A Long and Difficult Journey in the Pursuit of Art

June 5th, 2003 | Articles & Reviews | Shyh Charng Lo | No Comments

On the Development of Shyh-Charng Lo’s Painting

Among the Chinese painters who I came to know during the latest several years, Shyh-Charng Lo is one of those who made the deepest impression on me. He is humble, reticent, generous, and has devoted all his energy and talent to his art. He is an extremely sincere and hard-working painter. But his journey toward artistic expression has been extremely long and difficult — quite worthy of our understanding and respect.

Shyh-Charng Lo was born in 1945 in Nagano, the famous beautiful winter resort in the west central part of Japan. At the age of one, he followed his parents back to their native district of Hsin-chu, not far south of Taipei. From an early age he already showed artistic talent, for when he was still in second grade in primary school he won first prize in the Hsin-chu District Student Art Competition. But all along, besides studying under some art teachers in both primary and high school, he is not known to have worked under any famous artists. Extraordinarily, even though he did not have his parents’ encouragement, he kep winning prizes through his school years. When he was ready for college, he gained admission to National Taiwan University, the highest-ranked education institution in Taiwan at that time. In those day at the National Taiwan University there was no art or art history as majors of study, so he chose the field of archaeology and anthropology instead of art as his major subject, since it was the closest to art. In the meantime, his paintings were selected to participate in the prestigious Tai-yang Exhibition, Taipei City Art Exhibition, and the National Art Exhibition. This proves that his interest and skill in art began very early in his life and went through all his school and college years. These were his own accomplishments in his formative years.

From archaeology and anthropology he would be able to take a long view of the whole human history and culture to come to understand the importance of human life and art

To Shyh-Charng Lo, archaeology and anthropology are fields of study quite well related to art, since, from them, he would be able to take a long view of the whole human history and culture to come to understand the importance of human life and art. As a result, from National Taiwan University he went to do graduate studies in anthropology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. After receiving his master’s degree, he moved to Toronto to further his museum training at the University of Toronto, later on working at the Royal Ontario Museum. From the point of view of his background this was quite a logical development for his career, attaining the goal of his lifelong pursuit. This was a job that led to a deeper understanding of the universe, the world, human life, and his own life-long pursuit.

However, after working for a decade at the museum and his many years of painting in his spare time, his love of art since childhood soon grew so strongly that it formed a strong inner urge to become a full-time artist. Thus he decided to leave the job at the Royal Ontario Museum to devote all his time and energy to painting. This was a very bold decision, especially for someone like him who had been so well trained in the field. But from the point of view of his deep interest in humanity and the world, it was a logical step. Since he had already gained a basic understanding of the development of human history and culture, the next step should be more introspective, returning to his own mind, in the hope of looking into his own inner feeling as a way to further discover the mystery of human life and art.

As a result, in 1989, after leaving his job at the museum in Toronto, he and his family moved 3,000 miles west across Canada and bought a house near the UBC campus in Vancouver. Surrounded by a garden of trees and flowers, he could see from the big window of his living room and studio English Bay, the tall buildings of downtown, and mountains beyond. Taking different angles, he could see the beautiful bays of Vancouver and the sea beyond. With this environment, he dedicated himself totally to his artistic creation. In the morning, he worked on his oil paintings and in the afternoon he did his lithography. Everyday he watched sunrise and sunset and the changes during the day showing a myriad of images for his artwork. The changing of the seasons and the windy and rainy and sometimes even snowy scenes gave him endless inspiration for his paintings and prints. What is unique in his approach is that just from his window he can paint endless views of nature. This source of his inspiration seems to be inexhaustible.

Like a majority of modern artists, his creative process always begins in nature, in mountains and water and in scenes of fields and trees. Gradually he simplifies his scenes, sometimes seen only in vague outliens and sometimes to the point of almost abstraction. However, he never takes the step into pure abstraction, since in every painting, he always maintains some outlines of objects, especially mountains and water. They look, like some Chinese artists used to say, between life-like and unlike. This is like what he said, “In the present stage of my pursuit I am using my paint brush to transmit the ‘scenes’ from everyday life that I see to the ‘feeling’ that they evoke inside me.” The emphasis here is on feeling, not actual objects. Thus his paintings are not intended to capture actual scenes in nature, but pursue the essence of his feeling for them.

Everything seems to be appearing and disappearing, going directly into the hearts of the observers

As he has said before, in his creative process his biggest effort lies in the handling of basic artistic elements such as dots, lines, surfaces, colours, and textures. However, after he has achieved his own personal style of expression, all these elements gradually disappear into his own unified style. As the Chinese have said, it is like “a heavenly dress showing no sign of individual stitches,” with everything melting into a new style, without showing dots and lines, original colours and textures. Everything seems to be appearing and disappearing, going directly into the hearts of the observers.

In exploring the deep feeling implied in the almost abstract depiction of nature, Shyh-Charng Lo always maintains a basic reference to actual scenes without going into pure abstraction. Modern abstract art in the West, starting from the early twentieth century, had several branches: One, beginning from Kandinsky, attempted to simplify nature into abstract patterns, sometimes all the way to pure abstraction. Another branch, starting from Mandarin, went into straight lines, surfaces, and pure geometrical forms without any reference to nature. A third branch began with Paul Klee, in transforming figures and objects into extremely simplified forms and then reconstituting them into new compositions according to his own imagination. Shyh-Charng Lo does not seem to have followed any of these Western trends in abstraction. Rather, he seems to have been influenced by the expressionist trend exemplified by Matisse, Bonnard, and Vuillard, with an emphasis on feeling for people, objects, and scenes through dots, lines, and textures rendered in near abstract manner. However, no matter how close he comes to abstraction, he always retains some basic reference to nature. It is a form of expressionism.

His paintings attain the “realm of Chan (Zen) and the state of emptiness”

Basically, the paintings of Shyh-Charng Lo, even though using oil painting and lithography as his major media to express his inner feelings, share something in common with traditional Chinese literati painting. Literati painting has always been the expression of the Chinese literati who are poets, writers, and scholars and who can paint and write to express their inner feeling. Their works are mainly landscapes, not always in realistic depiction, but rather in some kind of transformation of nature to express their inner feeling. Shyh-Charng Lo’s works share the Chinese literati’s spirit. Li Lin-tsan has pointed out that his paintings have the characteristic of “a quiet approach to reach something far beyond,” a traditional Chinese approach. Peng Tse-chih also pointed out that his paintings attain the “realm of Chan (Zen) and the state of emptiness.” Both of these are attempts to show that Lo’s approach is very close to that of the traditional Chinese literati.

However, Lo’s approach does not follow the traditional literati course to reach his goal. Rather, he attained his present stage of artistic development through the world view of archaeology and anthropology plus the explorations of various theories of modern Western art. He uses Western oil painting and rich colours as the means to search for the mystery of the human spirit. This kind of exploration attempts to explore the mystery of human life by means of oil painting and lithography. It is neither pure Western nor traditional Chinese. Indeed, it is a combination of both the Chinese literati tradition and Western modernism into a unified expression of his own.

By Chu-Tsing Li, 2003

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