About Hsin -Tien - Beyond his Paintings
by Sheng Tzu-Yen
How should I describe Su Hsin-Tien?
Talented? Strongly biased? Proud and confident? Cool with character? Stubborn and unbending? High IQ, lousy EQ? Deficient in social skills? Doesn’t kiss up but dares to criticize bureaucracy? Does what he preaches? Naïve and uncontaminated heart? Insists on principles and conscience? All of the above express the opposing opinions of him by outsiders. In my opinion, being the insider and wife of Su Hsin-Tien, the above descriptions of him are all correct. However, having shared many years of life with him, I know that there are many other viewpoints to be added.
I would use the same chronicle method he used for his art to describe him in different stages as “Creator”, “Researcher” and “His Life”. Except these stages are often intertwined and ongoing without any clear distinction.
To begin, let’s start from our house. Our house has no living room (thank God we don’t have many guests visiting) and it naturally became Su Hsin-Tien’s studio. A fireproof storage room contains many of his artwork created since the late 1960’s. He works on fixed and mobile easels - blotchy paint box stays open late into the night for he is always working. Books, magazines, notebooks, graphs, tables and many references related to his Cyclical Space theory are scattered around on any available surface: cabinet, shelf, desk and floor. And there are several pairs of reading glasses, magnifying glasses and all sorts of stationary intermingled with his manuscripts and charts – order within the chaos.
Normally, Su Hsin-Tien paints and writes on a routine schedule. However, within six months to a year before an exhibit, it’s war time for him: deep in thought he works without knowing time of the day, refuses to be interrupted even during meal time and dictates others to be silent. As the cook, I am often “on strike” and he has to cook his one and only dish himself – Buddha’s Delight: mixed colorful vegetables with no oil or salt.
Su Hsin-Tien is standing in front of the huge easel and I can see he is getting thinner. He sometimes squats and other times tip toes and bends sideways to paint. Submerged in his own world, with a mirror in hand, he swirls around and stares silently at the mirror image of the painting. To express his “temporary” satisfaction in the progress of the painting, he shouts “Eureka” louder than the thunder. Often, a painting appeals to me but then the next day I would find it destroyed, as if my approval would ignite the destruction and rebuilding of the painting. He said to me in Taiwanese: “ How could it be good? It’s a disaster!”
At sunset, Su Hsin-Tien would eagerly take me for a walk with one mission in mind: to return and borrow books from the library nearby and copy the necessary references. Like a sponge, he tirelessly absorbs all sorts of information and knowledge. Besides focusing on his Cyclical Space theory, he also dives into his quest: the influence of human history/culture on nurturing, cultivating and shaping the Taiwan Art development. Based on his reading, studies and his own thoughts, he has compiled one map of General Chronological Chart of World History, one chart of Cosmology and Art, over 30 charts of World Major Art Current and Taiwan and one book of World and Taiwan Cultural Chronicle. His life work was realized from his enthusiasm, persistence and determination. “If it’s not me, who else?” is often what he said.
When Su Hsin-Tien calls my name, he says it in Taiwanese as “Your Majesty” or “The Empress”. (that’s related to my name’s pronunciation in Taiwanese) The use of this nickname started more than 30 years ago. Before we were married, I was not thrilled by his unromantic and un-charming style. After a few weeks of not seeing him, he was transformed (perhaps he consulted an expert) into a charming, romantic knight with “Your Majesty”, tea serving and chair seating performance. What a treat on that day! The nickname, “Your Majesty”, has continued to this day.
For my birthday, I would not expect any real present but a card illustrated by Su Hsin-Tien with all of the family events that occurred during the year. It’s a very heart warming and interesting present indeed. Occasionally, I was lucky enough to get a card with a $1,000 bill stuffed inside. When I complained about his stinginess, I would get two $1,000 bills except only one is real – the other is only a reflected image of a $1,000 bill !
I am often absent minded but Su Hsin-Tien, although ill tempered, has never blamed me for the problem I caused. How odd I wonder! Once I forgot to unplug the toaster oven and went to work. He woke up 3 hours later, found the heat source and unplugged it. When I returned home, there was a note on the bathroom mirror: “Your Majesty, are you trying to toast me to death?” I was moved by his gentle words.
A few nights ago, Su Hsin-Tien said to me in a mysterious tone “we have a red mouse in the house”. I was frightened and felt puzzled about what was going on. It turned out our son Su Hwei-Yu forgot to take the notebook mouse with him. After laughing at the joke, I feel very lucky to have an artist husband who is serious about his work and research, and yet is also humorous with creativity. It adds so much joy and happiness to our lives.
After the opening ceremony for “A Retrospective of Su Hsin-Tien’s Cyclical Space Paintings” on March 10, 2007, many family members and friends with tears were hugging me and holding my hand. I am not sure why they cried but I remember what a few said to me: “Ms. Sheng, it’s so wonderful that you have married our teacher Su Hsin-Tien” and “It is lucky, not arduous to be an artist’s wife”.
Oh yes! I heard and saw: Su Hsin-Tien has received lots of praise and criticism, which fits perfectly with the famous teaching from Hing-Yun buddha: “if there is day light, there must have darkness”. I want to sincerely thank my beloved teacher Ru-Chang buddha’s teaching “Live Simply”. My husband Su Hsin-Tien has sacrificed many material needs to pursue his art and to live simply. His persistence on and devotion to Cyclical Space theory research let me realize that a powerful strength can be generated from such determination. From his Cyclical Space theory and painting I also truly believe “Life is infinite!”.
Translator Wen Sheng Nomura