TAIWANESE CONTEMPORARY ART ARTIST INTERVIEW
You may have read our recently published post on a retrospective exhibition of works by Taiwanese contemporary abstract artist Tsong Pu, which wrapped up this month at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM). To follow up on this some say long-overdue show, we asked Master Tsong, with the aid of a translator, to talk about six of his works, selected by us from a huge body of work started in the 1970s.
Even with a career that spans forty years, Tsong Pu is still a prolific artist. He produces at least thirty new pieces, small and large, each year and this year will participate in three to four exhibitions, some joint and some solo. While he does teach at two Taipei art schools, has some private students and often judges art competitions, most of his time is spent creating new works at his studio in Taipei’s Da’an District and at his home in Huayuan Community (花園新城) in the mountainous Xindian City (新店市), on the borders of the sprawling Taipei metropolis.
This is part one of a three part series. In this part we explore two paintings, The White Line on Grey (1983) and Chasing the Horizontal Across Space (2008), created more than twenty years apart, which use Master Tsong’s signature techique, a 1 cm by 1 cm “stamped” grid pattern.
I wanted to start with this image, The White Line on Grey. Why was the title chosen, what was the medium, and why did you use that medium, especially at that time, in 1983?
White lines on top of grey color.
During that era, in the 1970s before I studied overseas in Spain, during that period of time there was a lot of new art thinking, creative thinking, emerging internationally, particularly within conceptual art and abstract expressionism. Some of my seniors, masters, launched an abstract art painting campaign and exhibition in Taiwan.
They were your teachers in Taiwan before you left?
No, no. They didn’t teach me; they had some influence on me because they had an exhibition. They combined Western abstract expressionism together with some of the Chinese traditional art painting and spirit.
I had the basic principles and knowledge from these masters, so I needed to develop some new things. When it came to my generation [of artists], we developed from the foundation they had built and moved forward.
During this period I tried to perform a kind of active art.
Like performance art, or…?
I intended to elaborate more on my process and development and express my differences from them [those master artists]. I tried to create a new way of thinking about art, a new art form.
And so, what was the performance aspect of this exhibition or this work?
Actually, I was no longer doing expression at the time of this painting [The White Line on Grey]; [I was] not into those very passionate paintings with intense emotion.
I understand. You moved away from what the other masters were doing. Maybe opposite, or not quite opposite?
I was not trying to do those action paintings [the abstract expressionist works by the masters before him]. I wanted more calm and dispassionate works. Because this is a canvas [Tsong Pu gestures at the image of The White Line on Grey], a canvas made of cotton or string. And the canvas itself is a kind of knit work. So I’m trying to use the paint’s grey color, then use the wire, the lines, to mix with the color in the horizontal and the vertical. Create grid boxes with the size of about 1 cm.
Like stitched, or just placed? Like thread art?
It is kind of like Chinese embroidery, which was very well known in the past. The needle [and thread] follow the lines…one by one…. This way it is like stitching coloured paint onto the canvas.
I did not complete this by myself. I had help from my neighbors, some madams and housewives. We would have afternoon tea, chatting and working on this at the same time.
Oh, so it was a collaboration?
Yes, my whole household, they helped me to finish this one. This feeling is like going back to the good old days when we [Taiwanese people] were in an agricultural society. We had housewives doing knitting and sewing work together, helping each other. So I invited everyone to help me complete this work, just like we were in that period. In Xindian [City], my other studio, I live there now, is in the mountains, and it’s kind of like the countryside.
So, you were using traditional methods and making them new, another way of creating a new painting style by basing it on the old?
Yes. Because of these processes and ideas, this work was totally different to that of my seniors.
So, this work was the first of that kind of painting that was so different in Taiwan?
I’m not very sure. Maybe it is not…. But it is totally different to my seniors’ creations.
The 1 cm by 1 cm grid pattern that you make with a chop, I believe this is your most well known style or method, or what most people know of your work in Taiwan or abroad. Is that correct?
This [Chasing the Horizontal Across Space (2008)] uses the same method. I use a chop, too.
So Chasing the Horizontal Across Space and The White Line on Grey are part of a group, a similar kind of style?
So the diagonal lines in this painting, what do they mean? Do they have a similar meaning to the diagonal lines in The White Line on Grey?
This one [Master Tsong refers to Chasing the Horizontal Across Space] and this one [Master Tsong refers to The White Line on Grey] have twenty years between them. Everybody is talking about communication, mobile communication, signals. Just like the [computer] monitor; you can see the reflection of the monitor, the light of the monitor. It represents the different kinds of signals in modern society.
So, is this representing many different types of communication crossing each other?
Yes. This [Master Tsong refers to Chasing the Horizontal Across Space] was painted in 2008. In 2008, we were all talking about mobile communication. You look at the computer screen every day, the light from the computer screen. This work tries to express messages delivered via communication in our current world.
And the grid pattern, does it have any relationship, do Chasing the Horizontal Across Space and The White Line on Grey have any relationship to each other, the grid pattern and the overlaying lines?
No. There is no connection. The content is different but the skill, the technical skill, is the same. It’s like a habit. My process and procedure is the same. Just the content is different.
About this series
This Art Radar interview with Taiwanese artist Tsong Pu has been presented in three parts. In part one, Master Tsong discusses two works in which he has used and adapted his most well known technique, a 1 cm by 1 cm grid pattern. In part two, the artist speaks on two very different installation pieces, close in date of construction but not in their theory of development. Part three talks about some of the artist’s most recent installation work.
We have also premised each part with some of the artist’s views on the current Taiwanese contemporary art industry, as developed from his roles as mentor, curator and master artist.
- Not-so-underground artist showcased in basement gallery: Tsong Pu’s TFAM solo – June 2010 – Art Radar‘s first post on Tsong Pu contains some excellent biographical detail and more images of the artist’s work
- Controversial “Kamoan” artist Andy Leleisi’uao to complete inaugural Taiwanese arts residency – profile – April 2010 – an overview of the career of a ground-breaking young New Zealand-Samoan painter
- Taiwan’s “father of printmaking” Liao Shiou-ping wins national award – profile – March 2010 – a detailed biography of a Taiwanese master artist
- Three sculptors who influenced the Taiwanese art landscape: Yang Ying-feng, Ju Ming and Pu Hao-ming – February 2010 – essential background information on sculpture in Taiwan
- Touring Taiwan: 50 of Taiwan’s top artworks on display at the Busan Museum of Arts, Korea – January 2010 – wonderfully large images of three of the selected works by modern Taiwanese painters