His paintings, full of mysteries;
His name; a secret that cannot be revealed!
He is an artist, he is a progressive thinker of the times, and he is a lover of Taiwan!
Chen Cheng-po was born in the Qing Dynasty, was baptized with the art of the Japanese colonial era, and was not able to escape the arrest of the nationalist government.
The most beautiful thing in life was his ability to create art, and every brushstroke revealed the depth of his emotions and passion. He had the courage to experiment and challenge all kinds of innovative expressions of art, such as a painting style that combines Chinese and Western elements. His was a pursuit of avant-garde thinking.
This exhibition is divided into two themes: Chen Cheng-po’s unique personality that encompassed his fierce love for his hometown, and the parallels within his artistic standards and that of the West. Today, in Canada, let’s step into the vibrant oil paints and experience together his golden years of 1895-1947, and explore the connections of Chen Cheng-po to Taiwan and the world beyond the island he called home.
The modern buildings standing in the midst of the city streets are an interesting contrast to the wooden houses and traditional storefronts nearby. The sunlight descends slowly around the building, covering the ground with a large stretch of golden brown. Bathed in the glow of the warm light, everything in the painting also reflects the gentle and lovely colors. A big tree in the foreground stretches out into a canopy, as if to provide shade for the people on the street. Close your eyes and try to walk into Chen Cheng-po’s painting, perhaps you can also touch the warmth of this land.
What do you notice in a picture with a lot of details? Is it the objects on the table, or the expressions of the people? Or the two paintings hanging on the wall?
In Chen Cheng-po’s art career, this is one of the most important, yet still hardly readable works. The breaking of the principle of perspective, the change of light and shadow, the choice of tabletop objects. Each part of the work may contain a secret. If you were to paint My Family now, what would you present in the picture?
The thick pigment overflowing from the paint tubes is dotted into a grassy slope, rubbed and swirled into a bushy grove of trees. The lines were leaping around in the foreground, seemingly lively and vibrant. But if you look up in the distance, you will see Jade Mountain and an eagle drifting across the sky. The white snow-capped summit reflects the deep and faraway atmosphere.
From the outskirts of Chiayi gazing up on the mountain, Chen Cheng-po carefully expressed his impressions of the sceneries of the two worlds and arranged the magnitude and vastness of what he saw before his eyes into an exquisite art piece.
What would “I” look like
On the canvas, Chen Cheng-po tries to paint a face that belongs to Chen Cheng-po. He has put some shadows on this face, while at the same time revealing a bit of rebelliousness in his eyes. Through the repeated application of paints, the artist seems to be able to gradually find out his own shape in the world of painting.
Behind the portrait, Chen Cheng-po lets those lovely yellow circles bloom behind him like flowers. In your self-portrait, what would you choose as the background?
The green spreads out over the vast open space, and twirls on the tree trunks into feathery branches. Light yellow, emerald, murky, cheerful, and a complex mix of shades of green form a majestic suite of vibrant colors. The houses in the distance are adorned with various shades of green, like hidden gems in the painting, shimmering with a glimmer of light. The waves of green connect with the blue sky and white clouds on the horizon. Looking at the scenery of his hometown, Chen Cheng-po has unfolded his heartfelt feelings into a beautiful picture of splendor and joy.
As the riverbanks, bridges, houses, hills, and the lines of the objects keep receding and shifting into the distance, our eyes are brought into a space of profound magnitude. The traditional vocabulary is met with new expressions of the modern era. Between the Chinese ink wash and the Western painting techniques, it seems to reflect the inspirations of great mind.
What is “Oriental”? Through this painting, Chen Cheng-po may have found a coherent answer to his puzzle. Can you see his enlightenment through the color of the water in the West Lake flowing out from the pigment tube?
The waves of the sea are rolling towards the shore one after another. As long as time allows, every inch of the territory in the painting will be swallowed up by a whole swell of blue. In the face of the waves lapping at the shore, the tawny rocks remain silent, and the jaggedness of the surfaces is the proof of their resistance. In the never-ending one-act play of nature and time, the man in the painting stands on the rock, fishing freely at the ocean. In the vast world, it seems that the sound of the waves can be heard in the middle of the painting.
When the artist looks from the height of Qizaiding into the distant sea, the small town is linked to the world in a historical prospect. Along Beacon Street, which zigzags like a snake in the painting as well as before Chen Cheng-po’s eyes, the church bell rings the story of George Leslie Mackay’s missionary work, and the wharves and ships at the riverside bespeak how commerce promotes the prosperity of modern Tamsui. On the distant hill, the Fort San Domingo is indistinct and faraway like its past. History is deposited at every corner of the small town, radiates from the sunset on the Tamsui River, and flashes with the glittering ripples in the painting.
In the southern sunshine, large trees with flourishing foliage provide shade for passers-by. Street food carts full of fruits and ice products also seem to be a reminder of the tropical island’s scorching climate. Three women in kimono, cheongsam, and western dresses, clad in diverse cultural backgrounds, crossed through the marketplace. The laborer, carrying a burden and hunched over, is the most common and humble figure on this land. The afternoon at Xihuifang is tranquil and peaceful, but the hidden language in the painting speaks a far more complicated story that awaits further exploration.
In the cool air of the alpine region, the colors of the nature seem to be brighter and more vibrant. The deep blue sky, the green mountains, and even the roofs of the houses in the villages all appear in rich and exotic colors.
During the early spring in the mountains, the cherry trees seem to blossom into beautiful flowers, bringing a lively touch to the whole painting. In the joyful rhythm of the salute to life, the dangerous cliffs also seem to be friendly and lovely. How do you feel when you look at the scenery of Ali Mountain in Chen Cheng-po’s painting?
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TAIWANfest Vancouver is grateful to be held on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam Indian Band), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish Nation), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation). We acknowledge our privilege to be gathered here, and commit to work with and be respectful to the Indigenous peoples of this land while we engage in meaningful conversations of culture and reconciliation.