FAR EAST PHENOMENON by Lin Chia-Hung is running from Oct 6, 2019 to April 30, 2020. The Opening Reception with Artist’s Talk was held on Oct 6 Sunday at 2:00PM. Also, we want to congratulate Lin for being invited to show his paintings at the Mariposa Museum in Peterborough NH from October 20 till November 4.
Lin Chia-Hung’s “EAST SHOW TIME” at the Mariposa Museum, Peterborough NH
This show examines the FAR EAST Phenomenon in the Arts as its title has indicated. It awaits responses from the American audiences whose mainstream still follows European tradition. Globalization mingles cultures, moves people and goods around the world, but does it change or broaden people’s visual perception and the acceptance of other’s artistic value that is so different from, and some times even opposite to, that of the European?
After half a century of globalization and the existence of the internet, we would think the phenomena in the Far East are quite familiar to the world, but it is quite the contrary. This exhibition seeks to raise awareness, and hopefully, build a bridge for better understanding of the Far East. In this show, the paintings of “cute, little, girlish, and simplified” portraits undoubtedly confront the taboo in western art that “Art speaks the Truth,” with an assumption that the Truth of human nature is far from being cute and simplified. So the critical question is: Is it Lin the artist’s conscious confrontation or is it Lin Chia-Hung’s naiveté?
Lin started his career as a portrait painter, however he was frustrated that viewers only wanted to see “who is the person of this portrait,” not its aesthetics, not its conceptual value, so he decided to remove individuality from the image. His background in manga training equips him well with this stylizing technique. His bright-eyed girlish woman speaking through her stunning eyes and dainty nose and mouth, strongly suggests his influence from the Japanese manga art form.
It is common knowledge that manga is the most influential social commentary media in Japan. It reaches out to all walks of life, all ages, and backgrounds in society. In a highly structured society where rules bind everything, manga is like a little naughty devil, giving people tickles for some fun, to jump above social constraints for a little while. Overlain with visual Pop Art, it slips funky ideas or politically incorrect comments into people’s lives and the media know that its treacherous deeds will be forgiven. Taiwan, being under Japanese occupation for 50 years prior to the end of World War II, was certainly submersed in its influence. However, Chinese also has had its own “Maan Hua” (translated as “Manga” in Japanese) as one form of literary culture for centuries. This historical context helps us understand where Lin’s source of inspiration comes from. Evidently, from his series of paintings we have read his social commentary on “Student/ Schooling” issues, “Marriage” issues, and the “Rebels” in disguise behind the innocent face.
While in the old days, the mechanics of animation consisted of thousands of hand-drawn pictures, this process is now simplified by computers. As an experienced animation film editor, Lin expands the seemingly quiet female figure with subtle movement. She is not moving in this instance, but it looks as if she is surely about to move, her big eyes are going to blink any minute. The definition of “animation” is “bringing to life”, and Lin animates his painting, bringing us the essence that neither computer nor photograph can compare. From here on, one is equipped with sufficient information to imagine the drawings before and after this picture.
Surely, Truth can’t be all beautiful, but, fine artists seem to be the special genus of people who take on the mission to investigate deep into the not-so-beautiful part of human nature. Artists question troublesome social norms, and the avant-gardes feel that they should carry the cross to speak up on subjects that are not “beautiful” and “comfortable”. As a result, artwork that catches public attention is provocative by nature. It is not difficult to find evidence among renowned artworks that bravely demonstrate “Art speaks the Truth” with extreme means. One example is the use of unconventional material like elephant dung. Chris Ofili, 29, born in Manchester UK, just won the 20,000 pound Turner Award by making shit beautiful. Another example is the human body exhibition by Gunther von Hagens, an attraction crafted out of the gruesome dead. As all material has been explored, all subjects have been examined; the Truth seems to be on the flip side of the beautiful. Being an academically trained artist with his antenna open to the art world, Lin knows what the art world is chasing after; therefore, “naiveté” is out of the question. The fact is, he bumps into the “prettiness taboo” head-on.
Furthermore, in the realm of portrait, regardless of style, Western perception of being “realistic” in terms of capturing the essence of the person is undeniably an important factor for its aesthetic value. So another question materializes: Is Lin’s portrait figure realistic? If so, in what sense is it realistic? For this question, let’s go to the market place in Asia. The millions who have traveled to the Far East surely have witnessed common places such as markets, department stores, restaurants, streets, and surely have had contacts with Lin’s “stylized” female figure. In Western countries with more diverse features, “beauty” stresses on individuality. Lin’s figure of the Far East, where features are fairly homogeneous (black hair, dainty noses and eyes, etc.), all differences have been simplified to the common denominator of femaleness. Lin’s depiction of the eyes seems to mock the fact in the Far East that big eyes are thought to be the essential trait in a beauty. But if one looks more closely, it is not so much the eyes that are big in proportion to her face, it is the rest of the features, i.e. mouth and nose, that are dramatically small. Moreover, the rest of the body is miniaturized, leaving only the round face and big eyes to advocate the story. Still, the general impression is they are too beautiful and too cute, even though one can see these are women, not little girls. Their make up and behavior captures the real women in service industries, for example restaurant’s wait staff. True, they are paid to do the job, but they are real, they are everywhere, real in the Far East and real in Lin’s painting.
From Far East classical aesthetics, the 3-D likeness of a portrait to a real person is not from the contrast of light and shadow, a technique universally valued in the West. There was never a single light source like that of Rembrandt’s painting in the Far East tradition. In fact, prior to westernization, shadow in a painting read as “dirty smudges” that a trained fine painter would not do. In contrast to the western tradition of portraits in which an artist may do several paintings from one model, each with a different setting, facial expression, or style to articulate the artist’s ideas, Lin creates one “signature figure” with a neutral expression. There is no indication of mood except a minimal area of white on or around the pupil, sufficient to suggest its context. He gave the portrait a clean (without shadow), universal (no individuality) look. Perhaps it is passive aggression, or more appropriately, an aggressive submissiveness, which many Westerners generalize as the Asian behavior toward outsiders. As a result, we often hear the comment “an outsider will never be truly accepted in an Asian society, particularly Japan”.
When meeting with the public, Lin appears to be shy, quiet, and humble. Like his signature figure, he is projecting a “quiet space” for his audience to create their own context, a humble motivation, and quite effective. As art critic Yi Tze Guo so appropriately compared Lin Chia-Hung to Yoshitomo Nara, she commented “The manga/cartoonish style of his (Lin’s) characters manifests the young generations’ bantering attitude/humor; while on the other hand, the emotional layers under the seemingly serene surface are reminiscent of the subtle aesthetics of classic humanism.” One could say that Lin’s work is the Taiwanese Yoshitomo.
Furthermore, Edward Lucie-Smith in ARTODAY stated his observation that “The main difference (between the period from 1960 to the present and the first six decades of the twentieth century) is to be found in plurality, absence of hierarchy, and a vast expansion of the cultural base.” Any art movement has to build upon a former art platform, which we call heritage or tradition. The Pop Art movement in the US in the 60s from Andy Warhol certainly was no exception. What is Warhol’s heritage? We might say the late Modernism when commercialism started rising, which is very different from Japanese Pop Art star Takashi Murakami’s heritage in Japanese art, which combines westernization with commercialism. However, in Japan and Taiwan, while the Pop Art movement permeates into all forms of traditional art, we would also expect a society so repressed with rules and discipline to be cautious and play it safe for the act of Pop Art liberty. In Murakami’s case, he stands on the shoulders of sophisticated prints from fine art in the Emperor’s court down to the fabric design in the common market place. In terms of subject he tactfully blends fashion, commercial objects, advertisements, and even western performance. While his painting in the olden days would have been taken as wallpaper, it is now deliberately portrayed as fine art work in major Museums around the world. Lin’s painting is a continuation of the Pop Art movement in the Far East, constrained, but liberated nevertheless.
Surely no one doubts that Art is an important communication tool, and if one were to measure its success by how many people an art form has reached, Pop Art would rank most highly in the West, while in Japan, Manga would be the first of the first. The sheer number of people under Manga’s influence emphasizes its importance.
Pop Art is fine art. Lin’s painting is the meeting place where painterly tradition merges into the animated computer world, a 21st century Far East phenomenon that few westerners have shifted gears to enter, look, and understand.
Lin Chia-Hung’s manga style painting has won him many awards in international Art Expos. His paintings are in the collection of National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts.