文 / 方秀雲 （Natalia S Y Fang）/2015
記得五年前，第一次看見台灣藝術家徐畢華（Jessica Pi-hua Hsu）的畫，隨即在筆記本上寫下這樣的字句：
以抽象畫聞名的徐畢華，自1982年第一次個展，已歷經了三十多年的藝術生涯，由原來的具象，延展下來，寫景寫生、寫意，到之後的抽象，除了靜態繪畫，她也進行舞蹈、音樂、彩繪衣裳……等等跨領域的創作，這兩年來，更以光纖技術製作裝置藝術。2015年三月3日至22日，位於美國紐約的黃氏畫廊舉辦一場徐畢華個展，名為「尋找桃花源」（In Search of My Arcadia），呈列從2005年到近來的作品，共十八件，包括〈春雷乍響〉、〈秋香〉、〈水舞〉、〈否極泰來〉、〈蛹蝶之生〉、〈愛如潮水〉、〈生之奧秘〉、〈徜徉紫色流域〉、〈璀璨之流〉、〈在水一方〉、〈秋光蟬音〉、〈聞雞起舞〉、〈金色時光之流〉、〈萌動〉、〈不捨晝夜〉、〈飛白〉、〈嬡〉、與〈紫夜星海〉，全屬藝術家的純熟之作。
好幾年來，我研究不少藝術巨匠，了解背景與追根究底，發掘童年第一個記憶對視覺藝術創作有關鍵性的連接; 之後，又熟知奧地利心理學家阿爾弗雷德·阿德勒（Alfred Adler, 1870-1937）的學說，談到早期記憶對人的重要性，他說：
直到唸大學（政治大學教育系），她依舊鍾情繪畫，於是加入美術社，私底下也向兩位知名畫家拜師學藝，一是專精三原色水彩畫又很懂渲染法的王舒（1933- , 目前旅居奧地利），他的飽讀詩書、文人風範，為她開啟了中國美學思維；另一位是水墨畫家袁金塔（1949- ），他也常引她去旁聽山水畫家黃君璧（1898-1991）的課，從他們身上，她學會了靈動與拙趣的筆法，及墨的五色。在這階段，她專注於風景與花卉的主題，著重具像。
同時，她也到歐洲做了文化壯遊，約六年，在國外所吸收的，不論是西方藝術史、或者創作經驗，回台之後，不斷地在她畫布上發生作用，幾位大師像法國的風景畫家柯洛（Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot）、後印象派大師塞尚（Paul Cézanne）、新現實風畫家克萊因（Yves Klein）、西班牙的超現實畫家米羅（Joan Miró）、非形象藝術（Art informel）的塔比埃斯（Antoni Tàpies）、歐美的抽象表現主義畫家，如漢斯．霍夫曼（Hans Hofmann）、羅斯科（Mark Rothko）、蓋格爾（Rupprecht Geiger）、里希特（Gerhard Richter）、紐曼（Barnett Newman）、弗朗兹．克萊恩（Franz Kline） …等等，始終在她美學中發酵，從這回展的十八件作品，多少能找到這些足跡。
除了西方藝術，中國的繪畫傳統與論理更是她內涵的豐富養分，從宋代畫家馬遠、夏圭、范寬的山水畫、還有明末清初的八大山人、清代石濤，到近代的李仲生、吳大羽、趙無極、廖德政….等等，全為她繪畫的典範; 嗜愛讀書的她，讀了不少美學書籍，像南朝畫家謝赫（479-502）的繪畫論著，提出的「六法」與氣韻生動的要求，還有美學家宗白華（1897-1986）的《藝境》強調的靈境，是主觀生命情調與客觀的自然景象交融所得的成就，這些正也是她在藝術裡追求的境界; 另外，還有清朝文學家張潮（1650- ?）的《幽夢影》、東晉詩人陶淵明（c.365-427）、文人畫家像北宋的蘇東坡（1037-1101）與盛唐的王維（701-761）的作品，她對儒釋道的融會貫通，藝術與生活的不二分，也來自於他們的潛移默化。
以上這四個線索，延續下來，就在約2007年後，畫面出現了一種對峙與界限模糊的矛盾現象，藝術家採用新式的技巧，結果呢？出現強烈的立體感、急速的動感，能量似乎從四面八方來襲又同時釋放出去，對觀者，簡直撲朔迷離，但卻是一場驚歎的視覺經驗; 另一方面，色彩的對峙與區塊的界限也凸顯了出來，在色彩上，剛好與德國大文豪歌德1810年提出《色的理論》（Zur Farbenlehre）的光與黑暗在介質之間引起色的對照關係（黑→藍→紫 及 白→黃→橘→紅）不謀而合，可見藝術家對色、對自然的感知無懈可擊。兩個元素，一個模糊，另一個清晰，混在一塊，聽來似是而非，然而，在同步衝擊之下，高度的藝術形式爆發了，畫面顯得分外璀璨。
黑色的使用，除了老子所言「知白守黑」對我的影響之外，我覺得生命裡面的很多困難遭遇，也是一種讓我要從黑暗中，突破重圍，分享光明的一個沉潛力量 ! 還有，就是自然的力量，我從泥土，耕種作物裡面，體悟到出污泥而不染的一顆種子，埋在污黑泥土裡面，沉潛蘊釀，韜光養晦，就能發芽展葉，開出美麗的花朵……，黑色對我而言，是一種值得信賴的力量，與充滿希望與能量的前奏曲。
沉浸在「尋找桃花源」的畫裡，突然，讓我想起英國哲學家兼美學家羅傑．史克魯頓（Roger Scruton, 1944- ）前一陣子在ＢＢＣ的廣播節目「觀點」（A Point of View）中談到的「藝術：真的東西」（Art: The Real Thing），徐畢華在自然中捕捉了「美」（“beauty”），尋尋覓覓，慢慢地發掘了次序，成就了「形式」（“form”），同時也達到了一種人性的「救贖」（“redemption”），賜予人類的未來，這些正好符合了史克魯頓所說的好藝術的三個關鍵之鑰！
Like a Rising Phoenix — On Jessica Pi-hua Hsu’s art
by Natalia S Y Fang, Ph.D.
Five years ago, I saw Taiwanese artist Jessica Pi-hua Hsu’a paintings for the first time and soon afterwards wrote down these words in my notebook:
… like a swan whose bodily white seemingly lacks brilliant colors and therefore who is keen on wondering around in a carefree fashion and eager to catch some colors no matter in water or on soil, between heaven and earth!
Today, I see her works again. No doubt, they vary in colors and styles. But looking at them carefully, under the curvy or straight lines and color patches seemingly conducted a leisurely way, I realize there are some hidden metaphors, symbols and myths. More important is her keen observation and perception of colors and nature. Let me explain……
Known for her abstract paintings, Hsu has had a successful art career for more than 30 years since her first solo exhibition in 1982, from original representational art, through life drawing, scenery art, freehand brushwork, until her later abstract art. Besides paintings, she has also done some cross-field creations such as dance, music, fashion design, architecture, etc. In the recent couple of years, she has been engaged with art installation by adopting optical fiber.
Now, taking place in Hwang Gallery located in Flusing, Queens, New York, her solo exhibition is called In Search of My Arcadia, lasting from the 3rd to 22nd March. Its displayed works include “Spring Thunder”, “Aroma in Autumn”, “Water Dance”, “Coming of Good Luck”, “Reviving”, “Love Tide”, “The Magic of Birth”, “Woman in Purple Flow”, “Sparkling Stream”, “Crossing”, “Autumn Cicada”, “Morning Rising up”, “A Flow of Golden Time”, “Sprouting”, “Day in and Day out”, “Flying Waterfalls”, “Time for Woman Love”, and “Starry Starry Night II”. The 18 well-selected pieces of works, made from 2005 to the present time, all belong to the artist’s mature period.
Childhood Art Background
Hsu was born in Douliu, Yulin County, in 1957. There, living with her parents in a Japanese-style bungalow house, she loved drawing. Interestingly, she practiced her graffitis on the house’s white walls, frosted glass, and paper doors. Her family were so happy to let them stay, instead of washing them away. Apparently, a long time ago, this girl had already acted as a childhood muralist and interior designer.
Talking about artistic nature, I shall mention about her mother being a tailor. Since childhood, Hsu saw her mother working and learned fabric cutting and sewing, patch pieces putting and sticking together, interlacing, accumulating, conversion and juxtaposition between quality and quantity and also the interplay between thread and needle. Every detail went to her eyes and mind. Looking at Hsu’s works, one can easily see different color patches’ rendering and collage, drawing lines’ dragging and pulling and adhesive relation, quality and quantity’s controlling, etc — all which may have been influenced by her mother. So one can say, her artistic nature is genetic and environmental.
For the past decade, I have studied many art masters. Understanding their background, I have discovered one’s first childhood memory has a strong connection with his or her art works, especially on visual perception, subject choice and aesthetic attitude. Later, I came across Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler’s (1870-1937) theories, one of which emphasizes the importance of the first memory. He wrote:
Among all psychic expressions, some of the most revealing are the individual’s memories.
Three or four years ago, I met Hsu in an art gallery in Taipei. In our conversation, naturally, I touched on this topic. Immediately, she told me:
That was during my kindergarden run by an American headmistress. I remember Christmas was approaching, everyone needed to make Christmas cards. I saw lots of golden and silver shining paillettes all over. Also, on Christmas party, the costume I wore was stitched with paillettes of all colors.
At that time, she was four. Among all the things she had seen, only one thing awakened her. That was a showering of colorful paillettes. Their dazzling presence amazed her. Making cards and costumes and Christmas decorations come together to form one of her first memories.
Looking at her works, one can see almost every piece has the imagery of “paillettes”. Sometimes, it is hidden. Some other times, it appears so obvious. Take an example of the 2013’s “Starry Starry Night II”. Such a crystal shining picture! It is hard to deny the fact that the effect of the imagery is a continuous extension of her childhood memory, isn’t it? No doubt, since the moment of shining paillettes awakening her, in order to watch, borrow, catch and keep colors, her sharp eyes have never closed.
Going to university (reading Education at National Chengchi University), she still stayed engaged with paintings. Then, she joined the university’s art society. Privately, she also became a pupil to two celebrated painters. One is the painter Wang Shu (1933- ) who is now living in Austria. His expertise is in water colors with three-primary-color and rendering techniques. His great knowledge in calligraphy and poetry and refined scholarly demeanor paved the way of thinking about Chinese aesthetics for her. The other is the water-ink painter Yuan Jin-ta (1949- ). He often led her to listen to another landscape painter Jun-bi Huang’s (1898-1991) lectures. From Yuan and Huang, she learned quick-witted and plain but interesting brushstrokes and five-level ink technique. During this period, she focused on subjects such as landscape and flowers which appeared as representational art.
After graduating from university, she decided to become an artist. To have more training in Western art, in 1987, she went to America to study art history in postgraduate program of California University, Berkeley. Then, she registered at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to learn about paintings. Until 1993, American visual art had been dominant with Lyrical Abstraction, Conceptual Art, Video, Performance art, Installation art, etc., alongside with the continuation of Fluxus, Abstract Expressionism, Color Field Painting, Minimal Art, Op art, Pop Art, Photorealism, New Realism, etc. Facing these overwhelming waves, like a sponge, she absorbed them all and also went through various art experiments.
Meantimes, she also took a cultural grand tour around Europe. For around six years, in no matter Western art history or painting practices, what she had absorbed abroad has continuously caused great impact on her canvases after returning back to Taiwan. For example, several masters, such as French landscape painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Post-impressionist Paul Cézanne, Neo-realist painter Yves Klein, Spanish surrealist painter Joan Paul Cézanne, Art-Informel artist Antoni Tàpies, some abstract expressionist painters, like Hans Hofmann, Mark Rothko, Ruprecht Geiger, Gerhard Richter, Barnett Newman, Franz Kline, etc. have always more or less affected her art. This time, in all the 18 pieces of paintings exhibited in Hwang Gallery, viewers can find these influences.
In addition to Western art, Chinese paintings’ tradition and aesthetic concept have enriched her substances of paintings. The painters from Song Dynasty’s Fan Kuan (c.960-1030), Ma Yuan (c.1160-5 – 1225) and Xia Gui (1195-1224), through the late Ming and early Qing’s Bada Shanren (1626-1705) and Qing’s Shi Tao (1642-1707), to modern times’ Li Chung-sheng (1912-84), Wu Da-yu (1903-88), Zao Wou-ki (1920-2013), Liao De-zheng (1920-), etc. — all these have become her role models. As a big reader, she enjoyed reading classics on Chinese art. For example, the Southern Dynasties’ painter Xie He (479-502) proposes “six principles of Chinese painting” and regards “vivid charm” as the soul of all in The Record of the Classification of Old Painters. Modern times’ aesthetician Zong Bai-hua (1897-1986) suggests that “ling jing” (literal meaning: “Soulful Land”) be the accomplishment of fusing subjective living mood with objective natural scenery is in his Yi Jing. These are exactly the realms that she has pursued in art. Furthermore, there are Qing’s litterateur Zhang Chao’s (1650s-?) Quiet Dream Shadows and Eastern Jin’s poet Tao Yuan-ming’s (c.365-427) and the other two literati painters Northern Song’s Su Shi’s (1037-1101) and Tang’s Wang Wei’s (700-761) writings. It can be said that her good understanding of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism and her idea of the inseparability between art and living come from their enlightenment.
Hsu’s abstract paintings have gone from realist art with abstract concepts (1987-1992), through a semi-realist & semi-abstract approach (1992-95), to utter abstraction (1995- ). Since she stepped into a completely abstract style, she has constantly searched some kind of order in nature and hope to discover an art form which is for her only. Generally speaking, from 1999 onwards, she has found several key threads which, after having been evolved for some while, finally become aesthetic signatures for her.
First, Stability of “Black”: Starting from the end of her training in America until two years later, the artist herself had used a great deal of black paint which was applied in a wildly galloping fashion. However, since 1999, the “black” has been made another transformation which is no longer wild or explosive. Instead, the black areas look thicker and more upright, forceful, and reposeful, which turns out an offering of a sense of endurance and tranquility as if a steady tree trunk stands there. Interestingly, when she obtains a stability in abstraction, the “light” element comes forwards. In the meantime, the chiaroscuro technique is introduced into her paintings. As a result, the effect is near to that of Italian painter Caravaggio’s (1571-1610) and the 17th century’s still life paintings of the Dutch Baroque. Hsu’s such examples are “Spring Thunder”, “Love Tide”, “Autumn Cicada”, “Sprouting”, “A Flow of Golden Time”, etc.
Second, Planting of “Seeds”: When “Alone in Time” and “Seed in Flight” were painted in around 2000 and soon after, the “seed-shape” object came to light. Since then, almost every painting has had it. One after another seed planted in paintings has been evolved with the times. Like metamorphosis, it can be changed into different sizes, colors, shapes, and phases. Take examples like “Sprouting”, “Day in and Day out”, “Flying Waterfalls”, “Time for Woman Love”, “Love Tide”, etc. One cannot miss the “seed” imagery.
Third, Intertwining between “Hardness” and “Softness”: After 1999, the two paintings “New Moon” and “Seed in Flight” were made: the former involved with dominant horizontal linear brushstrokes whereas the latter was with obvious vertical ones. Then, the artist started the period of her two-sort intertwining. One can still spot this in the paintings like “Coming of Goodluck”, “Sparkling Stream”, etc. It cannot be denied that, in terms of art form, the artist was then influenced by American and European abstract expressionist painters. However, detailed accumulations, substance performance, and aesthetic concepts as well as microcosmic and macroscopic understanding and blending — all these are certainly Hsu’s. With her intention to bring geometrical and lyrical abstractions together, she tried to fuse hardness in straight lines with softness in natural curves in art. With the two elements’ integration, after 2001, she developed the “upside-down triangle” imagery. Even in her “heart-shape” series after 2004, I think the works are a kind of extension of this particular development. For example, in “Aroma in Autumn”, “Crossing”, and “Reviving”, one can see such an inverted-triangle imagery.
Fourth, Metaphor of Wrapping “Chrysalis”: Color patches, after the artist’s long-time aesthetic deliberation, started being dramatically changed from the mid-2000 onwards. Originally, they were arranged rather randomly. Then, they have become more and more focused. And finally, the imagery of a wrapping shape is formed. Inside it are full of mysteriously sophisticated elements. It looks very much like a “chrysalis”. In the exhibition, the most obvious works are “Reviving”, “Woman in Purple Flow”, and “Crossing”.
The above four threads continued evolving. In around 2007, a dual phenomenon, confrontation and boundary ambiguity — which seem contradictory — appeared in her paintings. The artist started taking on new techniques at that time. The result has been dramatic: there is a strong sense of three dimensions and dynamic movement shown on paintings as if energy is injected from and released in all directions. To the viewer, it is maybe a confusing, but an intriguing visual experience. On the other hand, confrontation of colors and boundaries of patches have been projected. In terms of colors, I find that the artist’s choice, apply and arrangement of colors coincide with the great German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s (1749-1832) Zur Farbenlehre although she is not aware of this. Goethe’s idea is about interplaying between light and black and their relation with turbid media leading to changing of colors (black→blue→violet vs. white→yellow→orange→red). Also, Goethe regards violet the most beautiful among all. All these are quite similar to Hsu’s color paintings. The artist’s perception towards nature and colors is flawless. The mixing of two elements — one is ambiguous; the other, clear — may sound paradoxical. But, given the fact that they simultaneously meet, a high degree of art form breaks out. That’s why her paintings are so brilliantly expressive.
The 18 pieces of paintings in the exhibition In Search of My Arcadia are exactly such mature works with her aesthetic signatures in them.
Black as a Main Source
However, overall, looking at her works, if one asks what her aesthetic axis is, the answer will be “black”.
Continuing the theme of childhood memory, Hsu has another deep wound. That is that she often suffered from illness and constantly needed to see doctors and take medicine. Her parents worried and rushed about for her. Her bodily pain during her childhood has brought about a psychological scar and guilt like an original sin she bears all her life. She always wants to overcome and escape from her bodily boundary. Such a psychological darkness has been transferred into the “black” color in the paintings. When mentioning to the artist that black is her color, she replied:
About the use of black color, in addition to the influence from an ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi’s (571BC- Zhiou Dynasty) “knowing whiteness and guarding blackness”, I sense that many difficulties and misfortunes in life are a kind of submerging power dashing out chaos from darkness and sharing light with others. Also, it is power coming from nature. In farming, from soil, I have learned that a seed buried in dark soil comes out of the dirty mud unsoiled. It implies the seed develops itself in a crafty and unrevealing way and finally grows beautiful flowers…. Black color, for me, is a trustworthy power which is a prelude full of hope and energy.
In her art, one certainly witnesses the above description. The process of her discovering black starts from ash-like dimness, gradually goes through a stable power, and then, because of its modest and opened mind, lets other colors come out. At last, resplendence shines. No matter how evolved, “black” is in the end her magic creative root.
The artist engages in dance and swimming to overcome her bodily boundary. She loves doing both exercises. It is suggested that pictorial rhythmic movements in her paintings are metaphors for traces of her various postures such as jumping, slowly shifting, stretching, wriggling, turning around, meditating, etc. Such scenes indeed originate from her illness and subsequent suffering, spiritual practices, and searching for satisfactory realms. Looking at her works, one imagines her transcendental dancing mood.
In Search of Her Arcadia
Immersing in the paintings of In Search of My Arcadia, I suddenly recollect British philosopher Roger Scruton’s (1944- ) “Art: The Real Thing”, one episode from BBC radio 4’s program A Point of View, broadcast one month ago. In her paintings, Hsu has found “beauty”, achieved “form” after having made long exploration and searched for some order in nature, and also reached “redemption” for the future humanity. These meet the three keys to good art that Scruton has proposed.
Five years ago, I described her as ‘a white swan longing for colors’. How wrong I was! Now looking at her paintings in-depth, I realize she is like a strong bird burned by fire, then becoming into ashes, then being reborn, and finally flying with spreading wings. Yes, she is indeed an arising phoenix.
Dr Natalia S. Y. Fang,
Born in Taipei, Shiou-yun now lives in Edinburgh. She has degrees from the universities of Essex (Diploma), Edinburgh (M.Sc.) and Glasgow (Ph.D.). In the last several years, she has written many articles for newspapers, journals and magazines. She is also the author of art books — Love Encounters: Seventeen Masters of Western Art and Literature You Need to Know, Nudes Who Changed Art, Flowers of Light, Beauteous Babes: Their Artistic Essence, Desire Picasso, Gauguin’s Dream: Ancestors and Ideals, Paul Gauguin, Loving Beauty: Artists Picturing their Muses, Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portraits, Dali’s ‘Le Christ’, Empress Dowager Cixi, and The Artists’ Self-Portraits. At 13, she started writing poems. Her poetry collections include Dreams and Poems, Love, You Come with Speed of Light, and Hero.