Murmur: Regarding the Work of Shi-ling Chen Hsiang
There are many ways to define art, as well as many levels upon which
it can be appreciated. Of course, these tastes are closely connected
to ones understanding of art; it follows that awareness of beauty,
the aesthetic, goes hand in hand with appreciation of art. Imagine
an artists scroll painted full with black ink, pierced by chance
rays of white light and horizontal lines. In the distance a butterfly,
perhaps, rises up. One could describe this scene in a hundred different
ways; however, the description may not fit the artists true
vision. The best way to do this is if one has a certain accord with
the artist or a deep sense of the work, for in this way one will come
to realize its inner essence.
Although Chinese and Western painting are quite different, in fact
they are simply alternative ways of arriving at a harmony of space,
time and the individual spirit. When a meeting of these ideas can
be achieved, a unique state can be manifested in an artists
work. I have recently made the acquaintance of Shi-ling Chen Hsiang,
a painter residing in America. She is the kind of person who provokes
a great deal of thought, and she made a deep impression in me even
before I had written about her art. Her (Shi-ling Hsiangs) character
and her artwork consistently interact with each other. It is as though
As long as there is no turbulence in ones heart, any place
will be as tranquil as green mountains and water; as long as there
is enlightenment in ones character, every chance of encounter
will see the leaping of fish and flight of birds. Perhaps the
revelation of Tao, the way, upon her tableau has already risen to
a level of philosophical thought.
In regarding her work, one must also look at her talent and perception.
Though an anthropology major in Taiwan, Hsiangs conceptions
in art are clear. She has determinedly built up her abilities from
the most basic foundations. This basic is not purely about her technical
skills and style but delves deeper into the intrinsic qualities of
art. These aspects that Hsiang has pursued are historical, philosophical,
societal, and aesthetic. Her mind is uninhibited and allows her to
have a unique grasp of the concepts of space and time. Unfettered
and pure, the sources of her artistic creativity are able to merge
and achieve a greater cooperation, are able to embody and express
her emotion. The production of art is a result of this feeling and
also of intellect, which is a manifestation of the artists presentation,
the emanation of her aura. Hsiangs work reveals this sort of
The language of her paintings seems to go beyond pure expression.
The principles of Eastern philosophies far exceed the artistic symbolism
she has learned in the West. Though her style may appear to be influenced
by Western art the way she blends colors, her arrangement of
strokes, even the instabilities and tension of light and dark
in it liveliness, the elegant, refined Eastern temperament in her
presentation of picturesque scenes is quite apparent. In the realm
of her imagination, her thoughts are able to move smoothly between
the past and the future, and the seeming ease of her painting to convey
this sense of expansiveness achieves her goal of illustrating the
expanse of time that houses her soul. More specifically, Hsiangs
concern is not merely with attaining equilibrium in her style but
with the space that is inherent in the idea of time, from whence emerges
the fundamental nature of art. So while she may not have adopted the
attitude that emerged from Chuang-Tzes vivid butterfly
dream, in which he turns into a butterfly and awakes wondering
if he is butterfly or man, she understands the interdependence of
the individual and her world in the broader scope of the universe.
Hence, in regarding the meaning and value of life, Hsiang hopes to
use the image of the brightly-colored butterfly to present the selflessness
and profundity of Nature. The phenomenon of joie de vivre has the
ability not only to enter and leave but to transcend this movement.
Some may think this is an indication of her disposition; however,
even in using the most mundane, the most common objects as themes
in painting, she exhibits her personal perspective.
Hsiang interprets a more symphonic vision of the butterfly, much like
the serene murmuring of Bach and the melodiousness of Beethoven. She
has also depicted the butterfly as a symbol of freedom and beauty.
With these ideas lingering about her mind, her butterfly embodies
an orchestral movement in life as well as its design. The individual
and her sur-roundings are one, tranquil and luminous.
This writer has no way of proving whether one hypothesis is true or
not. While Hsiang believes in art as a form of symbolism, does she
perhaps further possess an unconscious totem ideology?
Perhaps she is confessing her attitudes towards life and the extinguishing
of life. In contracting and unfurling she arrives at and gains the
joy of liberation, and not simply, in her words, Each life generous
and beautiful, aspirations bright and dazzling, which are solemn songs
composed of the good earth: splendid odes to joy. At dusk, let the
weary souls never lose faith. Indeed, her artwork emanates from
her very soul and is the release for her hearts motivations.
Therefore, when watching her paint, one recognizes that is not merely
methodical, nor does one see only the colors. There is a brilliance
in her frame of mind, a freedom of shape, a sparkling liveliness and
uplifting of spirit. In some of her art weighs the august steadiness
of a mountain range; in others the incredible momentum of galloping
horse move itself into the viewer. In the blank spaces is a vastness
that draws one in to create a psychological existence. There are two
elements in plastic arts: the paradox of the incompatibility and inter-twining
of action and inaction, in addition to the combination of color and
appearance, the fluctuations in feeling that follow a natural, innate
rhythm. There is a lyricism in the art that Hsiang creates that balances
the stabilities of a picturesque scene and the overwhelming emotion
Artists are naturally pure in their creative motives, for they pursue
neither fame nor profit, but an outlet for their emotions, and thus
through their work they exhibit a sense of expectation. There is an
old saying: The song of bei ye tree is unhindered, the heart
of the lotus is unstained. Keeping this thought in mind as one
regards Hsiangs work, one gains a renew sensitivity. One could
also say that her work possesses a lyricism which articulates the
tranquility of her soul. In the clamor and hubbub of reality, unshakable
confidence becomes the theme that the artist masters.
When one sees a large painting of Hsiangs, one sees limitless
hope. In distance, the past and the future, a connection is made by
the gradual influence of the aesthetic. Focusing on the music of life,
be it staccato or lente, will always unveil the underlying melody.
Hsiang reveals the true face of life, wielding her brush across her
painting with not only color but feeling. Although the philosophies
she exhibit are intangible, she uses modern techniques to ground her
meaning and make it clear. She possesses a confidence in the phenomenon
of twentieth-century art and a grasp of the time and space of this
When the painted butterfly takes its wings, it carries with it the
delicate balance of life. Shi--ling Chen Hsiangs contemporary
paintings complement ones mood, immersed as they are in the
endless value of life.
National Museum of Art and History in Taiwan Translation by