Miners’ Lament is the latest narrative painting that I finished. The inspiration for Miners’ Lament goes back all the way to my time in China.
Prior to 1980, I worked at Zhaoqing in Guangdong where there was a medium-sized coal mine outside of the city –Ma’an Coal Mine. I went on two painting trips to the mines and also went down to the mine shaft on two occasions, so I knew about the miners’ hardships from personal experience.
Fast forward to 1997. When I came back to Taiwan from my Northwest painting trip in 1997, I saw plein air paintings of a coal mine in Taipei’s suburbs by my student Liu Ming-yen and was impressed by them. I visited Jiufen and Pingxi (two coal mines near Taipei) with Liu Ming-yen and my wife. While touring the coal mine museum, I had a look inside the small coal mine that was about to close. All of a sudden, I gazed back at the tunnel entrance and could see the scene in the draft before my eyes.
The topic of mine disasters is a common one all around the world. It also hints at the inevitability of humanity’s tragic destiny. For me as an artist, most importantly, when I emerged from the mine I suddenly discovered a very powerful composition, as well as a sense of continuing to move forward despite knowing what fate had in store. After that, I made many trips to Jiufen and Houtong to experience and get a feel for the mining areas.
Since concept inception, it took me nearly twenty years to complete this oil painting. I didn’t dwell on the expressions of the miners as they emerged from the tunnel entrance after the mining disaster. I wanted the audience to focus on the “family members waiting at the mine entrance.” The anxiety and hope in the faces of the miners’ families expressed the heart-rending nature of the tragedy.
After countless drafts and paintings, I eventually came up with the silhouette making its way to the tunnel entrance – the silhouette of a miner. How many mining disasters big and small had this silhouette endured? The bent back, covered in rock and coal dust, was the product of the heavy burden it had borne. It represented a life filled with perseverance as well as futility. He knows that once the mining disaster has been cleared away, he will have to go down that dangerous mine shaft again into the darkness under the ground in order to feed his family.
This was the silhouette that I found after many attempts and changes. It is not only the silhouette of a miner but also countless farmers and coolies! To eventually give shape to this image at the entrance to the mining disaster made my visits to the mines worthwhile.
The painting and its theme may seem a bit depressing for the holiday season when we are reflecting on 2018 and looking forward to 2019. But I thought maybe we can look at the painting from another angle, there is light at the end of the tunnel for whatever we have been working on. So with this note, happy holidays and best wishes for your endeavors in painting and other areas of your life.