On the Path of Perseverance
After attending the opening cocktail and artist talk for ‘Endless Energy: Hsiao Chin Solo Exhibition’ and having conducted media interviews at 3812 Gallery, Hsiao Chin has finally returned to Taiwan from Hong Kong on last Thursday, where he had a wonderful local experience with us.
Hsiao may have used a walking stick, but his steps were effortless. Beneath a pair of bushy eyebrows is a pair of sparkling eyes that exude pride and emotion, full of curiosity for the views of old Hong Kong he could find beyond the windows. Who would have guessed that he is a man of 81 years?
During Hsiao’s stay, I brought him to local restaurants each day so he could get a taste of Hong Kong’s best delicacies. He was especially fond of Chuen Cheung Kui’s salt-baked chicken – after just one bite, his eyes lit up with delight, as his face projected the glee and innocence of a young boy.
The purity and innocence he revealed in that moment reminded me of his painting UFO (1967) which he completed shortly before man’s moon landing. Stemming from Hsiao’s extraordinary imagination and avant-garde spirit, UFO is a huge Hard Edge painting, with 6 red dots painted on a large blue circle, its outline also in sharp red. When he was asked at one point whether he was Chinese or Italian, he humorously answered: “I am nobody. I am an alien.” The 21st century is widely described as an era of the absence of art masters, but I am glad that there is still one among us.
At the very beginning it was sheer coincidence for me to come to know Hsiao Chin. I started to recognise his work as I was working on a research project on the development of Chinese art in the 20th century. At the same time, I was contemplating the theme of the next exhibition in the month of March at my gallery, as I wanted it to be a significant show featuring an influential and well-known figure in the art world. These fortuitous circumstances sowed the seeds of my cooperation with Hsiao, and I set to work in organising his solo exhibition at 3812 Gallery.
For all the renown Hsiao has gained in the international art scene, he is not so recognised in the major art markets as he has lived a relatively low-profile life. His significant contribution to modern Chinese art, however, is unmistakable. In the complex Chinese modern and contemporary art market, I believe that it is essential to evaluate artists’ oeuvres from a broad and rational perspective, focusing on the overall context of their artistic career as well as their impacts on the local and global market. In this respect, Hsiao is an exceptionally important artist.
Hsiao was a pioneer of modern abstract painting in the 1950s. Throughout the history of modern Chinese art, personal experiences and explorations of Western art in Europe and the USA have been vitally influential for the success of young artists: senior masters Wu Guanzhong and Zao Wou-ki travelled to France in the 1940s, while Chu Teh-Chun also moved there in 1955. These masters surpassed the classicists and amazed the contemporaries. Hsiao Chin also travelled to Europe around the same period, in pursuit of the true spirit of the post-war era.
Hsiao’s journey began with his artistic ventures in Spain in 1956, after which he travelled around Germany, Italy, and the USA, before finally settling down in Milan for many years. He has been an active promoter of Chinese art abroad, bringing Western art ideals to Taiwan and indeed to the whole Chinese community. Throughout his career, Hsiao has actively engaged himself in promoting the cultural exchange between East and West. On 31 December 1955, Hsiao Chin co-founded with other Taiwanese artists the Ton-Fan Art Group, based on the core concept of ‘Oriental Spirit’. Their goal was to create a new language for modern Chinese art, rooted in traditional Chinese culture and merged with Western artistic vision, while appealing to a global audience. Since 1950, when Hsiao started learning to paint, he has been persistently practicing various forms of abstract art and exploring this ‘Oriental Spirit’, which has helped to establish his enormous reputation in the art world, and has made him truly remarkable in 20th-century art history.
No matter how arduous and lonely his artistic career has been, Hsiao remains effortlessly calm: “I have already got through the pain and difficulties in my life, what else do I have to be afraid of?” During his early life in Taiwan, he sold paintings to make a living. In the 1950s, besides selling paintings, he also wrote articles reviewing European art for the United Daily News, earning a monthly income of USD 300. Later, while living in New York, he could not get himself accustomed to the fierce competition of the art market, so he decided to return to Milan. After these years spent drifting, searching for his home in the world, he has equipped himself with a firm, resolute, and unyielding will, which has undoubtedly been an important part of his development into one of the great master artists.
UFO, Acrylic on canvas, 200 x 200 cm, 1967
Members of the Ton-Fan Art Group with Lee Chun-Shan (From left: Ouyang Wen-Yuan, Lee Chun-Shan, Tommy Chen, Li Yuan-Chia, Hsia Yan, Huo Kang, Wu Hao, Hsiao Chin and Hsiao Ming-Hsien)
Hsiao’s artworks transcend the times, in the sense that still today they look cutting-edge and avant-garde. And astoundingly, he has not yet stopped his artistic creation, even though the process of art-making is always lonely – with confidence and poise, Hsiao is still seeking and practicing his ideal of art. Along with his amity and humility, the most impressive thing about Hsiao is how he insists on his own style of artistic expression: he has never asked for fame, as he understands that the sort of fame that artists attract would have made him lose his true self. Hsiao once mentioned his classmate who gave up his unique painting style in order to meet the popular expectations of the commercial art market; when his friend eventually realised what he had sacrificed in pursuit of fortune, it was already too late to return to a place of pure, personal creation.
For Hsiao, every single artist has a ‘red line’ which they must not cross. Beyond this line, true artistic ideals cannot be achieved. Indeed, this is not only the case for artists – every person has their own ‘red line’. My feelings for Hsiao comprise artistic admiration and filial respect. What left me totally flabbergasted was the fact that Hsiao chose to cooperate with me even though we had not met before. When we finally got a chance to meet in Taiwan, I was greatly surprised at how well he knew about both my gallery and me personally; he even knew that I had once lived in Spain, the country he first moved to after leaving Taiwan in 1955. Recognising that we share similar values and artistic beliefs, I have been musing over the two approaches of life he discussed: to keep pursuing a fundamental goal, or to cross the ‘red line’ and compromise for a living?
His appreciation for what I do has certainly encouraged me to insist on the principles on which I run 3812 Gallery. I believe that art needs to be nurtured patiently, not developed hurriedly. This is not about being lofty, but rather the appreciation of art and the aspiration for a richer cultural life. I do hope that this idea could gain wider recognition from art collectors and, more importantly, artists with similar thoughts. Let us travel together on the path of perseverance, where ‘art’ will truly return to art itself.
Hours before Hsiao Chin left Hong Kong last Thursday morning, he said he was a bit tired and asked me to have a farewell meal at the poolside Thai restaurant in his hotel. There is, of course, none of the salt-baked chicken that left such an unforgettable impression on him, yet he enjoyed this delicious meal as well. Meanwhile we laughed, chatted, and encouraged each other, in the hope that he will come again to Hong Kong to host exhibitions with me, while enjoying local food and sharing more inspiring stories with us.
Author: Calvin Hui, Artistic Director & Co-founder of 3812 Gallery.
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