Searching for Wu Yaozhong’s Paintings: Stories of a Realist Artist
首展∕演日期Date of Premier：
首展∕演地點Venue (or outdoor location) of Premier：
Wistaria Tea House (No.1, LN 16, Sec.3, Xin Sheng S. Road, Taipei)
主辦單位 Name of the Nominee：
Wistaria Cultural Association、Center for Asia Pacific/Cultural Studies at National Chiao Tung University
展∕演介紹Profile of the Project
Statement of artistic concept of this production/ exhibition. Please specially address the original and unique ideas of this project.
“Searching for Wu Yaozhong’s Paintings” is an artistic-cultural project launched through searching for scattered paintings painted by Wu Yaozhong (1938-1987). The project is not just an art exhibition, but a set of cultural practices composed of research, publication, exhibition and forums.
Wu had been the most promising realist painter of his generation, already winning several awards when he was still a student at National Taiwan Normal University. Wu is probably also the painter with the most circulated works of art in Taiwan’s art history. Wu’s paintings were used as numerous prominent writers’ book covers during the Debate over Taiwan Native Literature in the late 1970s. With the opening up of political discursive space in the early 1980s, Wu had painted cover arts for many publications of political commentaries as well as nonparty-dissident magazines. Within the ten years from 1975 to 1984, Wu’s paintings were introduced to a whole generation of artistic and literary youths through book and magazine covers. Since he held a socialist view of art, he did not consider his paintings as commodities. As a result, when he was alive, his paintings had never been circulated in the art market. His early paintings were either given to his family and friends as gifts, or kept at home. The covers he later painted for books and magazines were either collected by the publisher or given to editors and authors as gifts thus were dispersedly kept here and there.
In order to write a life story for this painter, to trace the transition in the postwar Taiwanese realist culture and art, to understand the development of Taiwan’s leftist sprit, we started to look into and search for Wu’s paintings that have been scatteredly kept in different locations. The process of “Searching for Wu Yaozhong’s Paintings” was like searching for hidden paintings in a dark space in history. Finding a painting was like finding a spot light that shed light on not only the painting but also the history and people entangled with it. The process was also like finding pieces for a puzzle that portraits the painter. Whenever an interviewee was found, it’s like finding a piece that helped to enrich the picture of the painter’s life as a whole. In this process, covers for books and magazines he painted were our clues. However, though with the clues in hand, the many covers themselves were also like puzzle pieces that had to be found and put together one by one, so as to present the whole picture of Wu’s artistic work. Just like this, after visiting one after another interviewees, and with the help of many friends, we found over 130 paintings by Wu Yaozhong.
When Wu was alive, he never held a solo exhibition. Most of the paintings we found had never been publicly exhibited—they were only used as covers for books and magazines. For various reasons, we knew it’s time to hold an exhibition for him—if we missed it this time, it would be even more difficult to gather the paintings together. Again, with the help of many friends, we held four exhibitions in spaces that differ from each other in many ways: Wistaria Tea House, The Yilan County Cultural Affairs Bureau, Tsing Hua University Arts Center and The White Cabin at Kio-A-Thau in Kaohsiung. By doing this, we hope to form certain connections between the paintings and different groups of people from different regions.
In order to connect art and culture with people, to allow the artworks to transcend time and generate new meanings, what we need are more than several exhibitions. The project “Searching for Wu Yaozhong’s Paintings” is not just for re-presenting the past, but also for opening up future possibilities. With this agenda in mind, we set up the main theme “Social Practices through Art and Culture” and launched a series of five forums with the above mentioned exhibitions. Friends and speakers from different generations carrying out social practices through art and culture in different sites were invited to join the forums. They shared with the audience their life experiences, how they got in touch with realist art and culture when they were young, and how they were committed to social practice. In this way, they showed us the personal yet historical elements that brought them and Wu together, while at the same time shed light on the dynamic relation between art-culture and social practice in postwar Taiwan. By arranging the forums and exhibitions like this, we intend to move beyond recalling a historical segment that past in regret, but to regenerate deeper reflections on the experiences of social practice, and illustrate the meaning implied in the legacy of their lives and histories. This is an attempt to not only be in dialogue with Wu’s generation, but also provide materials for the later generations to contemplate and reflect on issues of social practices and so on.
Structurally, the “Searching for Wu Yaozhong’s Paintings” project consists of publication, exhibition and forums. In terms of the process, the publication of literary reportage of his story has been the origin, while as our research dug deeper, the publication of a book of Wu’s paintings, the exhibitions and forum series gradually grew out of it, making it a practical project of art and culture.
Please address the goal of this project, specify the meaning of this project to the professional development of the artist / group.
In order to write a life story for this painter, to trace the transition in the postwar Taiwanese realist culture and art, to understand the development of Taiwan’s leftist sprit, we initiated the “Searching for Wu Yaozhong’s Paintings” project and the ensue activities. We have been involved in the above mentioned three dimensions. Back to the field of art, what’s the meaning of this project then?
As New Art Movement developed during the Japanese colonial period from 1920 to 1930, Wu Yaozhong’s mentor Li Mei-shu and other predecessors in the artistic circle used salons as their practice site. By participating in the Empire Art Exhibitions held by the colonial mother country and the Taiwan Art Exhibitions held in the colony, they achieved great accomplishments for their artistic endeavors. After WWII, between late-1950s and mid-1960s, a new generation of young artists organized the Fifth Month Art Group and the Ton Fon Art Group to challenge their senior painters who monopolized the selection process of important exhibitions and established their own authority by going international. But both painters of the plein-air realism during the Japanese colonial period and the abstract painters of post-war modernism all used “salon” or “art group” as their major artistic practice site. They also justified the values of their paintings by winning awards from their colonial mother country or international authorities.
Before 1967, Wu Yaozhong also tried to prove his painting skill and gain his identity as a painter by joining art salons and winning awards. But since 1967, Wu began to open up a new artistic practice site through his illustrations for magazines. After he was released from jail in 1975, he continued his previous endeavor, utilizing social realism as his style and using laborers and common people as subject matters. He also established book and magazine covers as his creative site, choosing the artistic practice of facing directly the common people and the reality of the society, leaving behind meaningful art works for Taiwan’s post-war artistic development.
A painter would generally not willing to be labeled as book and magazine cover arts painter because it would mean one’s works of art lack the value of independent existence but rather are only used as covers or illustrations for books and magazines. However, because Wu embraced a socialist artistic view, book and magazine cover arts for him was a mean to introduce art works to the general public. In his interview with good friend Chen Yingzhen, Wu made these comments:
Among all art forms, painting possesses the quality of private ownership the most. A painting can easily be framed, hung in a parlor room and become a property, thus creating the most opportunist market. The popularization of paintings must first shatter the condition of rarity. Block printing, etching and lithography provide the possibility of mass production of paintings. Therefore, on the basis of fully controlling the esthetic of printing, the mass production of paintings is a meaningful path. My paintings are so so, but I never have the idea of letting only a handful of people to collect them. Cover arts and designs allow me to realize part of my ideal.
Cover art was not only Wu’s expression of his artistic practice, it also became a factor when he was conceiving his artistic expression. Because he realized that his art works would become book and magazine covers, Wu began to imagine a different way of arranging his tableau. In general, when a painter is painting in western style, he would view the painting paper or canvas as an enclosed universe. Once the painting is completed, it means that there is no more space to be filled or even can no longer to be filled. However, when Wu created these cover arts, he knew in his heart that once his work was done, his art works would be connected to literature, investigative journal reports and commentaries and furthermore developed into new lives.
Forty Years of Taiwanese Art in Turmoil is the first book about the artistic development of Taiwan’s post-war art scene. The author Lin Hsin-yueh wrote: “By the time of the seventies when the native movement began to thrive, there wasn’t anyone in the fine art circle capable of forging a new order along with literary giants.” In the field of art, Wu is exactly the painter resonated with his counter parts in the literary scene—the Realist writers during the Debate over Taiwan Native Literature.
How to define a painter’s status in art history? By the painter’s award records in prominent exhibitions? By the art group he organizes and the style he pioneers? Or by the impression imprinted on and the response generated by his paintings amongst the people? When we break out of the confine of thinking salons and art groups as artistic practice site and as we turn from using art exhibition as the basis of judging a painter but instead observe a painter’s relationship with the society as our principle, we will discover the legacy Wu Yaozhong left to Taiwan’s art history is so precious, bountiful and beautiful.
When Wu Yaozhong created these paintings, he might have known that once submitted to the book and magazine editors, together with the information of that time, these paintings would gain new lives from then on. However, it may not occur to him that twenty years after his death, a group of people started to look for his scattered paintings, combining them with contemporary narratives and practices and generate new artistic-cultural meanings. Combining literature with art, culture with society, past with the contemporary through searching for Wu Yaozhong’s paintings is the exact meaning of this project.
1. Wistaria Cultural Association
Curator: Hui-Feng LIN
Project Manager: Chia-Chi LIU
Project Executive Team: Hsiu-Yu LIN and Yun-Tzu CHO
Exhibition Site Designer: Shu-Chiang CHEN
2. Center for Asia-Pacific/Cultural Studies, NCTU
Curators: Liyun LIN (Research Fellow, Center for Asia-Pacific /Cultural Studies, NCTU)
Shu-Fen SU (Executive Supervisor, Center for Asia-Pacific/Cultural Studies, NCTU)
Jui-Hua CHEN (Assistant Professor, Institute of Sociology, NTHU)
Exhibition Site Designer: mirrwork