王淑鈴 (1963-)

Suling WANG

WANG is known for her large-scale abstract paintings, which demonstrate a unique artistry drawing on both the history of Chinese landscape painting and British landscape artists such as Turner. She infuses her personal emotions and thoughts into her work, and uses bold and spontaneous brushstrokes to create majestic and dynamic composition, exhibiting unrestrained colors on the canvas.

Nature’s Echo

Full of experimental verve, the paintings speak to the power of physical experience not only in the artist’s hand and body but also in the viewer’s slow looking and imaginatively retracing the non-linear evolution of their making.
Sarah Tanguy

Sarah Tanguy / Art historian Sarah Tanguy is an independent curator and writer based in Washington, DC, USA

To watch Suling Wang paint is mesmerizing, her body and mind fully engaged and in sync. With the canvas lying flat, she bends over and moves around it, building layers up and working out the rhythms of her supercharged abstractions. At times, she deftly pours paint from bowls or buckets and then carefully tilts the canvas up at an angle to extend the pours and let the pigments of a rich and varied palette mix and pool. At others, once the canvas is prone again, she squats perfectly balanced, and with one hand, applies two loaded brushes in lyrical back and forth sweeps, letting drips add staccato before and after they make contact with the surface. At others still, she leans over the canvas and gently caresses areas with her hand, smoothing and smudging the marks some gestures have left behind. In between actions, she stands on a stool, and from this bird’s-eye vantage, “listens” to the painting and ponders her the next move. 


It’s hard to summarize Wang’s work. Nothing is literal or pre-determined. Everything seems in flux. Images flow into being. Patterns emerge and recur as in music. Hints of a landscape peek out from abstract distillations. All the while, intuition and imagination guide the unfolding drama. 


Wang situates her work in a global context. Born and raised in the mountainous region outside of Taichung, Taiwan, she had a happy childhood despite the island being under martial law. Growing up, she was versed in oral tradition and spoke Taiwanese, , and only learned Mandarin Chinese at school .. She also studied calligraphy and landscape painting, related disciplines marked by gestural versatility and abstract image making. Decades later, as she neared thirty, Wang was finally able to travel to Great Britain and pursue her education. After earning her Bachelor of Arts Degree from St. Martin’s College in 1996 and her Master’s Degree from the Royal College of Art in 1999, she set up a studio in London and while creating her own art, familiarized herself with various movements of Western painting, from the one-point perspective and quiet naturalism of Renaissance and the vivid coloration and pronounced chiaroscuro of Mannerism to the atmospherics of J.M.W. Turner’s late paintings.


For a while Wang split her time between England and Taiwan, and then in 2018, she decided to make Taiwan her permanent residence. She moved back to her family home in "Golden Pumpkin Mountain,” the old name for the region that is still remembered by some people. There, she was able to reconnect with its lush, natural surroundings and work both indoors and outside. Many childhood memories resurfaced, including two that had a profound impact on her art. In one, when her mother was worried, she would break three bowls by a nearby tree and bury the shards in the red earth in order to regain peace. In the other, Wang would step into the yard every morning, after her mother had left to work in the fields and her siblings were busy at school. All alone, she would gaze at the clouds and sky and make drawings with a stick in a puddle before going in to have breakfast—an early stirring of her solitary studio practice.


This blended upbringing of folklore and animism together with Taoist and Buddhist philosophies and quotidian rituals permeates her work and animates her 2022 and 2023 exhibitions at Chini Gallery, Taipei. The title, Mountain Language, is inspired by a Harold Pinter play about communication and the breakdown between language and meaning. She had seen a performance years before in London with her husband and fellow artist, Daniel Pulman, whom she had met at the Royal College of Art. The experience proved seminal, catalyzing a desire to construct a visual language by dividing her personal life into parts and re-assembling them into something new. The process of reedifying, possibly an adaptation of calligraphy where directional ink strokes form the word-image compounds of individual characters became a signature trait as she honed the vocabulary of her metaphoric abstraction. 


The paintings in the Mountain Language series are based on quick, charcoal sketches Wang made of landscapes at familiar sites and national parks. Back in the studio, she turned them into bold, acrylic and oil studies of color, rhythm, and marks. A kind of a graphic shorthand, these improvisations explore a range of color saturation and naturalism. Dabs of green might evoke a patch of trees; a splotch of white, a frothy waterfall; and a flash of black, a crag or a perhaps, shadows from a deep overhang. Wang further distills the scenic beauty of the mountains, forest, water, and sky in the paintings. Similar in approach to form and space, they each present subtle, yet significant variations. Gone is any sense of horizon as an anchor. Instead, their vibrant energy is choreographed into an allover field of shifting clarity and chaos, loosely aligned on a vertical axis. This remarkable complexity belies a lengthy process of adding and erasing layers of marks onto a stratum of atmospheric washes until a dynamic balance is reached.


Take Mountain Language III, which features a predominantly roseate ground. Ribbons of black and red billow out in arcs and bands, the red ones generating speed lines running horizontally to the edge. Patches of red, grey, white, and black play off of flourishes of green and overlays of stylized, blue squiggles. Like the comic-based and enlarged brushstrokes of Roy Lichtenstein, the squiggles had appeared previously along with black swatches dotted in white. In the action-packed Mountain Language IV, the sense of speed quickens, and these private symbols, inspired by the shapes and rhythms in classical Chinese portraiture, flow in and out of an intricate design with the rush of a mountain stream. In other paintings, the space opens up and the pace slackens. Gestural strokes form a loose zigzag as though wafted by a summer breeze and cascade downward above layers of washes, the color of dawn. 


The origin of the Mountain Language series dates to the early 2000s. By then, Wang had found her artistic voice and was starting to use her own expressive language as seen in an untitled work from 2003, now in the Rubell Collection. The allover design of overlapping shapes in a shallow space is already present: Black, be-speckled circles and ovals, floating white and grey clouds, aqueous fans of blue trees, and halting green and red passages all weave in and out a variegated ground of pink washes. Made just after her mother’s death, Wang honored her life by adding broken lines to stand in for thoughts, and graphic marks to indicate a means of rising up. The artist considers the work unfinished, and when she feels stuck, she goes back and selects something from its vast reserve to explore and develop further. This organic approach of revisiting a painting or theme while working on several canvases at the same time continues to the present day.


Taken as a whole, the textural nuance and visceral abundance of the Mountain Language paintings dazzle. Changing speeds, perspectives, and directions spur the imagination, and create movement within the pictorial frame and the viewer’s perception. Virtuoso displays of harnessing and releasing energy induce a sense of freedom, while the spatial push-pull never fully resolves. Just as the works start to beckon inward, the force of Wang’s hand redirects attention to the surface, dispelling any momentary illusion of depth. Equally hard to pin down is her choice of emotive colors. Rather than evoking nature, her non-representational palette and tonality explore a full range of hues, from high to mid-keyed whites, greys, yellows, pinks and oranges to low-keyed reds, greens, blues, purples, and blacks.


Rhythm and color emerge as entry points to this nexus of interlocking forms and free-flowing arabesques. When a canvas is blank, Wang plays classical music as she contemplates what the work will be about. Then she paints in complete silence. At the point that a work is nearly finished or she feels stymied, she puts on talk shows, a habit she took up in England. Even with the background noise, she notes, envisioning a painting’s color and composition can be a lonely endeavor, but this state facilitates an internal dialogue. Somehow the painting tells her to add a shape in one area for emphasis; or in another, to add some white to a red for warmth and lightness. Though her choice of colors is spontaneous, individual colors perform specific purpose. White, for example, carves out a middle state between front and back sweeps akin to the effect of a stone in a swirling river or a pause in a musical score. She goes on to explain that just as in breathing, a dab of white introduces air and a break between heavy forms and saturated colors; but rather than completely blocking off what’s behind, she mixes it in wet to leave a trace or record of her action. 


Wang’s expansive vision of abstraction melds calligraphy and classical Chinese painting with realms entirely of her imagination, and the artist always delights in reveals of actual geography. Citing shanshui (or mountain-water) painting in the Chinese landscape tradition as impacting her take on perspective and composition, she also gives weight to the influence of early Qi philosophies. These consider qi to be the vital energy that flows through all living beings and binds us physically, emotionally and spiritually together. The teachings of Zhuangzi hold special prominence. Viewed as a primary source of Daoism, Zhuangzi  emphasizes spontaneity in action and freedom from convention. This elemental qi possessing no beginning or end lies at the core of Wang’s aesthetic. It nullifies the difference between void and mass, as well as between fore, middle and back registers in Western perspective. It is the spark that connects shifting spaces and temporalities into a continuous, undulating field.


Embracing the beauty of Wang’s oeuvre yields pleasing introspection and a respite from digital overload. Full of experimental verve, the paintings speak to the power of physical experience not only in the artist’s hand and body but also in the viewer’s slow looking and imaginatively retracing the non-linear evolution of their making. As the works oscillate between compression and release, they take us on meandering journeys to places near and far. Forms echo each other in lyrical dance and accrue meaning. And though rooted in the present, the paintings seem to reverberate through time with glimpses into her childhood and nature, becoming portals to entire cosmologies. They transform myths into waking dreams and rituals into abstract stories. Like trying to hold on to a passing cloud or catch a mountain stream, they embody a state of perpetual becoming and the promise of discovery ahead.