Having worked in art design for a stage troupe for a long time meant that I am quite familiar with the acting life. No matter how large or small their roles were, the girls always looked particularly sensual when they were applying their make-up backstage. The way they applied their eye shadow and pursed their lips after putting on the lipstick all conveyed a very different kind of poetic beauty that is impossible to describe with words.
Nearly twenty years after my departure from an art troupe, I finally had the personal painting space to hire models as well as find props and clothing. I made female office workers in the city the subject of my paintings so that the characters and images didn’t come across as feeling hollow and the aesthetics over-exaggerated.
The character in this painting was painted from life. Virtually none of the elements were imagined.
In 1985 while I was in Hong Kong I painted the Orchid Queen on a foot-long square of vinyl flooring that came to hand. When I held my first individual exhibition, it was used for the cover of my first catalogue. The small painting was eventually given to my daughter and was “married off” with her to America.
Taiwan has such an enormous variety of exquisite orchid flowers. In this painting I brought together Taiwan’s orchid flowers, mountain streams, maple trees, and the Blue Magpie, an endemic species. I visited the mountain stream in person but the scenery was pure imagination. The nude was painted from life. More than twenty years were to pass before I translated a small pencil sketch to the oil painting canvas and fulfilled one of my dreams.
Charm of Autumn
Two decades passed between the painting of the Nude with Blue Floral Head Scarf in Hong Kong and the painting of Charm of Autumn! For this painting, I deliberately left out the actual background and used a single floral cloth covered with autumn leaves to accentuate the young girl’s simple and vital form. With a sculptor’s eye, I gave shape to every line and curve of life. By leaving the actual background, I emphasized the simplicity of the human form and made life feel all the more real until every inch of the contours seemed almost touchable.
Nude with Blue Floral Head Scarf
1986 Hong Kong
The greatest advantage of opening a personal teaching studio in Hong Kong was having the time and space for self-training. I made my past missing lessons, such as human figure drawing and human figure oil painting, the key topics of my self-training sessions. Apart from practicing alongside my students, I also spent a great deal of time hiring models for personal research and practice. In addition to increasing my anatomical knowledge of the human body, I also studied the development of human sight. Were the observation and sensory capabilities of the human eye truly no match for the camera lens?
This was the thought that motivated this painting. It provided a vivid expression of the human figure filled with life and warmth as seen through my eyes and captured the colors and contours in every inch of this girl’s skin. All of this exploration and narrative was completed in just two sessions over six hours! How was such a comprehensive portrayal completed in so little time? Unbelievable!
Yet there was so much life in just a stretch of white wall, a head scarf and a girl just leaning there. I had once more risen to the challenge and created a testimony to the boundless potential of the human eye. The six hours would prove such a nerve-wracking experience yet such a delightful exploration of life!
This was not a composition that I stumbled upon. I came up with the concept first before purchasing the desk lamp, vase of flowers, and fabric—I wanted to create a consistent color palette and atmosphere. What was left was how to present this atmosphere and how to bring the nude next to the lamp into the light.
This was the start of figure paintings at my Taiwan studio in the 1990s. The new studio I set up in Taipei gave me more room to work with so the compositions were richer and more varied than my Hong Kong period.
1987 Hong Kong
This plein-air painting of the human figure is unusual in that it was completed completely from life yet contained creative elements in its composition.
When painting human figures, one approach is the plein-air study where the model as well as surrounding props and environment are all incorporated into the image; the other is borrowing the model’s form and pose for a work of imagination.
The pose and concept for this painting came to me by chance: The model just couldn’t get the pose right and so gave up, squat in a cross-legged position, and put her hands on her knees. Perfect! I immediately purchased a large stretch of white cloth for the background and completed the character enplein-air. The result had a Zen feel to it so I named it: ‘Untitled’ because it sounded like Bodhi (in Chinese).
Vase, Flower Cloth and Nude
This oil painting was a plein-air painting produced in collaboration with a multimedia company in Taiwan for the Oil Painting with Mau-Kun Yim set. The model was an excellent subject and was very dedicated as well. While I was arranging the model’s pose and the surrounding environment, I decided to add some patchwork cloth, a water jar, and oranges to make the scene feel more lively.
This pose was a little too tricky and complicated for anatomical instruction. For Realist painters, however, when it comes to painting a human figure from life—especially when the model has such a fine figure—there is just no hiding their obsession with “aestheticism.”
This painting was eventually chosen as the cover picture of the oil painting video lecture series.