The Verdant Cliff
Chinese Paintings by Fourteen Celebrated Taiwanese Artists

Preface by Shi Shou-qian

Chinese painting by Taiwanese artists has played an important role in the history of twentieth century Chinese painting. With a view to illustrate its development in recent years, Mr. Ng Kai-yuen, the owner of Luen Chai Curios Store has selected fourteen celebrated contemporary Taiwanese artists and is exhibiting more than seventy works by them. Before considering the works of these painters, it may be beneficial to study the origins of contemporary Taiwanese art.

Since the seventeenth century, Taiwan 's short 300 year art history has witnessed dramatic transformations. Taiwanese ink painting, from its hesitant beginnings to its twentieth century renaissance, has reflected the local culture at its various stages. Taiwanese early history included a short period of Dutch and Spanish colonial rule and control by the Zheng family of the Southern Ming Dynasty in the mid seventeenth century. The Qing court eventually conferred on Taiwan the status of a province. Taiwan has during most of its history remained a cultural tributary of the art of Mainland China . Chinese painting there during the Qing period followed closely the artistic trends on the Mainland, particularly that of the Fujian region. It was only when it was occupied by Japan in 1845 that the Japanese colonial government deliberately severed the island's cultural reliance on the Mainland. As a result Chinese painting slowly lost its vitality and was subsequently replaced by western styles and the so-called ' Japanese Paintings School ' which lasted until 1945, when Japan was defeated in the Second World War. Following the reversion of the rule of Taiwan to China , Chinese painting was resurrected from oblivion. In 1949, the Kuomintang government moved to Taiwan and brought with it a group of painters. Among them a significant number worked in the traditional manner and played a crucial role in revitalizing Chinese painting in Taiwan . Despite this reemergence, the initial development was inhibited by the situation on the Mainland. Cultural policy was therefore limited to preserving traditions rather than pursuing innovative changes. This state of affairs continued until the seventies when Taiwan 's rapid economic growth brought about fundamental changes. The thriving development of contemporary painting began to emerge against the background of the new culture. Compared with the fifties and sixties, the development of contemporary painting in Taiwan is characterized by diversity of styles and richness of expressions. These are the result of reassessment of tradition on one hand, and of active responses to the impact of Western art on the other. Both approaches originated from avant garde groups of the late fifties, including the "Fifth Moon Group" and the "Dongfang Group", yet these pioneers did not bring about any positive results since society at that time was not yet ready to liberate itself to accommodate western "modernism" advocated by the avant garde painters. The attack by the reformers on the conservatives was therefore limited mostly to slogans and contributed very little to the modernization of the Chinese painting styles themselves. The seeds for reform however had been sowed, awaiting only a favourable climate to flourish in the next phase.

Taiwan after the seventies witnessed many surprising developments. Economic growth progressively integrated Taiwan into the international community as well as opening it up both politically and socially. Having established confidence in their own culture, artists began simultaneously to review Chinese tradition and adopt western techniques. In consequence, they eventually freed themselves from their previous ideological shackles of "preserving the traditions", and in reviewing and exploring the possibilities for reform also rediscovered the merits of tradition. When they turned to the western world, they rid themselves of the illusion that "westernization" meant "modernization". Through a comprehensive survey of various trends in painting, they eventually cultivated a critical mind to decide which styles to adopt. Thus, various individual styles now flourish. Such richness and diversity lie neither in preserving nor abandoning the traditions, but in widening and deepening them with self-confidence. Of the artists participating in this present exhibition, the more senior including Huang Junbi, Jiang Zhaoshen, Hu Nianzu, Chu Ge, Liu Guosong, Ou Haonian and Zheng Shanxi all display these characteristics. They have each been recognized for outstanding achievements after many years of effort. Other artists including Zhou Cheng, Li Yihong, Jiang Mingxian and Yu Peng, the newer among the group, have cultivated their own unique styles.

In the late eighties, the affirmation of the personal styles of Yu Chengyao and Chen Qikuan represented the possibilities of exploring contemporary Chinese painting's boundless range, while He Huaishuo's "Elegy of the Yellow River " of 1989 probed the depth of humanism. The richness in individual styles of artists thus signifies the possibility of establishing a new tradition in Taiwan . Being a small island geographically, Taiwan has historically been on the periphery of Chinese culture. However, in the twentieth century, its attempt to carry out dual examinations of traditionalism and westernization has brought about a metamorphosis to its painting. With the potential it has manifested for exploring art in different directions, we can foresee a significant role for Taiwan in creating new art directions in the future.


Shi Shou-qian

Foreword by K.Y. Ng
Preface by Shi Shou-qian
Online Catalogue