It’s a Beautiful Life : A Memorial Retrospective of Fu-sheng KU’s Work

The title of this retrospective, “It’s a Beautiful Life”, derives from a 1994 work of the same name. If the beauty that the painting exudes is a tribute to the beauty of life itself, it also retains traces of loneliness and homesickness—the feelings and moods that flavor the great majority of works by Fu-sheng Ku.

  • Exhibition Period:25 Nov – 31 Dec 2017
  • Address:ESLITE GALLERY | 5F, No. 11 Songgao Road, Taipei 11073 Taiwan
  • Opening Hours:3-5pm, Saturday, 25 November

By Chia Chi Jason WANG

The title of this retrospective, “It’s a Beautiful Life”, derives from a 1994 work of the same name in which Ku presents an expansive, aerial perspective of rolling hills and farmlands, in blue and green tones, above which floats an image of a baby boy gazing into the distance. The expansive landscape below seems to form a crib for this chubby newborn, yet his floating pose seems at the same time a kind of metaphor for distance and separation from one’s home. If the beauty that the painting exudes is a tribute to the beauty of life itself, it also retains traces of loneliness and homesickness—the feelings and moods that flavor the great majority of works by Fu-sheng Ku.

A kind of trinity, of the nakedness of newborn babies, along with men and women, forms the basic subject of much of Fu-sheng Ku’s work, as each of the three portrays some part of his own being. Physical bodies engaged in sports or in excited states are contrasted with bones and skeletons, in juxtapositions of life and death that metaphorically suggest separation and loss. Rounded, ovum-shaped compositions encase images of fetuses within them, while the fetuses contain skeletal shapes that seem to already prefigure death. The baby is a man; the man is a woman; and all are difficult to distinguish, as all seek beauty and all aspire to love. Love, however, is not just spiritual affinity, but is present in the desires of the body too, and both kinds of love, in Ku’s paintings, converge as a single entity.

Fu-sheng Ku longed for and sought freedom, and with his painter’s brush he depicted the freedom of the body. In young, vigorous bodies he saw images of freedom, and he imagined freedom in the sky and the sea; the freedom of the physical body was projected in images of sporting contests and in the bodies of flying birds and swimming fish. His pursuit of the body’s autonomy and physical freedom brought him happiness in the act of painting, through which he gave expression again and again to vivid, lively images. To escape the bonds of the external world, to loosen your belt and throw off your clothes, to return to the naked state, the natural state of creation—these are the images and visual cues that can be found everywhere in Ku’s work. Through such images Fu-sheng Ku conveyed both love and beauty in his song of life, as he happily and unceasingly swore a vow of eternal commitment to his art.

Fu-sheng KU

Fu-sheng KU was born in Shanghai in 1934 and came to Taiwan when his father General KU Chu-tung brought the entire family over with the Nationalist Army in 1948. Like many other artists, KU took to drawing at a young age. When graduating from the Department of Fine Arts at Taiwan Normal University, he had already participated in the exhibitions of Fifth Moon Group, becoming one of the key figures promoting modern art in Taiwan. Kenneth Hsien-yung PAI, prominent writer and a close friend, remarks that art is a passionate and persistent pursuit for KU. “If everyone must choose a way of life, painting is my whole life—my thoughts are in my work, and so are my feelings and every detail of my existence.” KU faces his art with utmost honesty. Indifferent to trends in art, he prefers to indulge himself in the subconscious world between reality and fiction, allowing his fantasies and dreams to flow spontaneously. Naturally inspired by anything or any situation, his creations spring from his inner sense; time, place, material, color, and lines can all be used as vehicles for expression. KU readily twists his media in rich and diverse ways, gracing his works with whimsical and unconstrained fun and beauty.

Exploring the meaning of life, KU’s creation centers around “man” as a vital subject, so that his oeuvre can be associated with modernist and existentialist philosophy. As curator Chia Chi Jason WANG once commented, “Fu-sheng KU’s creative enlightenment began with the individual’s ‘body’ and he strives to capture the ‘present.’ Depictions of distortion and deformation are commonly found in his art.” Many of KU’s human bodies are deformed and elongated, a style that is unique and impressive even today for its visual convulsion and emotional infectiousness. Fu-sheng KU says, “I paint man’s inner self as well as his feelings towards the outer world; man’s relationship with man, or man’s relationship with his surrounding environment and nature. Life is a riddle and a dream. Life is fragile.” The complexity of human nature, interpersonal parting, the mysteriousness and desires of the body, and the dream and reality of life… these are the ideas that pervade his art. KU’s works exude a rich literary quality, constantly reflecting on the issues of human existence and infused with intense feelings and drama.

Fu-sheng KU’s art can be roughly classified into different periods based on the cities he has lived in: Taipei period (1957-1961), Paris period (1961-1962), New York period (1963-1974), San Francisco period (1974-1990), Portland period (1990-2002), Chicago period (2002-2008), and Los Angeles period (2008-Present). In early works, headless bodies are enveloped in infinite solitude and bitterness. In works of the middle years are his contemplations of life and death as well as the juxtaposition of illusion and reality. The recent works now witness his liberation from all worldly restraints and sing praises of life with melodies from a blooming sanctuary. Fu-sheng KU’s creative career illustrates a sincere artist’s profound fascination in man, living and life in all its endearments.