Renowned Chinese artist Hsiao Chin talks about why his modern abstract art still resonates with audiences today, giving us a glimpse into his artistic language.
TEXT: Reena Devi
IMAGES: Courtesy of 3812 Gallery
A leading figure in Post-War European and Chinese Art, Hsiao Chin, 85, has always been held in high esteem. As one of the artists who brought abstraction and modern art into Asia, his work can be found in major collections around the world, from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to Hong Kong’s M+.
Moreover, his art has become increasingly visible of late.
Last September, Sotheby’s S|2 Gallery presented the artist’s largest solo exhibition in Hong Kong. He was also one of nine artists showing at Eli Klein Gallery’s “Painting from Taiwan” exhibition which ran from August to October 2019 in New York.
This year, the Mark Rothko Art Centre in Latvia will mount a major retrospective with works spanning across six decades. Titled “In my beginning is my end: the art of Hsiao Chin,” the exhibition will open from 24 April through 20 June 2020. There will also be an upcoming solo exhibition in London in April at 3812 Gallery, a Chinese contemporary art gallery with spaces in London and Hong Kong; and a dedicated presentation of the artist’s works by the same gallery at Masterpiece London in June.
The answer for the contemporary appeal of Hsiao’s modern art is quite simple—his artistic language lies in the often ignored yet highly resonant enmeshment of love, art and spirituality.
Speaking to CoBo Social in an email interview, the artist, who was born in Shanghai but spent most of his life in Europe, the United States and Taiwan, shared that his art comes from a place of personal depth. “The emotions and energies in my paintings make people feel and understand love,” said Hsiao.
“The connotation of my work is to first understand how to love the world, then with love for the world, unexpected development occurs. Therefore, my creation has been changing with my life and the environment I lived in at that time. As for future development, I don’t know what will happen yet. I think the changes of my creation is definitely directly related to my feelings for the world,” he said.
The spiritual element is also evident in Hsiao’s creation and development. When he moved to Europe in the 1950s to “experience and study the contemporary trends of thought in the West,” he found himself painting abstract oil paintings “based on the structure of calligraphy and the symbolism of the East.”
When he decided to use water-based paint, he found that it was a major turning point, reflecting the spiritual undertones of the imagery he was attempting to capture in his work.
“In particular, the ethereal state of Taoism triggered the composition of the virtual and solid space in my paintings; the basic concept of Chinese yin and yang also appeared in my paintings as dual shapes, such as dynamic and static, virtual and actual, yin and yang, strong and weak, black and white, cold and warm, and so on,” Hsiao said.
“What I pursue visually is a feeling of entering a state of Samadhi,” he added. Hsiao also pointed out that one of his biggest challenges as an artist took place during his early days in Europe, when he was determined not to follow the Western techniques and expressions blindly but “to apply Eastern thinking and Western materials in my works to make the Western art scene re-understand the language of Eastern art and culture.”
One of his most memorable experiences was following the founding of the Punto International Art Movement in 1961 with Italian artist Antonio Calderara, involving exhibitions held in Milan, Barcelona, Albissola, Florence, Taipei, Rotterdam, Rome, Bologna, and Zurich with numerous Spanish, French and Dutch artists joining the movement.
“After the Punto International Art Movement, I restudied Taoism, entered the world of Chan through Laozi, and then completed the work with Chan as my mind,” he said, referring to the change in his style of painting in the 70s, which evolved into the “Ch’an” series.
At that time, he was inspired by Chan Buddhism, and further studied and explored its essence. He continued to use acrylic, creating a Minimalism-like style with precise planning rooted in stillness, but with a brand-new perspective to reinterpret the mystery and profundity of humanism in the East. His style of painting turned to the “use of unrestrained brush strokes to present the intuitive spiritual understanding at the moment.”
“The works in the ‘Ch’an’ series are not the interpretation of Chan, but through its inspiration…I was able to paint unconstrained and enter a state of ‘do nothing and do everything,’ in order to integrate the perceptual and spiritual thinking, intellectual understanding and life experience,” Hsiao said.
“To this day, I can still find more profound meanings from it, and I can continue to create many works by merging the understanding from experiences and touched feelings from the past 50 years,” he added.
Thanks to the concerted efforts of this iconic Asian modern artist to meld emotional depth, spirituality and art throughout his lifetime, his work reverberates with a resonant and rare sound in today’s world of disruption and divisiveness, echoing across museums and even commercial art spaces.
About the artist
Hsiao Chin was born in 1935 in Shanghai. His father, Hsiao Yu-mei, was a pioneer in modern Chinese music education, while his uncle, Wang Hseuhting, was an important politician and academic. During the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Hsiao accompanied Wang to Taiwan. In 1951, Hsiao entered the Art Department at National Taipei Teachers College under the supervision of the renowned woodcut printmaker Chou Ying and studied sketching under Chu Teh-chu. In 1952, Hsiao joined Li Chunshen’s Antung Street Studio and began his modern art journey.
Since the 1990s, Hsiao has continued to exhibit throughout Europe, America, and Greater China. While settling in Kaohsiung, Taiwan in 2014, he also founded the Hsiao Chin International Art Foundation. In 2016, Hsiao was conferred the Order of Brilliant Star for his lifetime contribution and achievements in art and cultural development. In July 2017, Hsiao published ‘A Historical Dialogue with Art’, a memoir focusing on developments in the international art world. This March, the Musée national des Arts asiatiques – Guimet in Paris held a large-scale solo exhibition for Hsiao, strengthening his importance as a modern Asian artist.
In My Beginning is My End: The Art of Hsiao Chin
Daugavpils Mark Rothko Art Centre
24 April – 20 June 2020
Reena Devi Shanmuga Retnam is a Singaporean arts journalist and critic who writes for regional and international media such as ArtAsiaPacific (HK), Hyperallergic (NY) and Artsy (NY). Previously she was a full-time reporter with Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore and TODAY newspaper (SG), breaking stories and exploring issues such as leadership, race, funding and censorship in the Singapore arts scene.