所以，東方在談臨帖，跟西方人在談生命潛意識，是完全不同路的。只有在巴洛克時代學徒制那時候，可以理解臨的必要，因為那時大家都在臨聖像。差別只在於米開朗基羅畫的跟達文西（Leonardo da Vinci）畫的不一樣。到最後還是會回到心態。我們很容易誤解信仰就是拜神，然後就沒有自由，但依我的概念，在信仰中還有很多自由。不是說信仰都不能變、不能怎麼樣。
Attitude Matters, Techniques Don’t
──── Jiun-yang Li
Time: April 30, 2015
Interviewee: Jiun-yang Li
Interviewers and Guests: Jow-jiun Gong, Guan-jhang Chen, Hsin Chen, Mirr Lo, Juliet Lin
Location: Li’s house
Compiled by Jow-jiun Gong
Translated by Jei Liu, Li-fen Wang, Wen-ting Lan
Being Cultivated in Popular Aesthetics and Art of Mixture
I was born in Taitung City and have lived in Guanshan, Chihshang, Yuli and Guangfu. My father was a poster painter for movies. There were two kinds of poster painters, one worked for poster stores in cities, and the other travelled about. My father belonged to the latter. His cases scattered along the Rift Valley and reached Hualien. After my father passed away, we stayed in Guangfu, also known as Vataan where aboriginals are the majority. So I’ve been involving with popular aesthetics since I was little.
There used to be a variety store called “Chin Shan” whose cases were all about popular aesthetics, such as temple paintings, signage, movie posters, ads, calligraphy, spring couplets, portraits, etc. Therefore, children who lived in the east then had been cultivated in popular aesthetics. Our arts are more religious, so our teachers were Minnanese. Whether they painted for movie posters or for other purposes, their faith related to Minnanese religion, such as pictures about Daoism or Buddhism. As their students, our works had to meet a certain standard, that is, they had to show “the aesthetics of crafting.”
There’s an important issue when we talk about colonization. Our blood is mixture. I’m Pingpu, but the culture we immerse in is Hakka, Minnan and mainland Chinese. We had been through a dramatic change when the Nationalist Government and many mainlanders came to Taiwan in the 1940s.
When it comes to culture, we shouldn’t focus on the visual aspect only. For me, the relationship between faith and creation is not about the gods you worship. I like to mix different things. I used to paint and copy everything, a copycat, meaning when I was given a Michelangelo piece, I copied it decently so it could be placed at a department store as decoration. Or when our teacher told us about how to do photography, we just followed suit. People copy in language learning, and it is also applied to painting learning. That’s why we imitate the writing on ancient monuments when we learn calligraphy and inscription. As for the drafts of temple painting, they are the so called “legendary bibles.”
It’s more interesting when we used to paint for movie posters which involved color configuration. For example, Eastman Color is the revolution of film format, and it also influences on the different systems of poster painting, such as the southern system and the northern system. I was lucky enough to learn poster painting in Taichung. Our company then had five teachers including my fourth uncle and his two best friends. My brother and I learned it together and ours was a distinct system. Movie posters were brought by the Japanese, so my teachers’ teachers were all Japanese. At that time, there was a weird person called Zi-fu Chen whose works are often on exhibition at the Taiwan Film Institute. He had inherited the unrestrained style of ink wash painting and then influenced Wen Cheng.
If you know the different styles, you will figure out the context of the work and its legacy. It’s like when you appreciate a calligraphy piece, you are able to tell the techniques the person uses, such as Xun Ou-Yang’s style with Zhen-qing Yan’s framework, something like that. The technique I used in temple painting belongs to the Loudong sect. I started my traditional puppets making by referring to those made in Quanzhou. I hosted a puppet exhibition in 1998 and the stories involved were all from Taiwanese folklore. The reason I chose the stories is because traditional puppet shows at that time were all about Chinese history, such as Tree Kingdoms and The Investiture of the Gods. The so called “golden light puppetry” (the ones with special visual and sound effects) did not have any, either. One thing interesting is that my puppets never make appearance on stage because none of the troupes have scripts for them.
Defying Existing Systems for Absolute Freedom
Painting for movie posters and temples had a huge influence on me. I’m very curious about painting and vision. Why I did not open a signage store but create? Because I’m the kind of person who always wants to explore something new and different. Movie poster painting was not my cup of tea and it became my brother’s profession later.
When I first arrived at Art Stock 20 for residence, I decided that I was going to focus on Miao (temple). But I changed the exhibition’s name from Rainbow, Souls into Rainbow Enchanted Wonder (Miao also means “wonder” in spoken mandarin but the two Miaos are different in writing). My signature afterwards is Miao Kong (妙公 which means “temple administrator” or “the person of wonder”). When it refers to wonder, it is exactly the same concept mentioned in Laozi’s “The gate of all subtlety.” I tried to discover the possibility of creation from Taiwanese folk culture, so I worked with the Golden Bough Theatre to reconstruct language system as one of the attempts, for instance.
Everybody thinks that I’m the man who makes puppets for traditional puppetry, but I don’t want to be a folk craftsman. I wanted to create with absolute freedom and then hippie concepts were incorporated into my creation. But it is all about fighting against existing systems.
Recently, I’ve been thinking: why modern art has to be repeating and quantifying? Is there any other possibility? Like in folk crafting, people may see it from the aspect of preserving folk culture. For example, a Chinese or Taiwanese opera performer memorizes his scripts and passes down to others, but he can’t create. Even if a slight of creation is allowed, he has to keep the main structure. Craftsmen are a group of people without individuality, they can be regarded as one as we can see the similarities in college members. That is why I do not join painting groups or groups of other kind to keep myself free.
I chose several topics to talk about folk culture and one of them is “the spirit.” Take running for example, when you run, your mind flies away or just goes blank then it is filled with ideas again. It is similar to the condition in creation as I find there are different senses of time and space involved in the process. When I’m alone, I tend to focus only on my mind which is for knowing my own condition more. Why do I go to the spirit issue so suddenly? Because I know horoscope, I ponder over the trinity of material, spirit, and soul. Whether it is the creation of traditional or modern art, it goes back to the artists themselves. We have to take industrialization out and then talk about something personal. That’s why I want to know what your expectation of this exhibition is. It’s a question about personal faith not about the team. For that, popular aesthetics and art have a definite difference. That is, it’s ok if my painting does not make sense, people either like it or hate it. I don’t care, because it is what art is all about.
Why did I do Rainbow Enchanted Wonder? My early creations were related to my life experiences and they were the reflection of my condition at that particular time. It’s not about capability. For example, I might be painting for a cute cafe whose owner preferred countryside style at day, but after I gave the NTD 5,000 pay to my wife that night, I painted a horrible penis. This kind of personality was in me for a very long time. I was poor back then and scavenged every day, so I felt true to myself when I painted nasty stuff. It reflected my difficult life condition. I had another personality when I got paid from customers’ cases. I used their energy to realize whatever they wanted.
Go back to religious experiences. I met an indigenous pastor one time when I went to Laeno tribe. He told me that they had one dance piece for tourists and one for male elders only, even local indigenous females were not allowed to attend the latter. This is very interesting, because you have to take the majority’s opinions into consideration. For example, the ceremony of welcoming Matsu at Tachia has certain tourist value. If you don’t have this activity, commodities won’t sell. It creates business opportunity so tempting that both politics and religion come to serve this commercial purpose in every city. We can’t reject such things, but we can talk about something different. We can prove that there is an alternative experience when people attend the ceremony, and it can only be proven in each individual’s life style.
A Sense of Time in Being and A Layman’s Instinct
The thing that I care the most is time, and it means the universe to me. I used to work for others; I spent too much time painting movie posters when I was young. I realized this before painting for Phû-lōng-kòng Kai Hua But in 2003, Troy, Troy… Taiwan was the last time I painted for the Golden Bough Theatre. After that, I stopped working for other people. Though I did go back to play a role in their performance, but it was just for fun. I prefer to be alone now so that I can have my time fully.
From my 1st personal exhibition Dead Plot and New Life’s Coming in 1995, Flowers are all out, to the Rainbow, Souls in 1997 which is also the year I got divorced, that period of time was when I had just completed my military service and I had so many to try in creation and art. I asked myself whether I still wanted to create in the old way after my wife and kid left me, so that’s why I created Rainbow, Souls. For that, I drove around from streets to streets, and lived like a hippie. I hanged around with many hippies and got highs. I don’t mind to say it out. For several years, I fooled around, going to parties, concerts and got high with foreigners. Later, I gradually became a hippie. I didn’t engage in creation for one or two years. It was until I stayed at the Art Stock 20 that I pulled myself together.
When the creation process was too long, I tended to hit the bottleneck and couldn’t finish the works. I wonder if other creators have this similar experience. But it was in the past, now I don’t have this problem anymore. It seems impossible for me to think about creation all the time, you need a break to continue. That is why I rode a pedicab to take A-tsai (Ming-tsai Chen) to his wedding ceremony. But I was also the witness of his divorce. At that time, I played a betel nut lady and needed a divorce exhibition for the show, so we actually went to the Household Registration Office. Many people thought we were very weird. Yi Hung designed a “Golden Church Pub” in 1999 for body painting. Wow, hot girls for three continuous months.
A-tsai just left Taipei. He said, “I’m going to paint.” He came to Yi Hung who took him to my place and told him, “This one here also paints.” He liked me, because I could make puppets and paint at will. He felt that we were very much alike and we existed robustly in the peripheral. For example, I’m good at painting posters and making puppets that I can easily fit into the mainstream, but I don’t want to. He was the same. He just finished his direction of Sheng-chuan Lai’s play A Post Martial-Law Couple. He could be big but he started directing The Colorful Streams Landing Sweep, and then got married and divorced. We were very sensitive to the environment, so we knew what we could do and what we could not. We stubbornly trust our instincts, so he found his actors from streets and they played the roles by instinct. I like to involve in areas that I am not familiar with, not that I want to fight for and prove some points, but because I can be a total novice in that area. I like it.
After my stay at Art Stock 20, I had Come Out From A Helpless Impasse: The Black Sacrifice in 2000. This was the start of my ritual-and-performance-oriented creation. I believe that if you stick to something, let’s say creation, it would grow from a static being to an active one. That’s why artists exhibit what they create. You might as well stop when the painting is done, you don’t need exhibitions if you just like painting. Just like you don’t need to be a curator if you simply enjoy the artwork. It’s all about showing, but we can discuss whether it is for the purpose of education or to accommodate the person’s anxiety of existence.
In 2005, I started to do seal carving and restarted calligraphy, it was like going back to the old days when I painted for posters and temples, and practiced calligraphy by imitating the styles in Shi Men Song, Lanting Xu and Red Cliff (Chi Bi) by Tungpo Su. These are the ones that everybody gives credit for. It is not mainly about enhancing my techniques, it’s more about being imperturbable. This shows that people trained in crafting are definitely more imperturbable than we hippies are.
All my changes can be seen in my 2011 exhibition Fairest Fairies Fair, Phû-lōng-kòng Blossom at Ciaotou Baiwu. The exhibition showed numerous small objects which nobody cared to exhibit previously, but they have been my creations piled up for a long time. I still make them nowadays. When I painted for movie posters, I sketched and drafted in lots of notebooks. My work Wonder presented at the 2014 Cloud of Unknowing exhibition at Taipei Fine Arts Museum consisted of many sketches. I think of those sketches as the lots and pictures in temples. Since this exhibition, I have been using my sketches and notebooks to decorate my ritual space.
Looking back now, I realize that my whole life has been about fighting against existing systems and avoiding being defined and tamed by them. Just like the Chin Shang art variety store.
Techniques Make the Form, Personality and
Attitude Make the Style
As for the history of posters that I have gone through, it is a magic process that starts from prints to photos to color separation systems, and then to hire of artists to paint. The works of the master, Zi-fu Chen, I mentioned earlier were the models of all poster painters in Taiwan at that time. The format of posters now are decided by movie companies and then after design they are directly sent for printing.
The way of painting the movie posters in middle Taiwan is more classic, like in Taichung, the colors of the poster are not as bright as other areas. Why? You can find the answer in the posters of movies Two Painters and Hsiao-hsien Hou’s Dust In The Wind. When a poster hangs high up to four or five floor, it creates an aesthetic distance, so the way of painting the poster is for people to enjoy it from a distance. The figures’ eyes are painted into octagon or hexagon. If you paint the eyes round, you will find them lifeless. Therefore, you should take the angles into consideration and viewers should find a poster natural when they look at it from a distance. If you want to look at the poster from a closer place, you have to show your delicacy, like how you treat a classical oil painting, because you want to look at it from a close distance. Here is the thing: what’s a large-scale painting? Do you see it as the collection of various small paintings or you start with the techniques used specifically for paintings in a large size?
There’s a person who is great at large-scale paintings, that is Chin-Ho Huang. Chun-rong Yen has the biggest paint of Jin-ho Huang whose style is a little bit like that of the German artist Jörg Immendorff, more of the school of the lower class. He put loads of paints on his canvas. His works can be as large as in size nine hundred, and when you examine his works closely, all you can see is loads of paints and a mess. But once you look at them from a distance, you then figure out the painter’s logic from the mess. That is what I mean large-scale paintings which differentiates itself from temple paintings. Temple paintings have to reveal the details whereas a movie or an ad poster needs to be viewed from a distance. It is in my learning system, so I know it clearly. For example, the lines in temple paintings tend to be very smooth like thoses in Thangka, except for the time when ink and wash painting techniques are applied, so you seldom see a falling stroke touch in a temple painting.
Techniques can sometimes be nothing but a form. If Jun-xiong Huang wants to play different roles, he has to use different accents for different characters, so he must tell those accents apart. The final and chaotic presentation of Rainbow Enchanted Wonder is the choice after realizing that I could never focus on one single subject. People think that my style is similar to Tong Hung’s when they saw Rainbow, Souls, but I don’t agree. If I want to, my works can easily meet academic standards. I can also paint classic oil painting brilliantly, but the problem is not my techniques but my personality.
I choose to give in to life and let it be my lead. That’s why I feel like a Phû-lōng-kòng（idler）, certainly the galleries do not want to hold on to me, because I won’t bring them any profit! They just want you to paint and don’t want you to change your style, so they can have better marketing. Some say I am living in my own world, perhaps that’s what I want, because I can get different kinds of information from it. The trade off is that I may lose many chances. The people I hang out with may not be the same, but that’s fine, because I don’t enjoy being bothered by people in suits and ties, the friends who come to me are those who enjoy talking about lives and arts.
Because we’ve been trained, we know even the dumb can learn something in three years and gain good profits out of it. That’s why you need to follow your teacher for three and a half years. One should keep learning a variety of things in his lifetime, and he would ultimately mix whatever he’s learned. The most important thing is you have to feel the excitement when you are a total rookie. That is why people in the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty, let’s say E Liu for example, liked to imitate the calligraphic styles of ancient monuments. They were touched when they were reproducing it. Since those styles were different, they studied them just to feel the differences. If they wanted to be focused, they might just practice on one single style, why bother? But, of course, when you finish imitation, you have to create something that is yours. If you know what you are searching for by following your energy and self-awareness, it will become clearer during the practice process. So we can say the logic in calligraphy reproduction in the east is totally different from that in life subconsciousness in the west.
In the west, the baroque period was the only time when people value the techniques used to reproduce and copy. It was a time featuring apprenticeship and everyone was engaged in copying. The only difference was the master they chose to copy, that could be Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci. But at last, it still goes back to the attitude of the person. It is often misunderstood that faith is all about worship and loss of freedom. But I think there is much freedom in it, you are free to talk about belief and loyalty in life as long as you do not lie.
Copying is part of the learning, but it doesn’t mean the transformation that one has experienced in that practice is not real, so what’s wrong with reproduction? What matters is the attitude. You may come across a piece of creation that seems simple but bears deeper connotations; or on the other hand, you see a fantastic piece by someone who doesn’t even have any faith. That is, the artist just copies the techniques that brings him success and faith has nothing to do with it.