今日都市中的人們傾向於遺忘過往人類對樹的依賴，從防禦工事到炊事，缺樹不可，樹甚至經常被視為是神聖的，象徵性的連結於生命。曾幾何時，樹對人類的古老貢獻已經被工業產品所取代。於是，從十九世紀起，樹成為城市規劃中的重要元素，我們稱之為「綠化」，是「生態系服務」(services écosystémiques)的重要來源，以及維持「生物多樣性」(biodiversité)的可能要素。都市的樹成為重要的公共財，在社會、政治、經濟和倫理上扮演重要的角色，與休閒、遊戲、教育、環境、健康、生活品質、藝術與自然息息相關。不過當環境學家樂觀地將樹視為城市的肺臟時，歌手Maxime Le Forestier卻悲傷而無奈地吟唱：「彷彿一棵都市中的樹，在水泥與瀝青之間，我掙扎著伸展。但我的枝葉如此低垂，如此接近噴煙的汽車，在水泥與瀝青之間。」城市裡的樹也有不少因著都市的更新或開闢道路的需要而慘遭砍伐、「屠殺」的命運，正如王鼎鈞〈那樹〉中的名句：「幾千條斷根壓在一層石子一層瀝青又一層柏油下悶死。」
也是從十九世紀開始，畫家們以無比的興趣畫著樹，似乎再也無法僅僅將自然視為畫作的象徵性背景，而是必須個別處理的對象。彷彿為了逃避城市的壓力，米勒與盧梭隱居於在都會的邊緣、森林的入口，為林中的千年橡樹們畫著肖像，頓時吸引了無以數計的年輕畫家、攝影家的追隨。然而他們的下一代印象派畫家們，卻一方面畫著綺麗的自然風光，一方面成為燈紅酒綠的奧斯曼巴黎(Le Paris d’Haussmann)的官方畫家。且他們似乎刻意忽略城市的傷疤：嘈雜的建築工地、城市擴張帶來的驅逐與遷徙、工業化帶來的階級對立與環境汙染。只有阿德勒(Jules Adler)直接畫出噴著濃煙的醜陋工廠以及憤怒的罷工工人，卡耶博特(Gustave Caillebotte)畫出巴黎僵直空蕩的街道、漠然的行人，以及令人暈眩的透視。
陸先銘的樹有著文學性的標題：〈城東紀事〉、〈繾綣 · 相思〉、〈不息〉、〈聚〉，帶入了少許的敘事，並且強烈的暗示將樹擬人化的意圖；有趣的是他也可以毫不猶豫地將所畫的人物命名為〈春樹〉、〈秋霜〉，意味著人樹可以不分，透過「通感」(synesthesia)，讓樹與人之間的情緒彼此感染，共同指向畫家感性而詩意的目光。但是當我們轉眼望向畫作時，卻驚訝的發現畫家在絕大部分的畫作裡，都只畫了一段樹幹？﹗
這令人聯想到收藏在倫敦V&A博物館，2002年因巴黎大皇宮的展覽而重新引發世人注目的康斯坦伯(John Constable)的小畫〈榆樹樹幹〉(1821)：真的就只是一段樹幹，從樹皮的裂紋、樹根上的青苔，到低垂的枝枒，鉅細靡遺、極度精準的繪畫手法，令本身也是大畫家的策展人佛洛伊德(Lucian Freud)一時技癢，拿著畫架到一棵樹的面前效尤之，誰知竟是怎麼畫也畫不好，失敗而返。評論家Laurent Wolf因此試著解釋畫一段樹幹有多難：「畫一棵樹，僅僅一棵樹，而且還只是這棵樹的樹幹，引發的技術上的問題之複雜度，遠超過表面上單純的物件之幾何結構。(…)無敘事、無寓意、無人物、甚至沒有崇高的視角，畫家什麼都沒得畫，除了樹的真實、它自身的物質與形式上的邏輯。這意味著藝術家採取了一種新的姿態：企圖在畫布上畫出他獨特的目光－他看到什麼，他如何看－而且盡可能的貼近他對可視世界的情感。」
陸先銘以細膩的筆法、薄塗的顏料，精準地在畫布上畫出一段盤根錯節的老榕樹樹幹，乾擦出樹皮的紋路，細細地描出樹幹上的木瘤和裂口、橫生的鬚根及剛冒出的嫩枝綠芽。整體而言，素描統御了樹幹，體積感壓抑著色彩，只有受/背光的部分交替閃爍著寒暖對比的微妙色光。如此準確與細膩的觀察與再現，是不是首先應稱之為照相自然主義(naturalisme photographique) ，一種「確有其樹」地宣稱？事實上，畫家已經親自向我證實了這是他所熟悉的樹，台北街頭經常出現的老榕樹，但被他投以獨特的目光，投射了獨特的情感。
不過，論及樹幹的形式結構，我們很難忘懷蒙德里安(Mondrian)的作品Wood with Beech(1899)中那些垂直的樹幹特寫，他的樹在立體主義之後，終於成為研究結構、韻律以及平衡的藉口，最終幻化成他那些著名的垂直線與水平線。我們確實很難否認陸先銘作品中的強烈結構性，使我們幾乎可以合理的懷疑他對高架道路、鷹架、柵欄的興趣，正如同對樹幹與站立的人物的興趣一樣，都是來自於它們可以在畫面中強行置入並且不斷重複垂直線、水平線，並且在誇張的透視安排之下蛻變為各種斜線。甚至彷彿樹幹還不夠，2017年的大作〈不息〉在垂直的樹幹上還押了數道白色的垂直線。
如是，看似簡單的樹逐漸複雜了起來，它延續且承接著陸先銘對於城市的映射(mapping)，一種既理性又感性、既主觀又客觀、既具體又抽象、既物質又心靈的城市地圖繪製術。最後，這位深深地被他的城市所吸引的藝術家，即便在描繪城市裡的樹時，也沒有忘記提供我們各種截然不同的觀看角度，只需將濃重的〈仲夏夢覺〉和清淡的〈城東紀事〉，或將寫實卻虛幻的〈繾綣 · 相思〉與夾在中間的扁平卻實在的銀色不鏽鋼樹形放在一起，便昭然若揭。
Urban Trees— Lu Hsien-Ming’s Mapping of the City
Text / CHEN Kuang-Yi
(PhD in Contemporary Art History, Paris X Nanterre / Professor, Department of Fine Arts; Dean, College of Arts, National Taiwan University of Arts)
Trees are not a special painting subject, and Lu Hsien-Ming is not known as a painter specialized in painting trees.
Although trees have been repeatedly featured in the history of painting and their identity as well as meaning tend to vary in different works, they have captured the unique eyes of artists throughout generations and are represented in different ways, be it symbolic, aesthetic, romantic, naturalistic, etc.
Although Lu does not specialize in painting trees, there are often a few trees depicted in his paintings of urban jungles constructed by concrete pillars, standing like some feeble figures attempting to hold back the mighty force of urban infrastructure construction. Therefore, even if the artist only paints trees, content-wise and in terms of form, they are still part of the urban imagery that Lu has been fascinated with; we can say that these trees are indeed urban trees.
Today’s city dwellers have almost forgotten about mankind’s dependence on trees, which were used in nearly every way, from defense construction to everyday cooking. Trees were even viewed as sacred most of the time, and were associated with life itself in a symbolic way. However, it was not long before the ancient functions of trees were replaced by industrial products. As a result, ever since the 19th century, the role of trees has evolved to the point of becoming a crucial factor in urban planning, an aspect that is called “(urban) afforestation.” It becomes an important source of ecosystem services and a major factor in maintaining biodiversity. Trees in the city become public goods and play a socially, politically, economically and ethically crucial role while being intimately linked to leisure, playing games, education, environment, health, living quality, art and nature. Nonetheless, as environmental scientists are positively comparing trees to the lungs of cities, French singer Maxime Le Forestier has been singing the laments of trees with a sentiment of helplessness, “Like a tree in town / Between the concrete and tar / I struggle to shove / But my branches fly low / So close to the cars that smoke / Between the concrete and tar.” Moreover, there have been many urban trees felled, or “butchered,” if you will, in the name of urban renewal or building new roads. One is thus reminded of the well-known words in Wang Ding-Jun’s The Tree, “thousands of broken roots buried and suffocated under layers of pebbles, tar and asphalt.
It was also in the 19th century that painters started to make trees their subject matter with unprecedented enthusiasm, as they could no longer simply view trees as part of a symbolic background but individual subjects that demanded dedicated treatment. As if they were looking for ways to escape pressure from the city, Jean-François Millet and Henri Rousseau chose to live in seclusion on the urban outskirts and at the entrances of forests to create portraits for centuries-old oak trees in the woods. Their works, all of a sudden, captured the attention of young painters and photographers, who decided to follow their practice. Contrarily, impressionists that were one generation later than the two masters would begin delineating splendid natural landscape on the one hand, and serve as artists commissioned by the government of “le Paris d’Haussmann.” Furthermore, they seemed to deliberately overlook the scars of the city: the noisy constructions sites, the eviction and migration resulting from urban expansion, the class opposition and the environmental pollution brought on by industrialization. Exceptions, however, can be found in Jules Adler’s depiction of the grotesque factories with fuming chimneys and angry demonstrating laborers, and in Gustave Caillebotte’s portrayal of the straight and stiff-looking Parisian streets with indifferent pedestrians and the vertigo-inducing perspective in his paintings.
As a matter of fact, painters do not “unveil” an existing landscape, but “create” a scene through their eyes. Each scene is cultural, and at the same time, political, for the very reason that it always involves a certain perspective in its formation. Lu’s career began in Taiwan in the 80s. Along with his peers and comrades from Taipei Art Group and Hantoo Art Group emerged as active artists in Taiwan’s art scene in the 90s. During that period, which was characterized by volatile political and economic changes, this group of artists found themselves unable to ignore the drastically evolving external environment, and thus, have respectively employed their individual ways and ideas to express their thoughts and responses. However, amidst the bustling, flourishing art scene, Lu’s urban imagery – a mélange of visually heavy, oppressive highways, tall buildings, scaffoldings, bulldozers and trucks – is indeed represented in a quieter way that is devoid of complicated narratives and metaphors while displaying a certain type of urban landscape.
However, urban landscape comprising of construction sites, thoroughfares, building clusters and parks might be poetic to some people and unsightly to others, and the symbol of progress to some and the ruins of regrets for others. Lu’s urban imagery oscillates between piercing coldness and majestic grandeur; its color scheme moves between vibrant brightness and dark gloom; his brushstroke also alternates between that of the strong and the subtle. Therefore, one finds it very challenging to determine whether the artist paints a celebration of the city or simply its eulogy. Landscape represents an everlasting game of finding the balance, a standoff between two forces: it beckons both at the things we gaze at and the way we gaze at things. Yet, due to the fact that the things we gaze at as well as our gaze at these things are constantly and unavoidably changing in contemporary cities, the seemingly still landscape is always subject to changes. Perhaps it is because of this very reason, Lu’s strategic approach in art-making has been to gaze at the city by employing a long take from a distance that subsequently zooms in at a slow pace, first focusing on urbanites, and then, urban trees.
Lu’s paintings of trees are given literary titles, such as Records of the East of the City, Unending Remembrance, Endless, The Gathering, etc., which are incorporated with a low degree of narrative and a strong implication of personifying the trees. Interestingly, the artist has also been unhesitant in naming his figure paintings with titles like Spring Tree and Autumn Frost, reinforcing the inseverable connection between people and trees. Through “synesthesia,” emotions are shared between the trees and the figures, and visualize the artist’s affective and poetic gaze; yet, when one turns the eyes to his paintings, one is surprised by the fact that most of his paintings only depict segments of tree trunks.
It reminds us of John Constable’s small painting, Study of the Trunk of an Elm Tree (1821), which has been in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and caught the world’s attention due to its exhibition at Paris’s Grand Palais in 2002. The painting indeed only features the trunk, which is minutely delineated, be it the bark splits, the moss on the roots, or the low-hanging branches. The extremely realistic, exquisite representation and skills intrigued the renowned artist-curator Lucian Freud who later followed his predecessor’s example and made an attempt to paint a tree. However, he found himself unable to achieve the goal and returned empty-handed. Art critic Laurent Wolf tried to explain how difficult it could be to just paint the trunk: “Painting a tree, simply just one tree, and above all, only its trunk, has introduced a complex technical issue that greatly surpasses the geometric structure of the simple object…. Without narrative, allegorical meaning, figures and even any sublime perspective, the artist has nothing to work with except the reality of the tree, its own materiality and formal logic. This means the artist must adopt a new approach, which is to attempt to paint according to his unique perspective – what and how he sees – and portray his feelings about the visible world as closely as possible.”
With delicate techniques and thin application of paint, Lu represents the trunk of an old Marabutan tree with twisted, gnarled roots. The artist creates the texture of tree bark using drybrush, and meticulously delineates the gnarls and splits on the trunk, the crawling aerial roots and fresh shoots and leaves. Generally speaking, his depiction of trunks is based on the mastery of sketch, and the sense of volume is portrayed with a carefully controlled color palette. Only the alternating light and dark sides in the painting reveals the subtle contrasting colors. Should such precise and elaborate observation and representation be categorized as photographic naturalism and denote a certain tree that exists? In fact, the artist himself has told me that the subject of the paintings is an old Marabutan tree from the streets of Taipei, which he is very familiar with; however, he has projected a unique gaze and emotions onto the tree.
Conversely, in terms of the formal structure of the trunk, one is still strongly reminded of Mondrian’s Wood with Beech (1899) with its focused portrayal of vertical tree trunks. Ever since the emergence of Cubism, his depiction of trees eventually became a studied subject of structure, rhythm and balance, and finally evolved into those vertical and horizontal lines that the artist has been so significantly known for. It is obvious that one cannot deny the prominent structural property in Lu’s work, which brings us to reasonably believe that his interest in highways, scaffoldings and fences, like the tree trunks and freestanding figures in his painting, originates from the fact that these elements allow the artist to arbitrarily place in the image repeated vertical and horizontal lines that are transformed into diagonal lines through a dramatic arrangement of perspective. As though painting a tree trunk is not enough, the artist even adds several white vertical lines on the vertical trunk in his 2017 masterpiece, Endless.
Nevertheless, different from the trees painted by modern painters, Lu’s 2018 paintings series featuring trees adopts a pure white background. Spectators might be misled into thinking that the white background is the canvas’s original color; in reality, it is a blank, white background painted on a scarlet base. Consequently, the object painted is separated from its background, as if it exists in a vacuum. This approach is indeed the “object-directedness” that pop artists have emphasized. As a matter of fact, the approach represents how the artists view the world: they separate the ubiquitous media images from their individual historical background and see them as symbols essentially independent from any specific context to gain the freedom to reconstruct these symbols at will. Consequently, Lu’s tree is no longer a certain object on which one projects emotions, nor is it a representation of “the tree.” Like other urban elements converted into graphic symbols, it can also be arranged by the artist to compose an urban melody for a certain period, place and people.
As a result, a simple tree gradually becomes complicated as it inherits and continues Lu’s mapping of the city, a unique urban cartography posited between sense and sensibility, the subjective and the objective, the concrete and the abstract as well as the physical and the psychological. In the end, this artist who has been deeply mesmerized by his city still remembers to provide spectators different perspectives to observe the city even when he is portraying the urban trees. To validate this point, one only needs to juxtapose the powerful Awakening from a Summer Dream and the light-toned Records of the East of the City or to look at the realistic yet illusory Unending Remembrance together with that silver, flat yet substantial stainless tree glimmering in between the work.