said.