Floating World—LIN Wei-Hsiang Solo Exhibition
The whole of this jungle was soaked in the gentle air and filled with blue breezes. When you lay in the grass you were under the azure map of clouds and sailing continents, you inhaled the whole geography of the sky. From that communion with the air, the leaves and blades became covered with delicate hair, with a soft layer of down, a rough bristle of hooks made, it seemed, to grasp and hold the waves of oxygen.
-Bruno Schulz, The Street of Crocodiles
This article is honestly long overdue, having been caught up in the making for years. Among the reasons for this delay, perhaps it can only be described as multiple “near misses.” We each look lightly upon it, knowing full well about the waxing and waning of chance in life, and that eventually the chance would arise to sit down over tea or spirits for a good chat about our lives and art, and how in this mortal realm in our heart of hearts we most long to safeguard that soft corner.
Lost in Quiet Observation and Reflection
Though it feels like the blink of an eye, but I have known Lin Wei-hsiang for nearly 10 years, just around the time he left the big city and moved to the Bali on the outskirts of Taipei.
Although geographically Bali is separated from Taipei city by a good distance, he is not entirely isolated from the outside world seeking solace on the outskirts of civilization. On the contrary, Wei-hsiang must still make the trip to lecture at different schools and work part time at an exhibition staging company in order to make ends meet. Only when he returns home can he settle in and concentrate fully on his art, never showing any signs that the routine has taken a toll on him as the years pass by. To wit, sometimes when the spirit moves him and the resources are available he has been known to quietly collect a fairly large volume of works by other Taiwanese artists. While gaining nourishment from the works of others, he has demonstrated his precociousness and a genuine love of art. Such quiet observation, creativity, appreciation, and joie de vivre are rare among his peers. And although I have regrettably not had the chance to visit him at his studio on the slopes of Guanyin Mountain to see how he finds tranquility beyond the din of the world outside, every time I gaze out my window over the Tamsui River that separates us I am reminded that we share the same constantly changing landscape. This invariably gets me looking forward to seeing his thoughtfully wrought works, seemingly slow, yet firmly moving at his own pace and rhythm.
Indeed, like a kaleidoscope, the same changing landscape can impart a myriad of different images through different eyes. As Lin Wei-hsiang describes, what he understands and appreciates, as well as what he depicts with his brush, closely approximates the “landscape” concepts of traditional Chinese literati aesthetics, not only comprising shadow and light, clouds and fog, rain and mist, the stars, and the variations of climate along with the 24 solar terms of the Chinese almanac across the calendar, which touch upon the most critical shifts and changes in mindset. One could say that along with humans, all sentient beings converge and intermingle amidst the pastoral mountain setting, merging together as one to render all distinctions between subject and object, objective and subjective, irrelevant. Thus it is not difficult to find that even using oil paint as a creative medium, Lin Wei-hsiang’s paintings clearly go beyond the main tenet of Western aesthetics, namely “representing nature.” Moreover, he seeks to give himself completely - mind, body, and soul - over to everything between the heavens and earth, lying completely unrestrained on the boundless field of his imagination, watching the clouds drift overhead, smelling the fragrances of the green grass and anonymous wildflowers, losing all track of time lost in the splendor. And with that in mind, Floating World can be seen as the accumulation and aggregation of a decade that has gone by in the blink of an eye.
Disparate Realms, Different Rhythms
Anyone that has followed Lin Wei-hsiang along the way may perhaps wonder at the seeming lack of variation in his work over the years, such as the Traces of Travel series that has continued unabated for the past decade. I would like to stand in his defense at this juncture and offer that, whilst his work appears to feature repetitive composition and color, this is due to his seeking from nature on every different journey. He then goes about depicting the emotional state inspired by finding something wondrous at every turn and the embrace of all things. This approach further thoroughly embodies the spirit of these lines from early Ming dynasty author Ye Ziqi’s philosophical writings in The Scribbler:
“An observer of things, finds amusement in the meaning of things, observes life in grass and wood, finds peace of mind in fish, relaxation in the clouds, tranquility in the mountains, and perpetual change in the water.”
The temperament of the literati inspires observers to discover and realize that if you just open your eyes and your heart you can become aware of the myriad fascinating variations to be found in the smallest of places.
Observing the works in this exhibition in general the most delightful encounter surely involves the work that gives the exhibition its title. An oversized piece stretching four meters wide, it is quite reminiscent in form of the long scrolls found in traditional Chinese painting. With it, Lin Wei-hsiang endeavors to discard the layers and textures normally emphasized in oil painting. Instead, he turns to the light, spare brush strokes common in ink painting to evoke the flow of movement and energy, voids and excess throughout the mountains and forests, and in the flowing clouds, mist and water within an expansive perspective, not only expressing a unique individual stance on life, but opening a window for observers through which etherial beauty unfolds. In the work entitled Ataraxia Pavilion (3), which evokes the compositional arrangements of traditional Chinese painting, the distance somehow appears close at hand, whilst the nearly imperceptible pavilion is small. Yet in addition to detailed rendering of the beauty of the scene, it as if the viewer is invited to come in and relax in the pavilion. Thus the work succeeds in bringing out an atmosphere of true contentedness and tranquility.
The work Be Together for Ever, whilst small and delicate in stature, is nonetheless full of character. Working from a base of corrugated cardboard, Lin Wei-hsiang carefully layered a thick, stone-like texture, as if relating the devotion and loyalty of the two small trees in the picture. This is reminiscent of a common formal technique used in Japanese ceramics for his and hers soup bowls, one taller and one shorter, perfectly encapsulating the bonds of lovers everywhere.
Twinning was created on top of a painter’s palette caked with layer upon layer of paint over more than a decade of use. These layers accumulated organically, like strata of sediment. Over time it stretched into the skinny branches of a little tree determined to grow upwards, embarking upon a journey into the unknown. Just based on these two works it is easy to see that although the subject matter is trees, Lin Wei-hsiang gives them different symbolic meaning. In his words: “The world inside a painting is not about simply rendering a scene, but creating new dreamlike spaces and realms. I want to express those unknown, or nebulous feelings, like poetry.” And it is through such lyrical symbolic transformation that helps elevate the viewer’s insight and affinity.
“To find a peaceful, quiet place in the world to spend the days wandering about in leisure, like an immortal isolated from the world.” No question, placed in the context of today’s rapidly-changing contemporary society that cannot be measured with reason, the literati pursuit of the essence of life described by these words seems extravagant, beyond hope or expectation. Fortunately we have the works of Lin Wei-hsiang to transport us away from the concerns of the flesh and mind. Through the absolute silence we hear the faint whispers of the people in the pictures, as if inviting you and I to step into his landscapes and among the mountains and rivers. There in their midst, even though the mist and fog may block out the sky and overgrown weeds obscure our view, we can open our hearts without fear of becoming lost, and reach out to take in the quiet leisure that is ours. Even if it lasts but for a few breaths, that journey would be worthwhile.