201605260119從繪畫開始： 與華建强2016個展 / Painting Becoming: 2016 Hua Chien-Chiang Solo Exhibition
Painting Becoming: 2016 Hua Chien-Chiang Solo Exhibition
Before being invited to participate in this exhibition, I had only heard about Hua Chien-Chiang. A few years ago, there was an article promoting his work in the art magazine where I worked as an editor. I have no recollection of what the article was about, but just have an impression of this young artist's work being special.
From this acquaintance that really can't be considered an acquaintance, Hua Chien-Chiang and I started discussing the possibility of working together. Hua gave me catalogs from his last three exhibitions in response to my request to understand his work better. He has also accumulated around 50 images of new work since his last solo exhibition, which tell the story of changes that his work has undergone, not to mention the amount of time he has spent working. Whether this increased familiarity with his work would help me make a significant contribution, especially considering my inexperience with painting exhibitions, was without a doubt a source of endless questions—that was until I realized that Hua had no intention of making this a painting exhibiting.
While this was a break with my original expectations, it was the beginning of something meaningful. It was my desire to know and understand more about Hua's painting that finally put me at a starting point that might be important.
Starting from Painting
Whenever Hua runs into difficulties, he reminds himself of what he might have become—someone suffering at his first job after high school for the rest of his life—if he hadn't taken some initiative to change things.
After finishing military service, Hua enrolled in college and then graduate school to study art. During this time, spurred by curiosity and a desire to try something unfamiliar, he studied the Nihonga technique (Japanese gouache painting), which was to become his most familiar and proficient art form. In this way, he started exploring art through painting—a field built by a long tradition of artists and their work. Probably the best thing that came of his explorations is that he was inspired to make paintings of his own.
But considering this rich history, for Hua to make his own work was by no means easy and there were many possible ways. His first step was to address a concern repeatedly raised by his teachers at graduate school, which was Hua's personal connection to his work. Of course it would be impossible for work that arose from his own ideas, skills and hands to be completely unrelated to him, and so their concern was obviously not about the existence of a connection, but about its strength. Hua's response was a little amusing in terms of both concept and form, as he decided to make cartoon-like self-portraits his work's most defining characteristic.
Based on his nickname in college, Hua developed a character who is an old man and organically began playing the leading role in autobiographical paintings. (1) He started by depicting the rarely deemed worthy of being painted because they were too ordinary rural scenery which he saw from his terrace or while on his daily jog, the most banal and commonplace fragments of his life, or trivial events that streamed in constantly from different media sources. Not only have these become important themes in his paintings, but he has carefully joined them with sumptuous colors and complex techniques to cast a distinctive light on his protagonist, who happens to refer to both Hua and his life.
In contrast to his rationally imported scenes of daily life, both of his embodiments of self—the old man from early work and the child he added while abroad in the unfamiliar environments of artists' residencies—have deep implications. They publicly state that everything in his paintings comes solely from personal experience by continually being present, but it is also paradoxical that everything that can be seen is actually impossible to connect to anything in life. This is because they are never represented or distorted reality, but rather an operation of extracting and restructuring personal experiences, which are recollections that are qualitatively different and never close to one another. As these memories are put on the same surface, they demonstrate how their production, which comes solely from experience, can leave experience and approach pure creation.
Starting from Painting
Hua's many awards, invitations to participate in exhibitions and work with galleries while in graduate school and after, made his identity as a painter more clear. Dedicating time everyday to work in his home studio, he got into a work/rest rhythm and accumulated dozens of paintings every two to three years which he then exhibited. This seemed like the best routine, and so he continued to work this way until 2010.
In August of 2010, Hua was invited to have the solo exhibition Reality in Wonderland at Aki Gallery, and put out a catalog bearing the same name that contained all of his work to date, much of which was not exhibited. The exhibition was held on three floors of the gallery, and included a few unexpected paintings among the many more he made specifically for this exhibition. The only record of the exhibition today consists of the artist's memories and some photographs, which show sculpture, video, installation and even poetry, and while these are different in form, it is easy to see that they have a close relationship to his paintings.
On the first floor, a higher proportion of paintings was exhibited than on the other floors. There were sculptures that looked like people inside of peaches set into the floor, and they were closest in color, texture and form to Hua's gouache paintings. On the second floor, Hua filled the entire space with a manmade field of moist clay and wheat sprouts. He also set miniature red and white transmission towers among the grass which were connected by wires, and he broadcast sounds from speakers mounted on utility poles. These towers often appear in his paintings, and presented here in three dimensions, give off sounds, and surround the viewers. On the third floor, he exhibited videos that he made while at residencies in
Hua couldn't give a definitive answer as to why he wanted to present so many art practices that differ from painting in this exhibition. But if we say that deviating from established experience is the starting point for producing Hua's painting style, then perhaps deviating from painting forms will sooner or later become his next experience. Hua is different from artists who start to work in sculpture, video or installation and then continue to work with the same medium for their entire careers because he maintains his concern with painting issues when he works in these other media. If he has concentrated a lot of varied experience in the two-dimensional spaces of the paintings he made before this, then what he attempted in this exhibition is the same but in three-dimensional space. The exhibition was the start of a shift from “a blank canvas as a blank canvas” to “sculpture, video, and even time as a blank canvas.”
Starting from Painting
After looking back at some unexpected realizations, I discovered that since Hua considers painting as a form which needs not depend on a particular time and space to support itself, his paintings are able to operate independently the minute they are completed. This is why Hua, when given the opportunity to do whatever he wanted, chose to implement media that must rely on a particular space and time to achieve what he imagined: the beginning of an exhibition as a blank canvas.
I agreed to help with this exhibition and so could closely follow this gradually evolving work. And with only limited verbal explanation and plans that had only partially emerged, I continued to encounter interesting properties and looked forward to more.
His two projects are closely related to the gallery's first and second floor spaces facing the street. Although his approaches are related to renewing the space through installation, they also address two different questions about space. On the first floor, his most obvious action will be to install a western dining table and chairs that seats eight. He will then display tableware in a reasonable fashion and hang a few paintings on the walls, also in a reasonable fashion. The exhibition is at the Aki Gallery, which is primarily a commercial space dealing contemporary art. From the surrounding, several decades old building complex, it is difficult to tell what the gallery is about. Although the outside is sparse and modern, the low-key Aki Gallery doesn't seem to be advertising from its large French window over the door. But from the many paintings that can usually be seen through the window, one can tell it is a gallery. Now, if you were to see a large table neatly set with a white tablecloth and tableware, what would you think?
In this space with ambiguous signals, Hua wants to display unusual table decorations and paintings, which differs from the second floor project where the exhibition's content is the space itself. A large window on the second floor also faces the street. If natural light needs to be brought into the venue, in most cases, the window view would be in obvious violation of the exhibition atmosphere, and the viewers would be expected to automatically ignore it. In this atmosphere of doubt about what should be expected, Hua has decided to invite visitors to turn around and face this street scene in the gallery space, and to achieve this, he will arrange the space to guide the viewer's gaze in such a way that is unprecedented.
Can a postcard-sized painting sent to foreign friends serve as an artwork? If so, then what kind of journey will it take and how will the process be documented? How can a video and sculpture be developed from a painting? How can they form narratives both independently and together in a space? Like the two previously mentioned spatial works, every practice in this exhibition is inseparable from painting yet cannot be equivalent to painting. They gradually expand from “if you want to paint, then what will you paint” into “what more can painting do” or “what can painting be.”
Hua has an overall plan for this exhibition, but changes occur due to his plan's dependence on the exhibition venue. Therefore the outcome was unknown when this article was written. This body of work is a living thing.
Whenever Hua runs into difficulties, he reminds himself of what he might have become—someone suffering at his first job after high school for the rest of his life—if he hadn't taken some initiative to change things. I suddenly think this exhibition is an action with a similar quality. It is an adventure in which the artist started from painting and then continued from there, the reward is a future where his painting can keep on developing.
1. Hua worked and completed his military service before entering college, and so was older than his classmates. He also worked harder and led a more rigorous lifestyle than his younger peers, and so was dubbed “the old man.”