SZETO Keung 司徒強

  • 1948 Born in Guangdong Province, China
  • 1973 BFA., National Taiwan Normal University, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 1979 MFA., Pratt Institute, New York, NY, USA
  • 2011 Passed away in New York, NY,USA

SOLO EXHIBITIONS

    2011

  • “A Salute To Szeto Keung”, Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei, Taiwan
    2009

  • ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    2008

  • OK Harris Works of Art, New York, USA
    2005

  • ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    2003

  • OK Harris Works of Art, New York, USA
    2000

  • “SZETO Keung’s Solo Exhibition–So Nice a Day, So Fine a Man”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    1999

  • OK Harris Works of Art, New York, USA
    1996

  • ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong, China
    1995

  • OK Harris Works of Art, New York, USA
    1993

  • ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    1992

  • OK Harris Works of Art, New York, USA
    1991

  • ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    1990

  • OK Harris Works of Art, New York, USA
  • Gallery 456, Chinese-American Arts Council, New York, USA
    1988

  • Gallery Triform, Taipei, Taiwan
  • The Hong Kong Institute for Promotion of Chinese Culture, Hong Kong, China
    1987

  • OK Harris Works of Art, New York, USA
    1984

  • OK Harris Works of Art, New York, USA
    1982

  • OK Harris Works of Art, New York, USA
    1976

  • Schenectady Civic Players, Schenectady, USA
    1974

  • Exhibition sponsored by Hong Kong Arts Centre, Alliance Française, and Goethe-Institut, Hong Kong, China
    1973-74

  • United States Information Service, Taipei, Taiwan
    1971

  • Liang’s Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan

GROUP EXHIBITIONS

    2017

  • “An Ode to Thirty”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    2014

  • “Telling Details: Photorealism in Taiwan”, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
    2009

  • “Invitation”, ChinaSquare Gallery, New York, USA
    2007

  • “The Eclectic Eye: Selections of Fantasy and Illusion from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation”, Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans, USA
    2005-06

  • “Art and Illusion: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation”, Carnegie Art Museum, Oxnard, USA
    2004

  • “AC Didn’t Fit In My Window”, Oregon, USA
  • “Seeing is Believing: American Trompe l’oeil”, New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, USA
  • “Contemporary American Realism VII”, M.A. Doran Gallery, Tulsa, USA
    2003-04

  • “Everything OK at OK Harris”, Brevard Museum of Art and Science, Melbourne, USA
    2003

  • “Pop and Illusionism: Contemporary Works from The Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation”, Contemporary Art Center of Virginia, Virginia Beach, USA
    2002

  • “Song of Clouds and Waters: New Realist Painting in Taiwan Since the 1970s”, Asia Art Center, Taipei, Taiwan
    1998

  • “Contemporary Art from the Overseas Chinese”, Galerie Pierre, Taichung, Taiwan
  • “Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Collections”, Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University, Malibu, USA
    1996

  • “Taipei & Hong Kong Leading Artists Exhibition”, The Museum Annex, Hong Kong, China
    1995

  • “Make to Order: America’s Most Wanted Painting”, Alternative Museum, New York, USA
  • “Chinese Artists in the United States”, The Rotunda, Exchange Square, Hong Kong Land Limited, Hong Kong, China
  • “Prayer, the 7th Exhibition of the Fukuyama Art Project”, Fukuyama Museum of Art, Fukuyama, Japan
    1994

  • “ORIENTations, Works of Eight Chinese-American Artists”, David Adamson Gallery, Washington, D. C.; Louisville Visual Art Association, Louisville, USA
  • “Between East and West: Transformations of Chinese Art in the Late Twentieth Century”, Discovery Museum, Bridgeport, USA
    1993

  • “Neither East Nor West: Seven Contemporary New York Artists”, Taipei Gallery, New York, USA
    1992-94

  • “Visions in Between: New York/China, Japan, Korea”, Ise Art Foundation, New York, USA; travelling to: Fukuyama Museum, Hiroshima, Japan; Park Ryu Sook Gallery, Walker Hill Art Center, Seoul, South Korea; New Trends Gallery, Taichung Taiwan; Howard Salon of Howard Hotels, Taipei Taiwan; G. Zen 50 Art Gallery, Kaohsiung, Taiwan; Taipei Gallery, New York, USA
    1992

  • “The Articulated Thumbprint”, Boca Raton Museum of Art, Boca Raton, USA
  • “The Reality of Illusion”, Contemporary Crafts Gallery, Portland, USA
    1991

  • “Dual Cultures: China & U. S. A., Six Realist Painters”, Nassau County Museum of Art, Roslyn, USA
  • “New York/Taipei: An Encounter with Modernism”, Taipei Gallery, New York, USA
  • “Taipei–New York: Confrontation of Modernism”, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Exhibition of Ten Chinese Artists in New York”, Oriental Gallery, New York, USA
    1990

  • “Chinese Modern Realist Paintings”, China House of Arts, New York, USA
  • “Contemporary Artists Drawing Exhibition”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “A Small Bite of the Apple: The 79th Annual Exhibition”, Maier Museum of Art, Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, Lynchburg, USA
    1989

  • “The Selected Contemporary Artists Series Exhibition: Szeto Keung, Chen Shu- Ming, Lai Chi-Man”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    1988

  • “Continuity and Change: Five Contemporary Chinese Artists”, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, US
  • “La Passion Des Apparences”, Galerie Gismondi, Paris, France
    1987

  • “Convincing Illusions”, Louis K. Meisel Gallery, New York, USA
  • “Fall Invitational”, Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, USA
  • “Mainstream America: The Collection of Phil Desind”, Mutter Institute of American Art, Youngstown, USA
  • Taipei Art Gallery, Chinese Cultural Center, New York, USA
    1986

  • “Eleven New York Artists’ Works Exhibition”, Guangzhou Art Academy, Guangdong, China
    1985-86

  • “More Than Meets the Eye: The Art of Trompe l’Oeil”, Columbus Museum of Art, OH; Norton Gallery, West Palm Beach, USA
    1985

  • “16 Works of Contemporary Chinese Artists”, Cork Gallery, Lincoln Center, New York, USA
  • “The Real Thing: Trompe l’Oeil”, Castle Gallery, College of New Rochelle, New Rochelle, USA
    1984

  • “Overseas Chinese Artists Exhibition”, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Illusions”, Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville, USA
    1983

  • “Contemporary Trompe l’Oeil Painting and Sculpture”, Boise Gallery of Art, Boise; travelling to: Museum of Art, Washington State University, Pullman, Bellevue Arts Museum, Bellevue; Salt Lake Art Center, Salt Lake City; Laguna Museum of Art, Laguna Beach; Queens Museum, Flushing, USA
  • “Material Illusions /Unlikely Materials”, Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, USA
  • “The Great Illusionists”, Ben Shahn Gallery, William Paterson College, Wayne, USA
    1982

  • “Still Life/Interiors”, Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans, USA
    1980

  • “Illusionism”, OK Harris West, Scottsdale, USA
    1975

  • “Contemporary Chinese Ink-Painting of Hong Kong”, National Gallery, National Museum of History, Taipei, Taiwan

PUBLIC COLLECTIONS
Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
Taiwan Museum of Art, Taichung, Taiwan
Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, China
Forbes Magazine Collection, New York, USA
Albany Museum of Art, Albany, USA
Fukuyama Museum of Art, Hiroshima, Japan

Click on each year's works

Szeto

By Eleanor Heartney

Western realism is often associated with a scientific turn of mind. Leonardo’s painstaking dissections of the human body, Alberti’s perspective diagrams, or more recently, the attempts by photorealist painters to mimic the camera all attest to a desire to increase the sum of man’s knowledge of the world through careful observation.

 

This however, is only one side of realism. Other realist painters have displayed an equally powerful interest in harnessing the magic of illusionism in the service of spirituality. In the hands of 19th American landscapists like Thomas Cole and Frederick Church, minutely accurate descriptions of the natural world became a means of conveying the glory of God. 17th century Dutch still life painters recreated remarkably lifelike representations of half eaten meals in order to suggest the vanity of earthly things and the brevity of human life.

 

Szeto demonstrates an interest in both these aspects of the realist tradition. This exhibition of paintings, which span the years 1988 to 1991, reveals two sides of his work. On one hand, the earlier paintings in this show are marked by what seems an almost clinical objectivity. They are populated by ordinary objects of the sort one might expect to see scattered about the studio or workshop — bits of tape, pieces of sandpaper, rulers, paint rollers, scarps of plywood – painted so illusionistically that they seem to jump off the canvas. While it is possible to read symbolic references into some of these objects – the ruler, for instance, might refer to the idea of measurement or the passage of time, while the old paintbrush may be an emblem of art itself – the cool, analytic style of these works discourages overly subjective interpretations.

 

However, as we approach the present it is possible to discern a shift in the balance between the emotional and the analytic aspects of the work. As the compositions simplify, the number of objects is reduced and a painterly background gains prominence. “Feather” is an example of this trend. It represents a single feather attached rather precariously with a bit of peeling tape to a light toned background layered with delicate tones of gray, yellow, and lavender. Presented as the sole focus of the painting, the feather gains a sense of pathos and vulnerability.

 

In the summer of 1989, following the Tiananmen Square massacre, Szeto created a painting which has set the tone for his subsequent works. Entitled Lamentation, it was inspired by his sorrow over the tragedy in Beijing and consists simply of a dried roses painted as if taped near the top of a dark, slate gray ground. A single, shriveled red petal slips like a tear drop toward the lower right corner of the canvas. Szeto quotes a poem by the Qing Dynasty poet Gong Ding which lingered in his mind as he worked on this painting: “Fallen blossoms are not without feelings into spring mud, they stay to nourish the flower.”

 

In subsequent paintings, Szeto does not make explicit reference to Tiananmen Square, but an air of melancholy persists. The backgrounds tend to shades of gray, sometimes textured with bits of overpainted fabric, and their rough surfaces suggest weather-beaten stone walls or chipped slabs of granite of dark marble. The visual focus of each painting is a single flower or a strip of peeling masking tape, painted in high relief as if spotlit from above. But the tape, as it begins to curl away from the wall and the flowers, dried and beginning to shrivel, suggests the effects of time and decay. At the same time, their heightened realism is almost shocking against the muted grounds. They seem plucked out of the everyday world and frozen – even embalmed – in some realm outside of ordinary space and time. In this they resemble souvenirs of relics, evidence of the human tendency to preserve precious objects in a vain attempt to arrest the flow of history.

 

This suggestion is particularly acute in the case of one of the most recent works, Lamenting, which represents a single rose set off by a massive frame which the artist discovered on the street. Centered beneath the sheltering arch of the frame and bathed in a golden light, the flower resembles a religious icon. Like the curling lemon rinds and overturned wine glasses of the 17th century Dutch Still Life paintings, it seems suspended between eternity and the temporal world.

 

Thus, for Szeto, the language of realism is elastic enough to permit very different messages. It can be a celebration of the painters’ art, paying tribute to the otherwise banal and overlooked details of everyday life. It can also serve as a kind of prism, refocusing and intensifying the light of our immediate reality to illuminate the larger realms of memory, history and spirit. These two possibilities exist side by side in these paintings, linked by the slender thread of the imagination, just as they are in the human mind.

Pity for Fallen Flowers-A Dialogue between SZETO Keung and LI Shang-yin

By SHIC Shou-chien

From the tall pavilion the guests have all departed;
In the little garden, flowers helter-skelter fly.
They fall at random on the winding path,
And travel far, sending off the setting sun.
Heart broken, I cannot bear to sweep them away;
Gazing hard, I watch them till few are left.
Their flagrant heart, following spring, dies;
What they have earned are tears that wet one’s clothes.

 

This poem was titled “Fallen Flowers” and written by LI Shang-yin, one poet of the latter days of Tang Dynasty. Every time I see SZETO Keung’s paintings, especially those finished after the summer of 1989 and employing “flowers” as subject matter, I cannot help associating them with this poem. It seems that through the paintings by SZETO Keung, I, a Chinese viewer in the late 20th century, can cross time & space and engage in a dialogue with the poet of a thousand years ago. This is actually an exhilarating experience.

“Fallen Flowers” reveals a desolate scene and mood as well. It speaks of both LI Shang-yin and fallen flowers. The poet compares himself to the object, expressing his own sentiments through the fallen flowers. This is an inherent convention in Chinese poetry on objects. However, among the Chinese poems which describe frequently seen fallen flowers to the point of grief, the poem by LI Shang-yin is the most unforgettable. Spring has gone and flowers have fallen. Both are natural phenomena; nevertheless, the poet displays the fallen and wandering self in the lines “They fall at random on the winding path, / And travel far, sending off the setting sun” and feels heart-broken. According to this convention, pity for fallen flowers and burial of flowers are graceful. But when the flowers are regarded as the self, the feeling of pity is enhanced. If that is the case, how can he bear to sweep them away? Seeing the fallen flowers on the ground, he cannot bear to discard them. Yet he also understands that this is an irrevocable process. Still, he prays that the flowers will be left. But when spring time has totally gone, the withered cannot revive. The poet cannot resist the sorrow caused by the indifference of the passing away of time. “What they have earned are tears that wet one’s clothes.” This is the predestined denouement. Given this scenario, the poet not only pities the flowers but also vents his vulnerability in self-pity.

Viewing the works of flowers by SZETO Keung is as if we were reading “Fallen flowers.” The lonely rose or sunflowers, with withered stalks, never fails to attract viewers’ attention. One or two petals seem to be falling and suddenly hover on a certain corner of a painting. The scene is grievous and pitiful, which makes one reluctant to leave it. The colors of the flowers are still bright and beautiful, but the leaves and stalks have become dry and inanimate. When this scene becomes the focus of a painting, the wretchedness of the denouement is further highlighted. Under the flowers and petals are the very merciless roots with torn and wrinkled cotton and linen which have been stained and pressed under the huge and amorphous brand of time. Sometimes even the most solid and icy steel with its heavy mass cannot survive the erosion which comes with the passing away of time. This further leaves one weary and heavy-laden with sadness. In this poem by LI Shang-yin, the fallen flowers are combined with human feelings and thus are especially pitiful. In SZETO Keung’s paintings, too, in the pseudo-human images, the flowers, in the deplorable scene caused by the torment of the callous time, reveal feelings of sadness about the passing away of time. This scene is so concrete that it seems that no one dares to confront it face to face.

The bright rose is like the love of youth, luminous and alluring; it stalks wither, as if it were bemoaning the fading away of youth and the vanishing of love. The viewer can feel in the paintings the direct force which is not indicated in the poem. In this intensity, the desire to stay is especially touching. Though stains are deep, the erosion complete, and the shifting of time heavy and irresistible, the rose in the paintings, with the pitiful fallen petals, seems to persist in a kind of elegance. The flower is dry and its colors have faded, but it is reluctant to give up the magnificence during its blossom. Its leaves have withered and its margins have been wrinkled, but they strive to stick the stalks. The twigs have fallen off and the stalks are about to splinter, but they are reluctant to be broken and desire to hold the surviving flowers with their previous beautiful shapes intact. If this means death, then it is a kind of death which is full of reluctance, unwilling to accept the fate of falling, withering and decay. It is a kind of death which persists in its dignity. LI Shang-yin confronts the fallen flowers and cannot bear to sweep them away, but finally he gives in to fate and death. On the contrary, SZETO Keung’s flowers are recalcitrant. They are not only unwilling to give in to fate and be enslaved by time, but they also query LI Shang-yin.

But, even if it persists in dignity, its fate of decay, falling and withering is irrevocable. Even if it is not afraid of death, and even if it is fixed with cellophane tapes and is confronted directly, how can we reverse the direction of time? This is a radical problem viewers have to propose when they are pondering the dialogue between SZETO Keung and LI Shang-yin. By asking this question, viewers can participate in the dialogue. For most people, time appears to be a dreadful “thing.” Time is, as is said by CHU Tzu-ching, the shapeless, achromatic, abstract and ever-proceeding entity which “when you stretch your hands to halt it, slips away from your fingers” and which could be termed the fiercest enemy of our life. The horror of this enemy is irresistible because it is shapeless. Even if people could put it into a concrete mechanical clock or confine it with rules engraved with the Chinese dynasties in paintings, they could do nothing to halt its passing away and taking life away step by step. Its power seems to be immensely huge and can never be hindered by anything in its forward movement. Once things enter time’s orbit, whether or not they will have temporary brilliance, they will ultimately end in decay, as can be seen in SZETO Keung’s flowers and paintings. The reason why time is terrible is that it is irresistible. Man seems to have no other choices but anxiety and frustration when facing this enemy.

LI Shang-yin considers it hopeless. Therefore, the only thing he can do is to use tears to vent his sadness. SZETO Keung’s paintings appear to be unwilling to give in. But so what? There seems to be a little hope here. If one can deny the authentic existence of time, maybe one can go beyond all these sorrows. The dogma of Buddhism persuades people to be wakened from illusions and reveals that all life and death are illusions. The objects in SZETO Keung’s paintings, though very realistic at first sight, are intended to deceive people’s eyes. We can even say that what he paints is “falseness” itself. What that falseness indicates is the passing away of life as is represented by withered flowers and decayed leaves. When viewers see again the “realistic” and “faithful” description, such as “golden” and “pink,” in his paintings, the sense of illusions will be enhanced. It is not only an old picture but also the memory of youth covered by the dust of time. Is there anything real in the peak of realistic description? The answer is the opposite. It is only a mirage. It is nothing but the surface of human hearts. If the marks engraved by time are all illusions, then is time itself true or not? Once the authenticity of time is denied, people can free themselves from the merciless enslavement of time and no longer feel pain.

How can one feel empathetic with the sadness of LI Shang-yin when one faces the paintings of fallen flowers by SZETO Keung? By having the same feeling as the painter and with the hope of the ultimate transcendence, one may feel a little solace. But, when we recall the convention of poetry and paintings of fallen flowers from Li Shang-yin to Szeto Keung, we cannot help doubting: Can the denial of time and the transcendence of sadness be unregrettable pursuits? The cost of them is obvious. Once time loses its meaning, people may become gods, but love will become nothing. What is left for life then? LI Shang-yin understands this and writes “Ch’ang-o”:

Against the screen of “mother-of-clouds” the candle throws its deep shadow;
The Long River gradually sinks, the morning star sets.
Ch’ang-o should regret having stolen the elixir;
The green sea–the blue sky–her heart every night.

The painting of fallen flowers by SZETO Keung would ultimately agree with this conclusion, wouldn’t it?

*The two pomes by LI Shang-yin are translated into English by James J.Y. Liu in his Poetry of Li Shang-yin, P. 136& p.99.

SOLO EXHIBITIONS

  • 2009 ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 2005 ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 2000 “SZETO Keung’s Solo Exhibition–So Nice a Day, So Fine a Man”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 1996 ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 1993 ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 1991 ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan

GROUP EXHIBITIONS

  • 2017 “An Ode to Thirty”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 1990 “Contemporary Artists Drawing Exhibition”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 1989 “The Selected Contemporary Artists Series Exhibition: Szeto Keung, Chen Shu- Ming, Lai Chi-Man”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan

In Memory of SZETO Keung www.eslitegallery.com/szetokeung/

莊普
TSONG Pu
夏陽
HSIA Yan
  • 1948 Born in Guangdong Province, China
  • 1973 BFA., National Taiwan Normal University, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 1979 MFA., Pratt Institute, New York, NY, USA
  • 2011 Passed away in New York, NY,USA

SOLO EXHIBITIONS

    2011

  • “A Salute To Szeto Keung”, Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei, Taiwan
    2009

  • ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    2008

  • OK Harris Works of Art, New York, USA
    2005

  • ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    2003

  • OK Harris Works of Art, New York, USA
    2000

  • “SZETO Keung’s Solo Exhibition–So Nice a Day, So Fine a Man”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    1999

  • OK Harris Works of Art, New York, USA
    1996

  • ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong, China
    1995

  • OK Harris Works of Art, New York, USA
    1993

  • ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    1992

  • OK Harris Works of Art, New York, USA
    1991

  • ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    1990

  • OK Harris Works of Art, New York, USA
  • Gallery 456, Chinese-American Arts Council, New York, USA
    1988

  • Gallery Triform, Taipei, Taiwan
  • The Hong Kong Institute for Promotion of Chinese Culture, Hong Kong, China
    1987

  • OK Harris Works of Art, New York, USA
    1984

  • OK Harris Works of Art, New York, USA
    1982

  • OK Harris Works of Art, New York, USA
    1976

  • Schenectady Civic Players, Schenectady, USA
    1974

  • Exhibition sponsored by Hong Kong Arts Centre, Alliance Française, and Goethe-Institut, Hong Kong, China
    1973-74

  • United States Information Service, Taipei, Taiwan
    1971

  • Liang’s Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan

GROUP EXHIBITIONS

    2017

  • “An Ode to Thirty”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    2014

  • “Telling Details: Photorealism in Taiwan”, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
    2009

  • “Invitation”, ChinaSquare Gallery, New York, USA
    2007

  • “The Eclectic Eye: Selections of Fantasy and Illusion from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation”, Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans, USA
    2005-06

  • “Art and Illusion: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation”, Carnegie Art Museum, Oxnard, USA
    2004

  • “AC Didn’t Fit In My Window”, Oregon, USA
  • “Seeing is Believing: American Trompe l’oeil”, New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, USA
  • “Contemporary American Realism VII”, M.A. Doran Gallery, Tulsa, USA
    2003-04

  • “Everything OK at OK Harris”, Brevard Museum of Art and Science, Melbourne, USA
    2003

  • “Pop and Illusionism: Contemporary Works from The Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation”, Contemporary Art Center of Virginia, Virginia Beach, USA
    2002

  • “Song of Clouds and Waters: New Realist Painting in Taiwan Since the 1970s”, Asia Art Center, Taipei, Taiwan
    1998

  • “Contemporary Art from the Overseas Chinese”, Galerie Pierre, Taichung, Taiwan
  • “Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Collections”, Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University, Malibu, USA
    1996

  • “Taipei & Hong Kong Leading Artists Exhibition”, The Museum Annex, Hong Kong, China
    1995

  • “Make to Order: America’s Most Wanted Painting”, Alternative Museum, New York, USA
  • “Chinese Artists in the United States”, The Rotunda, Exchange Square, Hong Kong Land Limited, Hong Kong, China
  • “Prayer, the 7th Exhibition of the Fukuyama Art Project”, Fukuyama Museum of Art, Fukuyama, Japan
    1994

  • “ORIENTations, Works of Eight Chinese-American Artists”, David Adamson Gallery, Washington, D. C.; Louisville Visual Art Association, Louisville, USA
  • “Between East and West: Transformations of Chinese Art in the Late Twentieth Century”, Discovery Museum, Bridgeport, USA
    1993

  • “Neither East Nor West: Seven Contemporary New York Artists”, Taipei Gallery, New York, USA
    1992-94

  • “Visions in Between: New York/China, Japan, Korea”, Ise Art Foundation, New York, USA; travelling to: Fukuyama Museum, Hiroshima, Japan; Park Ryu Sook Gallery, Walker Hill Art Center, Seoul, South Korea; New Trends Gallery, Taichung Taiwan; Howard Salon of Howard Hotels, Taipei Taiwan; G. Zen 50 Art Gallery, Kaohsiung, Taiwan; Taipei Gallery, New York, USA
    1992

  • “The Articulated Thumbprint”, Boca Raton Museum of Art, Boca Raton, USA
  • “The Reality of Illusion”, Contemporary Crafts Gallery, Portland, USA
    1991

  • “Dual Cultures: China & U. S. A., Six Realist Painters”, Nassau County Museum of Art, Roslyn, USA
  • “New York/Taipei: An Encounter with Modernism”, Taipei Gallery, New York, USA
  • “Taipei–New York: Confrontation of Modernism”, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Exhibition of Ten Chinese Artists in New York”, Oriental Gallery, New York, USA
    1990

  • “Chinese Modern Realist Paintings”, China House of Arts, New York, USA
  • “Contemporary Artists Drawing Exhibition”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “A Small Bite of the Apple: The 79th Annual Exhibition”, Maier Museum of Art, Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, Lynchburg, USA
    1989

  • “The Selected Contemporary Artists Series Exhibition: Szeto Keung, Chen Shu- Ming, Lai Chi-Man”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
    1988

  • “Continuity and Change: Five Contemporary Chinese Artists”, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, US
  • “La Passion Des Apparences”, Galerie Gismondi, Paris, France
    1987

  • “Convincing Illusions”, Louis K. Meisel Gallery, New York, USA
  • “Fall Invitational”, Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, USA
  • “Mainstream America: The Collection of Phil Desind”, Mutter Institute of American Art, Youngstown, USA
  • Taipei Art Gallery, Chinese Cultural Center, New York, USA
    1986

  • “Eleven New York Artists’ Works Exhibition”, Guangzhou Art Academy, Guangdong, China
    1985-86

  • “More Than Meets the Eye: The Art of Trompe l’Oeil”, Columbus Museum of Art, OH; Norton Gallery, West Palm Beach, USA
    1985

  • “16 Works of Contemporary Chinese Artists”, Cork Gallery, Lincoln Center, New York, USA
  • “The Real Thing: Trompe l’Oeil”, Castle Gallery, College of New Rochelle, New Rochelle, USA
    1984

  • “Overseas Chinese Artists Exhibition”, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
  • “Illusions”, Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville, USA
    1983

  • “Contemporary Trompe l’Oeil Painting and Sculpture”, Boise Gallery of Art, Boise; travelling to: Museum of Art, Washington State University, Pullman, Bellevue Arts Museum, Bellevue; Salt Lake Art Center, Salt Lake City; Laguna Museum of Art, Laguna Beach; Queens Museum, Flushing, USA
  • “Material Illusions /Unlikely Materials”, Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, USA
  • “The Great Illusionists”, Ben Shahn Gallery, William Paterson College, Wayne, USA
    1982

  • “Still Life/Interiors”, Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans, USA
    1980

  • “Illusionism”, OK Harris West, Scottsdale, USA
    1975

  • “Contemporary Chinese Ink-Painting of Hong Kong”, National Gallery, National Museum of History, Taipei, Taiwan

PUBLIC COLLECTIONS
Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
Taiwan Museum of Art, Taichung, Taiwan
Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, China
Forbes Magazine Collection, New York, USA
Albany Museum of Art, Albany, USA
Fukuyama Museum of Art, Hiroshima, Japan

Click on each year's works

Szeto

By Eleanor Heartney

Western realism is often associated with a scientific turn of mind. Leonardo’s painstaking dissections of the human body, Alberti’s perspective diagrams, or more recently, the attempts by photorealist painters to mimic the camera all attest to a desire to increase the sum of man’s knowledge of the world through careful observation.

This however, is only one side of realism. Other realist painters have displayed an equally powerful interest in harnessing the magic of illusionism in the service of spirituality. In the hands of 19th American landscapists like Thomas Cole and Frederick Church, minutely accurate descriptions of the natural world became a means of conveying the glory of God. 17th century Dutch still life painters recreated remarkably lifelike representations of half eaten meals in order to suggest the vanity of earthly things and the brevity of human life.

Szeto demonstrates an interest in both these aspects of the realist tradition. This exhibition of paintings, which span the years 1988 to 1991, reveals two sides of his work. On one hand, the earlier paintings in this show are marked by what seems an almost clinical objectivity. They are populated by ordinary objects of the sort one might expect to see scattered about the studio or workshop — bits of tape, pieces of sandpaper, rulers, paint rollers, scarps of plywood – painted so illusionistically that they seem to jump off the canvas. While it is possible to read symbolic references into some of these objects – the ruler, for instance, might refer to the idea of measurement or the passage of time, while the old paintbrush may be an emblem of art itself – the cool, analytic style of these works discourages overly subjective interpretations.

However, as we approach the present it is possible to discern a shift in the balance between the emotional and the analytic aspects of the work. As the compositions simplify, the number of objects is reduced and a painterly background gains prominence. “Feather” is an example of this trend. It represents a single feather attached rather precariously with a bit of peeling tape to a light toned background layered with delicate tones of gray, yellow, and lavender. Presented as the sole focus of the painting, the feather gains a sense of pathos and vulnerability.

In the summer of 1989, following the Tiananmen Square massacre, Szeto created a painting which has set the tone for his subsequent works. Entitled Lamentation, it was inspired by his sorrow over the tragedy in Beijing and consists simply of a dried roses painted as if taped near the top of a dark, slate gray ground. A single, shriveled red petal slips like a tear drop toward the lower right corner of the canvas. Szeto quotes a poem by the Qing Dynasty poet Gong Ding which lingered in his mind as he worked on this painting: “Fallen blossoms are not without feelings into spring mud, they stay to nourish the flower.”

In subsequent paintings, Szeto does not make explicit reference to Tiananmen Square, but an air of melancholy persists. The backgrounds tend to shades of gray, sometimes textured with bits of overpainted fabric, and their rough surfaces suggest weather-beaten stone walls or chipped slabs of granite of dark marble. The visual focus of each painting is a single flower or a strip of peeling masking tape, painted in high relief as if spotlit from above. But the tape, as it begins to curl away from the wall and the flowers, dried and beginning to shrivel, suggests the effects of time and decay. At the same time, their heightened realism is almost shocking against the muted grounds. They seem plucked out of the everyday world and frozen – even embalmed – in some realm outside of ordinary space and time. In this they resemble souvenirs of relics, evidence of the human tendency to preserve precious objects in a vain attempt to arrest the flow of history.

This suggestion is particularly acute in the case of one of the most recent works, Lamenting, which represents a single rose set off by a massive frame which the artist discovered on the street. Centered beneath the sheltering arch of the frame and bathed in a golden light, the flower resembles a religious icon. Like the curling lemon rinds and overturned wine glasses of the 17th century Dutch Still Life paintings, it seems suspended between eternity and the temporal world.

Thus, for Szeto, the language of realism is elastic enough to permit very different messages. It can be a celebration of the painters’ art, paying tribute to the otherwise banal and overlooked details of everyday life. It can also serve as a kind of prism, refocusing and intensifying the light of our immediate reality to illuminate the larger realms of memory, history and spirit. These two possibilities exist side by side in these paintings, linked by the slender thread of the imagination, just as they are in the human mind.

Pity for Fallen Flowers-A Dialogue between SZETO Keung and LI Shang-yin

By SHIC Shou-chien

From the tall pavilion the guests have all departed;
In the little garden, flowers helter-skelter fly.
They fall at random on the winding path,
And travel far, sending off the setting sun.
Heart broken, I cannot bear to sweep them away;
Gazing hard, I watch them till few are left.
Their flagrant heart, following spring, dies;
What they have earned are tears that wet one’s clothes.

This poem was titled “Fallen Flowers” and written by LI Shang-yin, one poet of the latter days of Tang Dynasty. Every time I see SZETO Keung’s paintings, especially those finished after the summer of 1989 and employing “flowers” as subject matter, I cannot help associating them with this poem. It seems that through the paintings by SZETO Keung, I, a Chinese viewer in the late 20th century, can cross time & space and engage in a dialogue with the poet of a thousand years ago. This is actually an exhilarating experience.

“Fallen Flowers” reveals a desolate scene and mood as well. It speaks of both LI Shang-yin and fallen flowers. The poet compares himself to the object, expressing his own sentiments through the fallen flowers. This is an inherent convention in Chinese poetry on objects. However, among the Chinese poems which describe frequently seen fallen flowers to the point of grief, the poem by LI Shang-yin is the most unforgettable. Spring has gone and flowers have fallen. Both are natural phenomena; nevertheless, the poet displays the fallen and wandering self in the lines “They fall at random on the winding path, / And travel far, sending off the setting sun” and feels heart-broken. According to this convention, pity for fallen flowers and burial of flowers are graceful. But when the flowers are regarded as the self, the feeling of pity is enhanced. If that is the case, how can he bear to sweep them away? Seeing the fallen flowers on the ground, he cannot bear to discard them. Yet he also understands that this is an irrevocable process. Still, he prays that the flowers will be left. But when spring time has totally gone, the withered cannot revive. The poet cannot resist the sorrow caused by the indifference of the passing away of time. “What they have earned are tears that wet one’s clothes.” This is the predestined denouement. Given this scenario, the poet not only pities the flowers but also vents his vulnerability in self-pity.

Viewing the works of flowers by SZETO Keung is as if we were reading “Fallen flowers.” The lonely rose or sunflowers, with withered stalks, never fails to attract viewers’ attention. One or two petals seem to be falling and suddenly hover on a certain corner of a painting. The scene is grievous and pitiful, which makes one reluctant to leave it. The colors of the flowers are still bright and beautiful, but the leaves and stalks have become dry and inanimate. When this scene becomes the focus of a painting, the wretchedness of the denouement is further highlighted. Under the flowers and petals are the very merciless roots with torn and wrinkled cotton and linen which have been stained and pressed under the huge and amorphous brand of time. Sometimes even the most solid and icy steel with its heavy mass cannot survive the erosion which comes with the passing away of time. This further leaves one weary and heavy-laden with sadness. In this poem by LI Shang-yin, the fallen flowers are combined with human feelings and thus are especially pitiful. In SZETO Keung’s paintings, too, in the pseudo-human images, the flowers, in the deplorable scene caused by the torment of the callous time, reveal feelings of sadness about the passing away of time. This scene is so concrete that it seems that no one dares to confront it face to face.

The bright rose is like the love of youth, luminous and alluring; it stalks wither, as if it were bemoaning the fading away of youth and the vanishing of love. The viewer can feel in the paintings the direct force which is not indicated in the poem. In this intensity, the desire to stay is especially touching. Though stains are deep, the erosion complete, and the shifting of time heavy and irresistible, the rose in the paintings, with the pitiful fallen petals, seems to persist in a kind of elegance. The flower is dry and its colors have faded, but it is reluctant to give up the magnificence during its blossom. Its leaves have withered and its margins have been wrinkled, but they strive to stick the stalks. The twigs have fallen off and the stalks are about to splinter, but they are reluctant to be broken and desire to hold the surviving flowers with their previous beautiful shapes intact. If this means death, then it is a kind of death which is full of reluctance, unwilling to accept the fate of falling, withering and decay. It is a kind of death which persists in its dignity. LI Shang-yin confronts the fallen flowers and cannot bear to sweep them away, but finally he gives in to fate and death. On the contrary, SZETO Keung’s flowers are recalcitrant. They are not only unwilling to give in to fate and be enslaved by time, but they also query LI Shang-yin.

But, even if it persists in dignity, its fate of decay, falling and withering is irrevocable. Even if it is not afraid of death, and even if it is fixed with cellophane tapes and is confronted directly, how can we reverse the direction of time? This is a radical problem viewers have to propose when they are pondering the dialogue between SZETO Keung and LI Shang-yin. By asking this question, viewers can participate in the dialogue. For most people, time appears to be a dreadful “thing.” Time is, as is said by CHU Tzu-ching, the shapeless, achromatic, abstract and ever-proceeding entity which “when you stretch your hands to halt it, slips away from your fingers” and which could be termed the fiercest enemy of our life. The horror of this enemy is irresistible because it is shapeless. Even if people could put it into a concrete mechanical clock or confine it with rules engraved with the Chinese dynasties in paintings, they could do nothing to halt its passing away and taking life away step by step. Its power seems to be immensely huge and can never be hindered by anything in its forward movement. Once things enter time’s orbit, whether or not they will have temporary brilliance, they will ultimately end in decay, as can be seen in SZETO Keung’s flowers and paintings. The reason why time is terrible is that it is irresistible. Man seems to have no other choices but anxiety and frustration when facing this enemy.

LI Shang-yin considers it hopeless. Therefore, the only thing he can do is to use tears to vent his sadness. SZETO Keung’s paintings appear to be unwilling to give in. But so what? There seems to be a little hope here. If one can deny the authentic existence of time, maybe one can go beyond all these sorrows. The dogma of Buddhism persuades people to be wakened from illusions and reveals that all life and death are illusions. The objects in SZETO Keung’s paintings, though very realistic at first sight, are intended to deceive people’s eyes. We can even say that what he paints is “falseness” itself. What that falseness indicates is the passing away of life as is represented by withered flowers and decayed leaves. When viewers see again the “realistic” and “faithful” description, such as “golden” and “pink,” in his paintings, the sense of illusions will be enhanced. It is not only an old picture but also the memory of youth covered by the dust of time. Is there anything real in the peak of realistic description? The answer is the opposite. It is only a mirage. It is nothing but the surface of human hearts. If the marks engraved by time are all illusions, then is time itself true or not? Once the authenticity of time is denied, people can free themselves from the merciless enslavement of time and no longer feel pain.

How can one feel empathetic with the sadness of LI Shang-yin when one faces the paintings of fallen flowers by SZETO Keung? By having the same feeling as the painter and with the hope of the ultimate transcendence, one may feel a little solace. But, when we recall the convention of poetry and paintings of fallen flowers from Li Shang-yin to Szeto Keung, we cannot help doubting: Can the denial of time and the transcendence of sadness be unregrettable pursuits? The cost of them is obvious. Once time loses its meaning, people may become gods, but love will become nothing. What is left for life then? LI Shang-yin understands this and writes “Ch’ang-o”:

Against the screen of “mother-of-clouds” the candle throws its deep shadow;
The Long River gradually sinks, the morning star sets.
Ch’ang-o should regret having stolen the elixir;
The green sea–the blue sky–her heart every night.

The painting of fallen flowers by SZETO Keung would ultimately agree with this conclusion, wouldn’t it?

*The two pomes by LI Shang-yin are translated into English by James J.Y. Liu in his Poetry of Li Shang-yin, P. 136& p.99.

SOLO EXHIBITIONS

  • 2009 ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 2005 ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 2000 “SZETO Keung’s Solo Exhibition–So Nice a Day, So Fine a Man”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 1996 ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 1993 ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 1991 ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan

GROUP EXHIBITIONS

  • 2017 “An Ode to Thirty”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 1990 “Contemporary Artists Drawing Exhibition”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 1989 “The Selected Contemporary Artists Series Exhibition: Szeto Keung, Chen Shu- Ming, Lai Chi-Man”, ESLITE GALLERY, Taipei, Taiwan