LIEN Chien Hsing 連建興

LIEN Chien Hsing first began in the early 1980s as a surrealist concerned with ecological and environmental protection before evolving into a neo-expressionist in the late 1980s, focusing on critiques of modern day consumerism and vanity. Since 1989, LIEN has directed his attention to magical realism, reflecting his sentimentality regarding the lost of traditional values, humanity and nature. The artist continues his line of magical realism by setting his works against a background of ruins and imbues them with symbols, metaphors, elements in order to hint the motives and purpose behind their creation. His works show his concern for the degradation of the natural environment and reflect his ruminations about civilization and humanity.

  • 1962 Born in Keelung, Taiwan
  • 1984 B.A., Department of Fine Arts, Chinese Culture University, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 2004 M.F.A., Graduate School of Fine Arts, Taipei National University of the Arts, Taipei, Taiwan

SOLO EXHIBITIONS

    2016

  • “I Hope to Stroll the Island and Gaze Upon It with Sheer Sensibility Lien Chien- Hsing’s Desolate Magic, YU-HSIU MUSEUM of ART, Nantou, Taiwan
    2012

  • “Between Reality and Fiction: Sceneries of the Mind”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    2008

  • “Desolate Fantasy”, ESLITE GALLERY, Art Taipei, Taipei, Taiwan
    • 2006

    • “Small Puppet Theater”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan

2004

    • “Le Dialogue Between Abstract and Realism: Tao Wen-yuei vs. LIEN Chien Hsing”, Keelung Municipal Culture Center, Keelung, Taiwan
    • “Desolate Magic”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan

2002

  • “LIEN Chien Hsing”, Metropolitan Art Space, Tainan, Taiwan
    2001

  • “Lonely Earth”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    2000

  • “Solo Exhibition – Mixed Media”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    1999

  • Metropolitan Art Space, Tainan, Taiwan
    1998

  • “Abandoned Realm”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    1997

  • Metropolitan Art Space, Tainan, Taiwan
    1996

  • “Magic Realism”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    1994

  • “Spiritual Awakening”, New Trends Gallery, Taichung, Taiwan
    1993

  • “C.H. LIEN: Works 1976 – 1993”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    1991

  • “LIEN Chien Hsing and LEE Chun Kong Solo Exhibitions”, ESLITE GALLERY,Taipei, Taiwan
    1989

  • “Second Annual Taipei New Painting Festival of 1980’s”, Tri-Color Art Center, Taipei, Taiwan
    1984

  • “The Desire to Look Up to the Sky”, Today Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan

GROUP EXHIBITIONS

    2017

  • “An Ode to Thirty”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Hardcore Rally with HantooArt Group”, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei, Taiwan
    2016

  • “Image Out of Images”, Cloud Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
    2015

  • “Special Art of Hong-Gah”, Keelung Cultural Center, Keelung, Taiwan
    2014

  • “Bloom: ESLITE GALLERY 25th Anniversary”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “The 28th Asian International Art Exhibition”, Kinmen Cultural Park Historical Folk Museum, Kinmen, Taiwan
  • “Taipei Contemporary Art Exhibition”, Shanghai Meibo Art Center, Shanghai, China
  • “RE WRITING”, FreeS Art Space, Taipei, Taiwan
    2013

  • “The 27th Asian International Art Exhibition”, The Ratchadamnoen Contemporary Art Center, Bangkok, Thailand
  • “Dragon, Asia aspiring”, Absolute Zenith, New Taipei City, Taiwan
  • “Oil Paintings Exhibition”, National Taiwan Arts Education Center, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Majestic Island—The Development of Modern Art in Taiwan”, National Art Museum of China, Beijing, China
  • “Rolling! Visual Art in Taiwan”, Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul, Korea
  • “Inter-Vision: A Contemporary Art Exhibition Across The Strait 2013”, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung, Taiwan; National Art Museum of China, Beijing, China
  • “Hantoo Art Group”, Inart.space, Tainan, Taiwan
  • “Hantoo Li̍p-Tshù ─ toughened hantoo souls sentimentally settled here ahter their drift”, FreeS Art Space, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “From Subverting Reality to Creating Reality – Contemporary Art in Post-Martial Law Taiwan”, Asia University Museum of Modern Art, Taichung, Taiwan
    2012

  • “Manifestation of Homunculi”, Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei, Taiwan
    “Pure As Jage, Study As Mountain”, E. Sun Bank, Taipei, Taiwan
    2011

  • “The Sentimental Boys! Hantoo Joint Exhibition”, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
  • “Scenery and Vistas of Taiwan Through the Eyes of Artists: A Century of Taiwanese Landscape and Scenic Art”, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung, Taiwan
    2010

  • “Hantoo Art Group 2.0”, Taichung Creative and Cultural Park, Taichung, Taiwan
  • “Amazement and Astonishment—Hantoo Art Group’s Adventure to the West”, Chongqing Art Museum, Chongqing, China
    2009

  • “Viewpoints and Viewing Points—Asian Art Biennial”, National Taiwan Museumof Fine Arts, Taichung, Taiwan
  • “Hantoo Group Show”, Hong-Gah Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Madden Reality: Post—Taipei Art Group”, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
    2008

  • “HANTOO IMPRESS”, Impressions Art Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “SWEETIES: Celebrating 20 Years of IT Park”, IT Park Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “2008 Taiwan Biennial: Home”, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts Gallery, Taichung, Taiwan
  • “The Empire Strikes Back: Episode II/Surprise Attack”, Impressions Art Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Exchange Exhibition of Fine Arts of Sino-Korean”, National Taiwan Arts Education Center, Taipei, Taiwan
    2007

  • “Theme of The Exhibition—Art Breakthrough: Asia Gallery Invitation Exhibition”,Art Bejing 2007 Contemporary Art Fair, Bejing, China
    2006

  • “Odd Art: Graphic Art Group Exhibition”, AKI Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Macro Vision, Micro Analysis, Multiple Reflections—Contemporary Art in Taiwan in the Post-Martial Law Era”, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung, Taiwan
  • “The 9th LEE Chun—Shang Visual Arts Award”, National Cheng Kung University Art Center, Tainan, Taiwan/ Soochow University, Taipei, Taiwan
    2005

  • “Collision and Action—the Development of Modem Art in Post–war Taiwan”, National Taiwan Museum Of Fine Arts, Taichung, Taiwan
  • “MS 8+5 Hantoo Mambo”, National Taiwan Museum Of Fine Arts, Taichung, Taiwan
  • “Place / Displace: Three Generations of Taiwanese Art”, Richmond Art Gallery, Vancouver, Canada; Gallery of Columbus State University, Georgia/ Pacific Asia Museum, Los Angeles, USA; National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung, Taiwan
  • “Eye Dream: Multiple Realities in Taiwan Contemporary Photography and Painting”, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Kaohsiung, Taiwan; Taiwan Cultural Centre Paris, Paris, France; City Hall Art Gallery, Ottawa, Canada
    2004

  • “Posture.Actuality”, GSR Gallery, Taichung, Taiwan
  • “The Multiform Nineties—Taiwan’s Art Branches Out”, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Scylla and Charybdis in Love: The Challenges Facing Contemporary Taiwanese Artists”, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung, Taiwan; Gwangju Art Museum, Gwangju, Korea; Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Transitional Eighties: Taiwan’s Art Breaks New Ground”, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
    2003

  • “The 25th Anniversary Exhibition”, Keelung Municipal Cultural Center, Keelung, Taiwan
  • “Discourses on Love: 64 Conversations in SARS’ Era”, IT Park, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Hantoo Art Group Exhibition”, The Pier-2 Art District, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
  • “Hantoo Art Group Exhibition”, Hong-Gah Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Hantoo Art Group Exhibition”, Stock 20, Taichung, Taiwan
    2002

  • “Oeuvre of Contemporary Art in Taiwan”, Hong-Gah Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Art Roaming and Social Sensation: Cultural Observation for 8 Kinds of Art Expressions”, Main Trend Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
    2000

  • “North Taipei Artists Group Exhibition”, Julia Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
    1999

  • “Visions of Pluralism—Contemporary Art in Taiwan, 1988-1999”, National Museum of History, Taipei/ Mountain Art Museum, Kaohsiung, Taiwan; China Art Museum, Beijing, China
  • “Landform: The Land on the Mind”, National Arts Club, New York/ Oklahoma State Capitol Gallery, Oklahoma, USA
  • “Magnetic Writing: Marching Ideas, Works on Paper”, IT Park, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Hantoo Association Group Exhibition”, G. Zen 50 Art Gallery, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
    1998

  • “Hantoo Association Group Exhibition”, Crown Art Center, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Reflection and Reconsideration: 2.28 Commemorative Exhibition”, Taipei Fine Art Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
    1996

  • Lung Men Art Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
  • Taiwan Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
    1995

  • “Group Exhibition”, Metropolitan Art Space, Tainan, Taiwan
  • “Culture 1995”, Impressions Art Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Art Taiwan” touring exhibition, Australia
    1994

  • “Two-Sided Realism Group Exhibition”, Up Gallery, Taipei, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
  • “Culture”, Impressions Art Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
    1993

  • “Marching Toward the Peak”, G. Zen 50 Art Gallery, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
    1992

  • “Asian International Fine Arts Fair”, Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Center, Hong Kong, China
  • “New Artists Five-Person Joint Exhibition”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Taipei Painting Group Exhibition”, Modern Art Gallery, Taichung, Taiwan
  • “Taipei Painting Group Exhibition”, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Loving Taiwan Poster Exhibition”, IT Park, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Sixth Asian International Fine Arts Exhibition”, Tagawa Fine Arts Museum, Fukuoka, Japan
    1991

  • “Taipei Affairs: Fun and Fury of Life”, Wood Stone Affinity, Taipei, Taiwan
    1989

  • “Taipei Painting Group Exhibition”, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
    1988

  • “The R.O.C. Fine Arts Development Exhibition: Opening Exhibition of Taiwan Museum of Arts”, Taiwan Museum of Arts, Taichung, Taiwan
  • “Extracts on Trial”, Howard Salon, Taipei, Taiwan
    1987

  • “The Third Modern Painting Interchange Exhibition of the R.O.C. and Korea”, Taipei County Cultural Center, New Taipei City, Taiwan; Kuan Hsan Fine Arts Museum, Seoul, Korea
  • “New Painting Exhibition”, Gwo-Chaan Art Center, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “SHEE De-Jinn Memorial Prize Group Exhibition”, National Museum of History, Taipei, Taiwan
    1986

  • “R.O.C. New Look Exhibition of Modern Art”, National Museum of History, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “New Form Exhibition”, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
    1984

  • “The Cultural Interchange Exhibition of the R.O.C. and Japan”, Kariya City Art Museum, Aichi, Japan
  • “Taipei Progressionists’ Modern Art Group: The Sensibility to Civilization”, American Cultural Center, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “The First R.O.C. New Prospect Exhibition of Modern Paintings”, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan

Awards
1982 7th Lion Arts New Artist Award
1984 Outstanding Young Artist by Taipei Hwa Kang Arts School
1987 Second place in the inaugural Dejin Memorial Painting Prize competition
2005 9th LEE Chun-Shan Visual Arts Prize

Collections
2014 National Museum of Matine Science & Technology, Keelung, Taiwan

Click on each year's works

Between Visible and Invisible, Presence and Absence The reclusive character and social perspectives

By Szu-hsien LI

Foreword

Since the 1990s, LIEN Chien Hsing has become a brand that everyone knows. This brand’s label is called “magic realism.” Whether “magic realism” represents an artistic form that LIEN Chien Hsing has created, or a categorization applied by numerous critics, the term captures a certain zeitgeist and satisfies a psychological need in the history of the development of modern Taiwanese art, which has firmly established this distinctive style. Because of this, many textual descriptions of LIEN Chien Hsing simply jump on the bandwagon and adopt the use of this term.

Similar to other artists, LIEN follows the traditional path and creates works first. However, perhaps due to the many years of being described by critics as a proponent of magic realism, he has himself unconsciously assented to the tenets of the form, and then continued to develop his own artistic language on this foundation. Although “magic realism” was not a deliberate result, the formulation “LIEN Chien Hsing = magic realism” has become a virtual truism, a situation that likely does not please him. In fact, LIEN’s works often convey a moodiness and melancholy, as well as a circuitously expressed longing for home and the land in the midst of meticulous realism—all of which cannot be encompassed by the single term “magic realism.”

Is the final work guided by the meaning of cerebral concepts, or is it driven by inner emotion? With the works of LIEN Chien Hsing, we find it difficult in fact to judge because his approach of providing a narrative for his own works and interpreting its artistic language are both so well practiced that any critique only constitutes an afterthought by comparison. From LIEN’s artist statement “Desolate Magic,” this writer was surprised to learn that although LIEN does not used polished statements or wording, he is still able to convey a clear and moving account of the detailed origins of his work, as well as expound on the related and extended readings for all the scene imagery in the works. Seen in this light, LIEN is revealed as rational and measured. However, further examination reveals that in LIEN Chien Hsing’s works, besides numerous suggestive clues that invite reflection, there are also concealed emotions and personal qualities of ordinary people, as well as psychological depictions of the artist’s experiences growing up. Perhaps it is this observation, which is usually not seen by writers, that comes closer to the focus of LIEN’s reading.

Scene of a ruin: a summons to memory

Over the past twenty years, ruins devoid of people have been the basic theme of LIEN Chien Hsing’s work. He declares: “Existing in the form of ruins and no longer a structure, having lost its function, these sites give future generations unlimited scope for speculation and fantasy.” It is just this sort of “rich language of place” that led to his obsessive fascination with ruins. The special countenance of these special areas has enabled LIEN to personally witness the transformation taking place in the locales of his life, the familiar land where he grew up. They have also allowed him to make a restrained yet resolute accusation about the epochal changes that people find so disorienting. As he says:

As I grew up in the Taiwanese port city of Keelung, I saw the fishing industry collapse due to overfishing, as well as the decline of the gold, copper, and coal industries in the area as mining depleted the resources. These events caused industries that had in the past flourished to gradually disappear or facilities to be abandoned, as prosperity was lost. During field surveys and explorations, I witnessed the abandonment and ruin of shipbuilding plants and mining operations. With the passing of the years, an allure drawing on the very desolation of such sites emerged. This local allure encompassed a vast language of place and spiritual significance. (from LIEN’s artist statement, “Desolate Magic”, 2012)

This sort of description of his own work recalls the remark that J. J. SHIH, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei, made more than a decade ago: “In LIEN Chien Hsing’s artwork, abandoned sites that have already lost their original purpose, have finally become part of people’s lives again in the spiritual realm by virtue of their ‘symbolic’ aesthetic values” (“The Extension and Deepening of Abstracted Realism”, 1995). For a painter, though an immersion in the history’s contextual abyss may evoke some degree of visual concern with the signs of time’s passage, even more derives from the psychological pull of nostalgia for the past. Faced with a familiar yet alien scene, though we might have seen it so many times, the changes that time has wrought are inevitably deeply affecting. So hard-won realizations were obviously premature for someone of LIEN’s age, just thirty at the time. If not simply the glib pronouncements of youth, such an outlook would be the result of scars inflicted while growing up that are difficult to remove, leading to a melancholy and reclusive character. Consistently shot through with subdued indigo tones and muddled greens, dim lighting and muted color, most of LIEN’s works possess a heavy mustiness, making it difficult for the viewer to manage even half a smile.

For LIEN Chien Hsing, “ruins and abandoned sites represent a crystallization of thoughts of past traditional labor, able to summon deep memories of the past and stir a sense of innocence.” Stated precisely, the abandoned factories and dilapidated ruins that LIEN paints are not merely the depictions of particular scenes, but are an awakening of the places and memories of the time when he was growing up. Seeing the locales familiar from childhood to adulthood gradually age and deteriorate evokes the merciless ebb of youth, giving people an intense sorrow. Locales with no people, bleak and desolate—though no people may venture there, there is a dramatic contrast with the many signs of people once having been there—reinforce the plaintive poetry of his artworks, and also express despair over our damage to the environment and the consequent disappearance of life memories. The scenes that LIEN Chien Hsing has recorded and depicted in his art, though outwardly placid, retain a sense of suppressed alienation—there is not an iota of joy, but also no special grief. At base, his work employs a vacant gaze, off to one side, looking on.

Portraying rural scenes: a reflection on existence

What is LIEN Chien Hsing looking at? Examining his corpus more broadly, one discovers that he does not only “see” visual issues, even though his painting technique is extremely realistic. LIEN’s aesthetics of ruins, particularly in his more recent works, sometimes bring to mind the fantastical images of surrealist master Salvador Dali (1904-1989). For example, in Pleasantly Hidden in a Forest Bath (2011), LIEN utilizes an image mosaic that resembles those of Dali, as well as the “magic surrealist” technique of blending unrelated images together to form the image of something else—re-imagining a lone mountain as lying on the ground with an animal face like a dog or tiger. The silent gaze, embedded in the mountain scenery, as if guarding the pair of deer roaming and bathing in the foreground, seems to be ensuring that they enjoy their little enclave undisturbed. From the same year, Cool Oasis Exploration and Shiding—Floating Nostalgia feature a vast surreal Dali-like desert, as well as a mysterious floating city that evokes a motif in the work of René Magritte (1898-1967).

LIEN’s approach of “simulating,” which is increasingly narrative in character, avoids the internal recitations of ruins in earlier works and now transforms into a more forthright vocal expression, though its aim is still a type of contemplation of the past. However, this contemplation, measured to the point of being suffocating, holds in its deeper recesses an even more fervent sense of idealism and hope about the land. After 2010, LIEN’s “simulated” depictions of various locales, besides the rural imagery that often appeared in earlier work, contain more depictions of personal dreamscapes and illusions. Perhaps this is the reason that his works give people an impression close to that of surrealism and absurdity. This type of incongruity and mystery enhances a feeling of bewilderment and bemusement. For example, in the “playful garden” of Wargame by Three Youngsters (2009), Romantic Rendezvous (2011), and Smoke Bubble Courtyard—Quiet Elegance (2012), not only are animal images hidden among the plants, but what appear to be delightful locations from a fairy tale labyrinth or wonderland turn out to be metaphors for a reality that is embedded in ruins and desolate scenes, rather silly but extremely intriguing—and hinting at LIEN’s deadpan allusive humor.

In fact, if we examine his work carefully, it is not difficult to discover that in many image mosaics, LIEN conceals a reproach directed at his homeland for its failure to live up to its promise. He complains that industrial civilization has caused the living environment and nature to change, rebuking modern society for forcing people to alter the way they live. Behind LIEN’s simulations are unspoken accusations, which is also an expression of a deep-seated hope. He takes these grumblings, and turns them into sprites, embedding them in each of his works.

In his subsequent development, LIEN imbues what were originally impassive ruins with a more direct air of humane concern and personal expectation. In this humble appeal to idealism, he conveyed his deeply concealed yearning for his lost home. As he put it: “As subject matter, abandoned locales carry some degree of sadness about a simpler time that cannot be restored. In Taiwan’s post-colonial industrial ruins, I also find people’s lost self-respect, as well as the temptation of uncertain prosperity that comes with the inability to resist technological progress.” (artist statement, 2012). Seen in this light, LIEN’s landscape paintings have a powerful critical consciousness. He is attempting to use the imagery and depiction of desolate scenes to recreate an ideal space that is enough to transcend spirit.

A view from up high: a concealed presence

The origins of LIEN’s creative approach of intricately rendering scenes to explore the spiritual themes of existence were evident as early as during his university years. In 1983, two elaborations on surrealism— To Create Excellent Achievements and Getting Lost —spoke to young people’s inner pursuit of and reflection on the life’s meaning and value at a time when a fad for bowling culture prevailed in a materialistic consumer society. This acute observation and critique of the prevailing environment metamorphosed into subsequent depictions of abandoned locales. These renderings of locales that seemed something less than full-fledged locales projected his awareness and concern. Ultimately, these ruminations on the past were transformed into a fondness for what exists now—particularly evident after 2004 when his magic realism had matured.

What is especially interesting is that LIEN—regardless of whether he is reflecting on impermanence, creating parables about human longing, or depicting the conflict between civilization and nature—adopts a detached perspective in examining the land and locales in his artwork. In this bird’s eye view of expansive scenes, encompassing in one fell swoop all in his purview, LIEN seems to have the meticulous attitude of the collector, terrified of neglecting a single item in all that is before him. For example, the array of dolls and figurines in the many still-lifes in his solo exhibition in 2006 makes us aware that LIEN is in fact a collector with a characteristic collector’s mentality. He makes use of visual composition techniques from photography, taking the fisheye lens views that expand what people can take in at once and applying it in the composition of his paintings. Fisheye techniques perfectly suit LIEN’s need to encompass the entirety of a scene; the distorting effect of these techniques also transform the scenery and appearance of what is seen into a space strongly reminiscent of a theatrical stage. Coupled with the use of objects that are utterly unrelated, and a dramatic surrealistic effect emerges.

LIEN’s extensive use of photographic lens effects in his art give his works a powerful sense of alienation, and also evince his paradoxical desire to possess all while being unwilling to join in himself. As a consequence, his work conveys a noncommittal stance toward society, maintaining distance but continuing to passively participate in it. If we imagined a group of people and Lin was among them, he would likely be the one standing at the periphery, quietly watching these people frolicking. He doesn’t leave, but stays there, his status in this group is one characterized by considerable passivity. Just as his works imply, the artist himself is always like a monitor, silently standing apart, hiding behind the lens, viewing everything that he is participating in. What he wants is perhaps very simple—maybe it is simply being part of the group, having company. This mentality is a form of spiritual redemption for the self: participating while not participating, aloof and yet not, affirming that one is simply by being.

Year 2012’s Between Reality and Fiction: Sceneries of the Mind solo exhibition includes a series of series of landscapes titled ××Asks Are You Looking at Me (2012) that can explain LIEN’s reclusive character. In this series, LIEN relinquishes the all-encompassing aerial views of a locale and utilizes the flora on a hillside as subject matter instead. In such simple nature scenes, there is none of the earlier concern or critique of civilization and the environment. Even his customary practice of creating magical scenes by combining images has been completely abandoned. What is left is only some extremely realistically rendered plants. The expansive scenes in 2011’s Baling—Three Turtles Playing in the Water and Fenchi–Spring have been condensed into the restricted views of ××Asks Are You Looking at Me, reminiscent of the shift in traditional Chinese painting from the grand landscapes of the Northern Song Dynasty to a later focus on small scenes depicting plants and using a “one corner” or “sidelong” composition—a change in visual taste, a psychological transformation regarding the world and society, and a tangible projection of his perception and definition of himself. Faced with a series of works whose subject matter is this simple and pure, we should perhaps say: the title of ××Asks Are You Looking at Me is nothing more than a turn of phrase, merely a starting point for what he wants to say. What is most important is in fact what is concealed in the depicted plants—LIEN Chien Hsing himself.

The world inside: freeze frame of an era (as conclusion)

With his low-key character, his introversion, as well as a kind of inexplicable psychological helplessness and emptiness, LIEN Chien Hsing possesses feelings about lost time, childhood, and all the locales he knew that can only be assuaged through simulated rural landscapes. Despite this, LIEN’s mild sense of sorrow does not appear to be outright despair, and even carries traces of a pessimistic brand of humor, bringing a smile to one’s face just at the point when one seemed about to sink into a mysterious sadness. Perhaps this is the actual “linked scenes” that LIEN has in his mind, and through his intricate renderings, we become aware of his lifetime devotion to his home and homeland.

Around 2005 or 2006, slyly rendered dolls and cartoon characters begin to appear in LIEN’s paintings, leading to the creation of the 2006 solo exhibition series. Although his paintings gradually introduced cartoon or comics characters, the plastic-y, second-hand visual language and stern tone with which they were presented not only made it difficult for people to think of their “cuteness.” The cuteness of the original characters was juxtaposed with a coldly desolate scene, something like the internal contradiction of a deliberately unfunny joke is produced—and this was true of both his landscapes and still-lifes. LIEN certainly belongs to his contradictory generation—a generation in modern Taiwanese history in which high and low engaged with each other, and past restrictions were eased. This generation’s life values are disordered, a condition that was cultivated in schools and facilitated by the opening of society. A point in history when people were at a loss as to what course to take, together with a tumultuous social atmosphere, led this generation of people to ponder issues of existence, value, and essence. The vast but indifferent social milieu that they found themselves in, alone and isolated, is very much alive in LIEN’s memories of his past life.

The melancholy sensibility that underlies LIEN’s works and the inauthentic, by-the-numbers, plastic flower-like affected tone of scenes, is undoubtedly the visual representation of his mental state. The cataleptic characters and views seal off time, enclosing people’s memories, and freezing the ambience and imagery of the particular time when LIEN was growing up. LIEN’s mode of expression in his oil paintings, besides so-called “magic realism,” reflects a commonly shared character trait among Taiwan’s third generation of post-war artists. This shared quality can also be seen fellow Hantoo artists’ group member WU Tien-Chang’s video installation Dust in the Wind II—A Tribute to LEE Shih-chiao (1998), and the many gaudy image compositions that attempt to capture Taiwan’s distinctive tweaking style of creativity, which are vivid freeze-frames of the era to which these artists belong, and the memories of a youth to which they can never return.

The authenticity of art’s essence is like a reflection in a mirror. The psychological redemption LIEN finds in abandoned sites and ruins, the parable-like narrative that springs from a combination of objects, the wordless critique of the living environment—these are perhaps the directly perceived projection of a personal mentality, all attesting that LIEN’s works certainly cannot be fully described by the term “magic realism.” Though not articulate in speech, and despite filling his canvasses in a straightforward manner, LIEN has thoroughly infused his work with sincere emotion. He has portrayed, in a moving and profound manner, the most intimate feelings about his own process of growing up, and the simpler but fascinating time in which he found himself. As Taiwanese painter representative of an era, LIEN Chien Hsing is riveting for his vividness.

SOLO EXHIBITIONS

  • 2012 “Between Reality and Fiction: Sceneries of the Mind”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 2008 “Desolate Fantasy”, ESLITE GALLERY, Art Taipei, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 2006 “Small Puppet Theater”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 2001 “Lonely Earth”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 2000 “Solo Exhibition – Mixed Media”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 1998 “Abandoned Realm”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 1996 “Magic Realism”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 1993 “C.H. LIEN: Works 1976 – 1993”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 1991 “LIEN Chien Hsing and LEE Chun Kong Solo Exhibitions”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan

GROUP EXHIBITION

  • 2017 “An Ode to Thirty”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 2014 “Bloom: ESLITE GALLERY 25th Anniversary”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 1992 “New Artists Five-Person Joint Exhibition”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
張安
ZHANG An
葉子奇
Tzu-Chi YEH

出版品

  • 1962 Born in Keelung, Taiwan
  • 1984 BFA., Department of Fine Arts, Chinese Culture University, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 2004 MFA., Graduate School of Fine Arts, Taipei National University of the Arts, Taipei, Taiwan

SOLO EXHIBITIONS

    2016

  • “I Hope to Stroll the Island and Gaze Upon It with Sheer Sensibility Lien Chien- Hsing’s Desolate Magic, YU-HSIU MUSEUM of ART, Nantou, Taiwan
    2012

  • “Between Reality and Fiction: Sceneries of the Mind”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    2008

  • “Desolate Fantasy”, ESLITE GALLERY, Art Taipei, Taipei, Taiwan
    • 2006

    • “Small Puppet Theater”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan

2004

    • “Le Dialogue Between Abstract and Realism: Tao Wen-yuei vs. LIEN Chien Hsing”, Keelung Municipal Culture Center, Keelung, Taiwan
    • “Desolate Magic”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan

2002

  • “LIEN Chien Hsing”, Metropolitan Art Space, Tainan, Taiwan
    2001

  • “Lonely Earth”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    2000

  • “Solo Exhibition – Mixed Media”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    1999

  • Metropolitan Art Space, Tainan, Taiwan
    1998

  • “Abandoned Realm”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    1997

  • Metropolitan Art Space, Tainan, Taiwan
    1996

  • “Magic Realism”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    1994

  • “Spiritual Awakening”, New Trends Gallery, Taichung, Taiwan
    1993

  • “C.H. LIEN: Works 1976 – 1993”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    1991

  • “LIEN Chien Hsing and LEE Chun Kong Solo Exhibitions”, ESLITE GALLERY,Taipei, Taiwan
    1989

  • “Second Annual Taipei New Painting Festival of 1980’s”, Tri-Color Art Center, Taipei, Taiwan
    1984

  • “The Desire to Look Up to the Sky”, Today Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan

GROUP EXHIBITIONS

    2017

  • “An Ode to Thirty”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Hardcore Rally with HantooArt Group”, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei, Taiwan
    2016

  • “Image Out of Images”, Cloud Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
    2015

  • “Special Art of Hong-Gah”, Keelung Cultural Center, Keelung, Taiwan
    2014

  • “Bloom: ESLITE GALLERY 25th Anniversary”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “The 28th Asian International Art Exhibition”, Kinmen Cultural Park Historical Folk Museum, Kinmen, Taiwan
  • “Taipei Contemporary Art Exhibition”, Shanghai Meibo Art Center, Shanghai, China
  • “RE WRITING”, FreeS Art Space, Taipei, Taiwan
    2013

  • “The 27th Asian International Art Exhibition”, The Ratchadamnoen Contemporary Art Center, Bangkok, Thailand
  • “Dragon, Asia aspiring”, Absolute Zenith, New Taipei City, Taiwan
  • “Oil Paintings Exhibition”, National Taiwan Arts Education Center, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Majestic Island—The Development of Modern Art in Taiwan”, National Art Museum of China, Beijing, China
  • “Rolling! Visual Art in Taiwan”, Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul, Korea
  • “Inter-Vision: A Contemporary Art Exhibition Across The Strait 2013”, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung, Taiwan; National Art Museum of China, Beijing, China
  • “Hantoo Art Group”, Inart.space, Tainan, Taiwan
  • “Hantoo Li̍p-Tshù ─ toughened hantoo souls sentimentally settled here ahter their drift”, FreeS Art Space, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “From Subverting Reality to Creating Reality – Contemporary Art in Post-Martial Law Taiwan”, Asia University Museum of Modern Art, Taichung, Taiwan
    2012

  • “Manifestation of Homunculi”, Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Pure As Jage, Study As Mountain”, E. Sun Bank, Taipei, Taiwan
    2011

  • “The Sentimental Boys! Hantoo Joint Exhibition”, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
  • “Scenery and Vistas of Taiwan Through the Eyes of Artists: A Century of Taiwanese Landscape and Scenic Art”, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung, Taiwan
    2010

  • “Hantoo Art Group 2.0”, Taichung Creative and Cultural Park, Taichung, Taiwan
  • “Amazement and Astonishment—Hantoo Art Group’s Adventure to the West”, Chongqing Art Museum, Chongqing, China
    2009

  • “Viewpoints and Viewing Points—Asian Art Biennial”, National Taiwan Museumof Fine Arts, Taichung, Taiwan
  • “Hantoo Group Show”, Hong-Gah Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Madden Reality: Post—Taipei Art Group”, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
    2008

  • “HANTOO IMPRESS”, Impressions Art Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “SWEETIES: Celebrating 20 Years of IT Park”, IT Park Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “2008 Taiwan Biennial: Home”, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts Gallery, Taichung, Taiwan
  • “The Empire Strikes Back: Episode II/Surprise Attack”, Impressions Art Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Exchange Exhibition of Fine Arts of Sino-Korean”, National Taiwan Arts Education Center, Taipei, Taiwan
    2007

  • “Theme of The Exhibition—Art Breakthrough: Asia Gallery Invitation Exhibition”,Art Bejing 2007 Contemporary Art Fair, Bejing, China
    2006

  • “Odd Art: Graphic Art Group Exhibition”, AKI Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Macro Vision, Micro Analysis, Multiple Reflections—Contemporary Art in Taiwan in the Post-Martial Law Era”, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung, Taiwan
  • “The 9th LEE Chun—Shang Visual Arts Award”, National Cheng Kung University Art Center, Tainan, Taiwan/ Soochow University, Taipei, Taiwan
    2005

  • “Collision and Action—the Development of Modem Art in Post–war Taiwan”, National Taiwan Museum Of Fine Arts, Taichung, Taiwan
  • “MS 8+5 Hantoo Mambo”, National Taiwan Museum Of Fine Arts, Taichung, Taiwan
  • “Place / Displace: Three Generations of Taiwanese Art”, Richmond Art Gallery, Vancouver, Canada; Gallery of Columbus State University, Georgia/ Pacific Asia Museum, Los Angeles, USA; National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung, Taiwan
  • “Eye Dream: Multiple Realities in Taiwan Contemporary Photography and Painting”, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Kaohsiung, Taiwan; Taiwan Cultural Centre Paris, Paris, France; City Hall Art Gallery, Ottawa, Canada
    2004

  • “Posture.Actuality”, GSR Gallery, Taichung, Taiwan
  • “The Multiform Nineties—Taiwan’s Art Branches Out”, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Scylla and Charybdis in Love: The Challenges Facing Contemporary Taiwanese Artists”, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung, Taiwan; Gwangju Art Museum, Gwangju, Korea; Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Transitional Eighties: Taiwan’s Art Breaks New Ground”, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
    2003

  • “The 25th Anniversary Exhibition”, Keelung Municipal Cultural Center, Keelung, Taiwan
  • “Discourses on Love: 64 Conversations in SARS’ Era”, IT Park, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Hantoo Art Group Exhibition”, The Pier-2 Art District, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
  • “Hantoo Art Group Exhibition”, Hong-Gah Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Hantoo Art Group Exhibition”, Stock 20, Taichung, Taiwan
    2002

  • “Oeuvre of Contemporary Art in Taiwan”, Hong-Gah Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Art Roaming and Social Sensation: Cultural Observation for 8 Kinds of Art Expressions”, Main Trend Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
    2000

  • “North Taipei Artists Group Exhibition”, Julia Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
    1999

  • “Visions of Pluralism—Contemporary Art in Taiwan, 1988-1999”, National Museum of History, Taipei/ Mountain Art Museum, Kaohsiung, Taiwan; China Art Museum, Beijing, China
  • “Landform: The Land on the Mind”, National Arts Club, New York/ Oklahoma State Capitol Gallery, Oklahoma, USA
  • “Magnetic Writing: Marching Ideas, Works on Paper”, IT Park, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Hantoo Association Group Exhibition”, G. Zen 50 Art Gallery, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
    1998

  • “Hantoo Association Group Exhibition”, Crown Art Center, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Reflection and Reconsideration: 2.28 Commemorative Exhibition”, Taipei Fine Art Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
    1996

  • Lung Men Art Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
  • Taiwan Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
    1995

  • “Group Exhibition”, Metropolitan Art Space, Tainan, Taiwan
  • “Culture 1995”, Impressions Art Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Art Taiwan” touring exhibition, Australia
    1994

  • “Two-Sided Realism Group Exhibition”, Up Gallery, Taipei, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
  • “Culture”, Impressions Art Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
    1993

  • “Marching Toward the Peak”, G. Zen 50 Art Gallery, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
    1992

  • “Asian International Fine Arts Fair”, Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Center, Hong Kong, China
  • “New Artists Five-Person Joint Exhibition”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Taipei Painting Group Exhibition”, Modern Art Gallery, Taichung, Taiwan
  • “Taipei Painting Group Exhibition”, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Loving Taiwan Poster Exhibition”, IT Park, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Sixth Asian International Fine Arts Exhibition”, Tagawa Fine Arts Museum, Fukuoka, Japan
    1991

  • “Taipei Affairs: Fun and Fury of Life”, Wood Stone Affinity, Taipei, Taiwan
    1989

  • “Taipei Painting Group Exhibition”, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
    1988

  • “The R.O.C. Fine Arts Development Exhibition: Opening Exhibition of Taiwan Museum of Arts”, Taiwan Museum of Arts, Taichung, Taiwan
  • “Extracts on Trial”, Howard Salon, Taipei, Taiwan
    1987

  • “The Third Modern Painting Interchange Exhibition of the R.O.C. and Korea”, Taipei County Cultural Center, New Taipei City, Taiwan; Kuan Hsan Fine Arts Museum, Seoul, Korea
  • “New Painting Exhibition”, Gwo-Chaan Art Center, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “SHEE De-Jinn Memorial Prize Group Exhibition”, National Museum of History, Taipei, Taiwan
    1986

  • “R.O.C. New Look Exhibition of Modern Art”, National Museum of History, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “New Form Exhibition”, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
    1984

  • “The Cultural Interchange Exhibition of the R.O.C. and Japan”, Kariya City Art Museum, Aichi, Japan
  • “Taipei Progressionists’ Modern Art Group: The Sensibility to Civilization”, American Cultural Center, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “The First R.O.C. New Prospect Exhibition of Modern Paintings”, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan

Awards
1982 7th Lion Arts New Artist Award
1984 Outstanding Young Artist by Taipei Hwa Kang Arts School
1987 Second place in the inaugural Dejin Memorial Painting Prize competition
2005 9th LEE Chun-Shan Visual Arts Prize

Collections
2014 National Museum of Matine Science & Technology, Keelung, Taiwan

Click on each year's works

Between Visible and Invisible, Presence and Absence The reclusive character and social perspectives

By Szu-hsien LI

Foreword

Since the 1990s, LIEN Chien Hsing has become a brand that everyone knows. This brand’s label is called “magic realism.” Whether “magic realism” represents an artistic form that LIEN Chien Hsing has created, or a categorization applied by numerous critics, the term captures a certain zeitgeist and satisfies a psychological need in the history of the development of modern Taiwanese art, which has firmly established this distinctive style. Because of this, many textual descriptions of LIEN Chien Hsing simply jump on the bandwagon and adopt the use of this term.

Similar to other artists, LIEN follows the traditional path and creates works first. However, perhaps due to the many years of being described by critics as a proponent of magic realism, he has himself unconsciously assented to the tenets of the form, and then continued to develop his own artistic language on this foundation. Although “magic realism” was not a deliberate result, the formulation “LIEN Chien Hsing = magic realism” has become a virtual truism, a situation that likely does not please him. In fact, LIEN’s works often convey a moodiness and melancholy, as well as a circuitously expressed longing for home and the land in the midst of meticulous realism—all of which cannot be encompassed by the single term “magic realism.”

Is the final work guided by the meaning of cerebral concepts, or is it driven by inner emotion? With the works of LIEN Chien Hsing, we find it difficult in fact to judge because his approach of providing a narrative for his own works and interpreting its artistic language are both so well practiced that any critique only constitutes an afterthought by comparison. From LIEN’s artist statement “Desolate Magic,” this writer was surprised to learn that although LIEN does not used polished statements or wording, he is still able to convey a clear and moving account of the detailed origins of his work, as well as expound on the related and extended readings for all the scene imagery in the works. Seen in this light, LIEN is revealed as rational and measured. However, further examination reveals that in LIEN Chien Hsing’s works, besides numerous suggestive clues that invite reflection, there are also concealed emotions and personal qualities of ordinary people, as well as psychological depictions of the artist’s experiences growing up. Perhaps it is this observation, which is usually not seen by writers, that comes closer to the focus of LIEN’s reading.

Scene of a ruin: a summons to memory

Over the past twenty years, ruins devoid of people have been the basic theme of LIEN Chien Hsing’s work. He declares: “Existing in the form of ruins and no longer a structure, having lost its function, these sites give future generations unlimited scope for speculation and fantasy.” It is just this sort of “rich language of place” that led to his obsessive fascination with ruins. The special countenance of these special areas has enabled LIEN to personally witness the transformation taking place in the locales of his life, the familiar land where he grew up. They have also allowed him to make a restrained yet resolute accusation about the epochal changes that people find so disorienting. As he says:

As I grew up in the Taiwanese port city of Keelung, I saw the fishing industry collapse due to overfishing, as well as the decline of the gold, copper, and coal industries in the area as mining depleted the resources. These events caused industries that had in the past flourished to gradually disappear or facilities to be abandoned, as prosperity was lost. During field surveys and explorations, I witnessed the abandonment and ruin of shipbuilding plants and mining operations. With the passing of the years, an allure drawing on the very desolation of such sites emerged. This local allure encompassed a vast language of place and spiritual significance. (from LIEN’s artist statement, “Desolate Magic”, 2012)

This sort of description of his own work recalls the remark that J. J. SHIH, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei, made more than a decade ago: “In LIEN Chien Hsing’s artwork, abandoned sites that have already lost their original purpose, have finally become part of people’s lives again in the spiritual realm by virtue of their ‘symbolic’ aesthetic values” (“The Extension and Deepening of Abstracted Realism”, 1995). For a painter, though an immersion in the history’s contextual abyss may evoke some degree of visual concern with the signs of time’s passage, even more derives from the psychological pull of nostalgia for the past. Faced with a familiar yet alien scene, though we might have seen it so many times, the changes that time has wrought are inevitably deeply affecting. So hard-won realizations were obviously premature for someone of LIEN’s age, just thirty at the time. If not simply the glib pronouncements of youth, such an outlook would be the result of scars inflicted while growing up that are difficult to remove, leading to a melancholy and reclusive character. Consistently shot through with subdued indigo tones and muddled greens, dim lighting and muted color, most of LIEN’s works possess a heavy mustiness, making it difficult for the viewer to manage even half a smile.

For LIEN Chien Hsing, “ruins and abandoned sites represent a crystallization of thoughts of past traditional labor, able to summon deep memories of the past and stir a sense of innocence.” Stated precisely, the abandoned factories and dilapidated ruins that LIEN paints are not merely the depictions of particular scenes, but are an awakening of the places and memories of the time when he was growing up. Seeing the locales familiar from childhood to adulthood gradually age and deteriorate evokes the merciless ebb of youth, giving people an intense sorrow. Locales with no people, bleak and desolate—though no people may venture there, there is a dramatic contrast with the many signs of people once having been there—reinforce the plaintive poetry of his artworks, and also express despair over our damage to the environment and the consequent disappearance of life memories. The scenes that LIEN Chien Hsing has recorded and depicted in his art, though outwardly placid, retain a sense of suppressed alienation—there is not an iota of joy, but also no special grief. At base, his work employs a vacant gaze, off to one side, looking on.

Portraying rural scenes: a reflection on existence

What is LIEN Chien Hsing looking at? Examining his corpus more broadly, one discovers that he does not only “see” visual issues, even though his painting technique is extremely realistic. LIEN’s aesthetics of ruins, particularly in his more recent works, sometimes bring to mind the fantastical images of surrealist master Salvador Dali (1904-1989). For example, in Pleasantly Hidden in a Forest Bath (2011), LIEN utilizes an image mosaic that resembles those of Dali, as well as the “magic surrealist” technique of blending unrelated images together to form the image of something else—re-imagining a lone mountain as lying on the ground with an animal face like a dog or tiger. The silent gaze, embedded in the mountain scenery, as if guarding the pair of deer roaming and bathing in the foreground, seems to be ensuring that they enjoy their little enclave undisturbed. From the same year, Cool Oasis Exploration and Shiding—Floating Nostalgia feature a vast surreal Dali-like desert, as well as a mysterious floating city that evokes a motif in the work of René Magritte (1898-1967).

LIEN’s approach of “simulating,” which is increasingly narrative in character, avoids the internal recitations of ruins in earlier works and now transforms into a more forthright vocal expression, though its aim is still a type of contemplation of the past. However, this contemplation, measured to the point of being suffocating, holds in its deeper recesses an even more fervent sense of idealism and hope about the land. After 2010, LIEN’s “simulated” depictions of various locales, besides the rural imagery that often appeared in earlier work, contain more depictions of personal dreamscapes and illusions. Perhaps this is the reason that his works give people an impression close to that of surrealism and absurdity. This type of incongruity and mystery enhances a feeling of bewilderment and bemusement. For example, in the “playful garden” of Wargame by Three Youngsters (2009), Romantic Rendezvous (2011), and Smoke Bubble Courtyard—Quiet Elegance (2012), not only are animal images hidden among the plants, but what appear to be delightful locations from a fairy tale labyrinth or wonderland turn out to be metaphors for a reality that is embedded in ruins and desolate scenes, rather silly but extremely intriguing—and hinting at LIEN’s deadpan allusive humor.

In fact, if we examine his work carefully, it is not difficult to discover that in many image mosaics, LIEN conceals a reproach directed at his homeland for its failure to live up to its promise. He complains that industrial civilization has caused the living environment and nature to change, rebuking modern society for forcing people to alter the way they live. Behind LIEN’s simulations are unspoken accusations, which is also an expression of a deep-seated hope. He takes these grumblings, and turns them into sprites, embedding them in each of his works.

In his subsequent development, LIEN imbues what were originally impassive ruins with a more direct air of humane concern and personal expectation. In this humble appeal to idealism, he conveyed his deeply concealed yearning for his lost home. As he put it: “As subject matter, abandoned locales carry some degree of sadness about a simpler time that cannot be restored. In Taiwan’s post-colonial industrial ruins, I also find people’s lost self-respect, as well as the temptation of uncertain prosperity that comes with the inability to resist technological progress.” (artist statement, 2012). Seen in this light, LIEN’s landscape paintings have a powerful critical consciousness. He is attempting to use the imagery and depiction of desolate scenes to recreate an ideal space that is enough to transcend spirit.

A view from up high: a concealed presence

The origins of LIEN’s creative approach of intricately rendering scenes to explore the spiritual themes of existence were evident as early as during his university years. In 1983, two elaborations on surrealism— To Create Excellent Achievements and Getting Lost —spoke to young people’s inner pursuit of and reflection on the life’s meaning and value at a time when a fad for bowling culture prevailed in a materialistic consumer society. This acute observation and critique of the prevailing environment metamorphosed into subsequent depictions of abandoned locales. These renderings of locales that seemed something less than full-fledged locales projected his awareness and concern. Ultimately, these ruminations on the past were transformed into a fondness for what exists now—particularly evident after 2004 when his magic realism had matured.

What is especially interesting is that LIEN—regardless of whether he is reflecting on impermanence, creating parables about human longing, or depicting the conflict between civilization and nature—adopts a detached perspective in examining the land and locales in his artwork. In this bird’s eye view of expansive scenes, encompassing in one fell swoop all in his purview, LIEN seems to have the meticulous attitude of the collector, terrified of neglecting a single item in all that is before him. For example, the array of dolls and figurines in the many still-lifes in his solo exhibition in 2006 makes us aware that LIEN is in fact a collector with a characteristic collector’s mentality. He makes use of visual composition techniques from photography, taking the fisheye lens views that expand what people can take in at once and applying it in the composition of his paintings. Fisheye techniques perfectly suit LIEN’s need to encompass the entirety of a scene; the distorting effect of these techniques also transform the scenery and appearance of what is seen into a space strongly reminiscent of a theatrical stage. Coupled with the use of objects that are utterly unrelated, and a dramatic surrealistic effect emerges.

LIEN’s extensive use of photographic lens effects in his art give his works a powerful sense of alienation, and also evince his paradoxical desire to possess all while being unwilling to join in himself. As a consequence, his work conveys a noncommittal stance toward society, maintaining distance but continuing to passively participate in it. If we imagined a group of people and Lin was among them, he would likely be the one standing at the periphery, quietly watching these people frolicking. He doesn’t leave, but stays there, his status in this group is one characterized by considerable passivity. Just as his works imply, the artist himself is always like a monitor, silently standing apart, hiding behind the lens, viewing everything that he is participating in. What he wants is perhaps very simple—maybe it is simply being part of the group, having company. This mentality is a form of spiritual redemption for the self: participating while not participating, aloof and yet not, affirming that one is simply by being.

Year 2012’s Between Reality and Fiction: Sceneries of the Mind solo exhibition includes a series of series of landscapes titled ××Asks Are You Looking at Me (2012) that can explain LIEN’s reclusive character. In this series, LIEN relinquishes the all-encompassing aerial views of a locale and utilizes the flora on a hillside as subject matter instead. In such simple nature scenes, there is none of the earlier concern or critique of civilization and the environment. Even his customary practice of creating magical scenes by combining images has been completely abandoned. What is left is only some extremely realistically rendered plants. The expansive scenes in 2011’s Baling—Three Turtles Playing in the Water and Fenchi–Spring have been condensed into the restricted views of ××Asks Are You Looking at Me, reminiscent of the shift in traditional Chinese painting from the grand landscapes of the Northern Song Dynasty to a later focus on small scenes depicting plants and using a “one corner” or “sidelong” composition—a change in visual taste, a psychological transformation regarding the world and society, and a tangible projection of his perception and definition of himself. Faced with a series of works whose subject matter is this simple and pure, we should perhaps say: the title of ××Asks Are You Looking at Me is nothing more than a turn of phrase, merely a starting point for what he wants to say. What is most important is in fact what is concealed in the depicted plants—LIEN Chien Hsing himself.

The world inside: freeze frame of an era (as conclusion)

With his low-key character, his introversion, as well as a kind of inexplicable psychological helplessness and emptiness, LIEN Chien Hsing possesses feelings about lost time, childhood, and all the locales he knew that can only be assuaged through simulated rural landscapes. Despite this, LIEN’s mild sense of sorrow does not appear to be outright despair, and even carries traces of a pessimistic brand of humor, bringing a smile to one’s face just at the point when one seemed about to sink into a mysterious sadness. Perhaps this is the actual “linked scenes” that LIEN has in his mind, and through his intricate renderings, we become aware of his lifetime devotion to his home and homeland.

Around 2005 or 2006, slyly rendered dolls and cartoon characters begin to appear in LIEN’s paintings, leading to the creation of the 2006 solo exhibition series. Although his paintings gradually introduced cartoon or comics characters, the plastic-y, second-hand visual language and stern tone with which they were presented not only made it difficult for people to think of their “cuteness.” The cuteness of the original characters was juxtaposed with a coldly desolate scene, something like the internal contradiction of a deliberately unfunny joke is produced—and this was true of both his landscapes and still-lifes. LIEN certainly belongs to his contradictory generation—a generation in modern Taiwanese history in which high and low engaged with each other, and past restrictions were eased. This generation’s life values are disordered, a condition that was cultivated in schools and facilitated by the opening of society. A point in history when people were at a loss as to what course to take, together with a tumultuous social atmosphere, led this generation of people to ponder issues of existence, value, and essence. The vast but indifferent social milieu that they found themselves in, alone and isolated, is very much alive in LIEN’s memories of his past life.

The melancholy sensibility that underlies LIEN’s works and the inauthentic, by-the-numbers, plastic flower-like affected tone of scenes, is undoubtedly the visual representation of his mental state. The cataleptic characters and views seal off time, enclosing people’s memories, and freezing the ambience and imagery of the particular time when LIEN was growing up. LIEN’s mode of expression in his oil paintings, besides so-called “magic realism,” reflects a commonly shared character trait among Taiwan’s third generation of post-war artists. This shared quality can also be seen fellow Hantoo artists’ group member WU Tien-Chang’s video installation Dust in the Wind II—A Tribute to LEE Shih-chiao (1998), and the many gaudy image compositions that attempt to capture Taiwan’s distinctive tweaking style of creativity, which are vivid freeze-frames of the era to which these artists belong, and the memories of a youth to which they can never return.

The authenticity of art’s essence is like a reflection in a mirror. The psychological redemption LIEN finds in abandoned sites and ruins, the parable-like narrative that springs from a combination of objects, the wordless critique of the living environment—these are perhaps the directly perceived projection of a personal mentality, all attesting that LIEN’s works certainly cannot be fully described by the term “magic realism.” Though not articulate in speech, and despite filling his canvasses in a straightforward manner, LIEN has thoroughly infused his work with sincere emotion. He has portrayed, in a moving and profound manner, the most intimate feelings about his own process of growing up, and the simpler but fascinating time in which he found himself. As Taiwanese painter representative of an era, LIEN Chien Hsing is riveting for his vividness.

SOLO EXHIBITIONS

  • 2012 “Between Reality and Fiction: Sceneries of the Mind”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 2008 “Desolate Fantasy”, ESLITE GALLERY, Art Taipei, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 2006 “Small Puppet Theater”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 2001 “Lonely Earth”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 2000 “Solo Exhibition – Mixed Media”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 1998 “Abandoned Realm”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 1996 “Magic Realism”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 1993 “C.H. LIEN: Works 1976 – 1993”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 1991 “LIEN Chien Hsing and LEE Chun Kong Solo Exhibitions”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan

GROUP EXHIBITIONS

  • 2017 “An Ode to Thirty”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 2014 “Bloom: ESLITE GALLERY 25th Anniversary”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 1992 “New Artists Five-Person Joint Exhibition”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan