heading article1 the art of liao shiou ping

Dr. Choong Kam Kow

Professor Liao Shiou Ping, a master of modern printmaking and painting from Taiwan, employs various innovative processes, media and techniques througout his 60 years creative journey to project his notion on Chinese and Taiwanese traditional values and cultural essence. His experience in modern pursuit of art making is greatly enriched by international exposures to modern art during his stay both as an art student and a practising artist in Japan, France and America which has helped him to produced works reflecting contemporary visual thinking yet conveying native cultural contents. The clever and skillful treatment of his works with the employment of gold leaf has become his aesthetic hallmark which manesfests a kind of noble sence in his work. This idea was inspired by the gold colour on ornaments found in temples and palaces.

The fusion of Eastern and Western aesthetics can clearly seen in his works. He exploited such fusion of aesthetics to aptly transform the forms of household objects of daily life and the structural components of rural houses and temples into visual symbols for artistic expressions. These symbols are often in hardedge shapes with plain colour and flat surfaces carefully set within his rectangular, triangular, square or diamond compositions. The plain colour and neat geometric symbols are then selectively treated with texture and marks through which the surface quality of shapes and symbols are enhanced and enriched.

Since the 1960’s he has worked steadily in both desciplines of printmaking, painting and developed unique style of his own. He frequently exhibited his works worldwide at renowned museums and art galleries which created opportunities for his works, prints in particullar, to be purchased for both public and private collections. Liao’s early print was purchased by the Paris Museum of Modern Art in the 1960’s and subsiquently triggered the interest of art institutions and private collectors to focus more on acquiring his prints for collection.

However, the keen interest on his prints from collectors did not sway him from painting. This dual carriageway of creative path has been sustained over the years and is still on going. He developed distinctive personal techniques in both printmaking and painting which allowed him to criss cross one another in the application of techniques and process to project his creative concept in the most appropriate manner and results. The techniques, processes and creative ideas in printmaking are always incorporated into painting on canvas to obtain better result and generate greater possibilities and results in painting making and vice versa.

In 1968, through the introduction of Tay Mo-Leong and recommendation of Stanley Willam Hayter, Liao was invited to hold his first ever overseas solo exhibition at the Miami Museum of Modern Art, USA. Michel Tapie, a French art critic wrote in his article “My Contacts With Liao Shiou–Ping” the following lines in the exhibition catalogue entitled “Paintings and Etchings Exhibition by Liao Shiou-Ping”: “......he is very sensitive by the enormous richness of material which can be seen in his very latest engravings and paintings which introduced an order showing new liberation. He does not remain sterile and controls mastery of himself. One sees nothing else but artistic endevour and the appearance which the painters of today show toward the entire world which has for several years a metaphysics of the subject”. He also mentioned that on seeing Liao’s works would make him think of contempory masters such as Tapies of Spain, Donatie of the U.S.A., Flaubert of France and Yoshihara of Japan. Michel Tapie’s remark can be taken to indicate Liao would eventually rose to the same status as those he mentioned above. Based on the solo exhibitions he has held and art works collected by art museums to date, Liao has indeed enjoyed the same status as those masters mentioned by Tapie.

liao shiou ping 1 1968
(Fig. 1)
Exhibition Catalogue

Miami Musuem of Modern Art

It is remarkable that Liao has endevoured to produce works all along that explicitly manefested the oriental values and Chinese cultural essence as a reponse to the advice made by his mentor Professor Chastel of Paris Academy of Fine Arts during the 1960’s when he studied painting under him. “You are an Oriental fron China, you should have your own character and style”, advised Professor Chastel.

To date, beside over 200 group shows, Liao has held more than 80 solos in prestigious art museums and galleries throughout the world since 1964 including the Taiwan National Museum of History (2016), Kao Hsiung Museum of Fine Arts (2014), Chelsea Art Museum, New York City (2011), Taiwan National Museum of Fine Arts (2012), National Art Museum Of China, Beijing (2009), Hong Kong Arts Centre, China (2000), Shanghai Art Museum, China (1993), Museum of Modern Art, Taipei Fine Arts Museum (2000), Museum of Modern Art, Liege, Belgium (1992) and Miami Museum of Modern Art, Miami, Florida, U.S.A, just to mention a few.

His works are found in the collections of many well established museums as early as in the 1960’s such as the National Museum of Histroy, Taiwan, Metropolitan Museum of Art, N.Y., National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, British Museum, London, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Museo del Grabado, Buenos Aires, Argentina. National Taiwan Museum of Art, Taichung, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Kao Hsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Taiwan, National Art Museum Of China, Beijing, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Shanghai Museum of Art, Great Britain Museum of Art, Guangdong Museum of Art, Miami Museum of Modern Art, just to name a few. The collection of Liao’s works by these museums is in indeed a true reflection of international recognition of his world ststus as animportant artist of Asia.

liao shiou ping 2 1962
(Fig. 2)
Work A
Oil on canvas
118 x 90 cm

Liao was born in Taipei, Taiwan in 1936 to a family which supported his interest in pursuing artistic creation since his young age. As such, he would grasp every oportunity to learn and develop his creative potential and made efforts to master all the required skills necessary for the eventual option to study fine art. He was brought up in the typical Taiwanese surrounding of Wan Hua District of Taipei city where the residents enjoyed traditional simple life style and religious practice. He used to follow his mother to worship in the temple which not only helped to nurture his graceful personality and gentle temperament with positive thinking towards building a heathy mind but also constantly exposed to the age–old architectural elements of temple like the gates, doors, windows, ceilings and interior settings. He also admired and respected the door guards, idols and deities in the temple. Since young, he was impressed by the overwhelming bold colours of red, gold, black, green and blue colours usually found on the doors, walls, statues of deities and ornaments in the temple. Through the many works he had produced in the course of his creative developments, it is evident that he was very much infleuced by these elements and imageries of the temple guards, deities and its surrounding cultural traits during his younger day’s life in Wan Hua district.

While studying at the Da Tong High School, he took private tuition in the summers under the great oil painting master Prof. Lee Shih-Chiao who taught him and handed down to him all the drawing and painting skills necessary to develop the artistic potentials at the later stages of his art studies. After completing his high school education, he enrolled at the National Taiwan Normal University in 1955 to pursuit Fine Art studies under the tuterlege of, among other tutors and masters, Prof. Liao Chi-chun, Prof. Chen Huei-Kuun, Prof. Lin Yu-Shan, and Prof. Yuan Shu-Zheng, all were instrumental in building a strong art foundation for Liao. Liao graduated in 1959, and became an art teacher at the Danjiang College for a year. From 1962 to 1964, he was in Japan to further his graduate study at the University of Tsukuba, (formerly Tokyo University of Education) Tokyo specializing in oil painting. It was in Tokyo that Liao was for the first time exposed to a wide range of modern prints by great masters which drove him to take up the study of lithography during summer vacation which proven to be of tremendous influence to his eventual printmaking career development.

liao shiou ping 3 1963
(Fig. 3)

Oil on canvas
128 x 87 cm

In 1965, he ventured to France to enroll at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris to study under Professor Roger Chastel. At the same time, Liao entered Atelier 17 to learn printmaking under the renowned printmaker in Europe, Professor Stanley Wiliam Hayter. He worked hard there to learn and master all the etching, screen print and lithograph techniques and he took advantages of these techniques and skills to develop his own style by fusing the aesthetics of the East and West to produce works that strongly reflect the essence of Asian culture.

Armed with the multiple colour printing technique and skills learned from Hayter and knowledge of modern art in Europe, Liao moved to the United States 1968 to get wider exposure and seek greater opportunities for his artistic development in the modern art center of New York. Through the introduction of William Hayter, Liao was engaged as an assistant tutor at the Pratt Institute Manhattan’s Graphic Arts Center (print-making) in New York City, where he continued to expand his printmaking horizon with greater contemporary approaches based on his Asian cultural inheritance.

While in New York, he was very much exposed to and benefited from the international contemporary art styles and schools such as the Hard Edge Painting, POP Art, Op Art, Geometric Abstraction, Minimalism, Colour Field Painting, and etc. The free and open artistic approaches practiced by the contemporary artists there certainly had great impact on him which has opened up new insight for his eventual pursuit in his own creative direction. The influences were evident in the works produced there in terms of modern visual language, working processes and rational treatment of formal structure.

However, on the other hand, the strong contemporary art impact has somehow driven him to strengthen his believe that “contemporary art will become soulless and meaningless if it is lack of cultural root and identity”, and for him that is the Taiwanese culture and art heritage. From then onward, he never cease to experiment, explore, develop and innovate forms, and colours based on daily life objects, building structure of temples and rural folk houses for his art making. These innovated forms, and colours were then simplified, crystallized and transformed into symbols which played the core roles in manifesting the values and culture of his native land of Taiwan. While in New York, Liao has established himself as an important international artist by holding exhibitions in major art museums, art galleries and art centers as mentioned above. His paintings and prints were, and still are, well sought after by museums, galleries and private collectors for collections from all over the world.

He has also won many prestigious prizes such as the Silver Medal, Salon des Artistes François, Paris (1965), the Coupe Ville Bordeaux, 3e Biennale de Bordeaux, France (1968), the First Prize, 28th Annual Audubon Artist's Exhibition, New York (1970), the Honorable Mention, 7th International Print Biennial, Tokyo (1970), the Décordova Museum Purchase Prize, Boston Printmaker's Exhibition, Boston (1971), the First Graphic Award, Rochester Festival of Religious Arts, New York (1972), Purchase Prize, International Print Exhibition, San Paulo (1972), The Best Printmaker Award, Chinese Graphic Society, Taiwan (1976), the Grand Prize of 1st International Miniature Print Exhibition, Seoul (1980), the Silver Medal, Norwegian International Print Triennial, Norway (1993), the National Award for Arts, Taiwan (1998), the Honorary prize of the 5th Egyptian International Print Triennial Exhibition, Egypt (2006), The 29th National Cultural Award, Taiwan (2010), the Hon. Doctor Degree of Art awarded by NTN University, Taiwan (2018). It is indeed unable to mention all the awards he had won as the list is too long.

From 1973 to 1976, Liao was invited to teach at his alma mater the National Taiwan Normal University as well as the National Cultural University and the National Taiwan University of Arts. During this period in Taiwan he spearheaded and promoted vigorously the art of modern printmaking not only on university campuses but also throughout Taiwan. Within a short span of time he managed to train and produce many young printmakers who subsequently became important printmakers and core promoters for the development of modern printmaking in Taiwan. Liao has also advised and helped a group of young printmakerand artists to form the “Evergreen Graphic Art Association” which has eventually become an important contributing body in the development of Taiwan’s modern printmaking. Under the influence of Liao, the founding artists of the Association have all established themselves and are now the leading printmakers who have not only helped to promote the print making creativity and education in Taiwan but also are actively promoting the exchanges of printmaking activities with many countries through exhibitions and workshops.

In 1977, he was invited by his alma mater, University of Tsukuba to setup printmaking workshop and taught printmaking until 1979. Liao’s presence there has again inspired many students to become printmakers. After having completing his mission, Liao returned to New York in 1979 to practice and seek further creativity development and at the same time taught at the Seton Hall University to share his printmaking experience with American students. While in New York, Liao has never distant himself from his native land. He countuined with great efforts to up lift the standard and status of printmaking in Taiwan. He was instrumental in organizing the First and subsequent Taiwan International Print Biennales in 1983 and onwards by capitalizing on his position as a reputed printmaker and his worldwide connection with international renowned printmakers who have been always responded positively for participation and support. Due to his tremendous contribution, there is every reason to regard Liao as the Father of Modern Print Making in Taiwan.

After losing his wife in a tragic accident in 2002, Liao decided to return to Taiwan for good. The impact of the tragedy was great but did not frastrate him for too long. He was able to graduately regain his confidence and vatality in creatity by producing new series of significant works . He also continued to engage in teaching at the Taipei National University of the Arts, National Taiwan University of Arts, and National Taiwan Normal University to share his creative experiences with the younger generarion.

The creative development of Prof. Liao Shiou Ping may be briefly devided into the following series:

(a) The Explorative Pre-Symbolic Series
During these formative period from the late 1950’s to early 1960’s, oil paintings of human figures and landscapes in Fauvist style were produced. This series of works showed significant influences from his mentors Li Shih Jiao and and professor Liao Ji Chun at the National Taiwan Normal University in the 1950’s, as well as the influence of Fauvism. It is amazing to note that even before international exposure overseas, he has treated his works with shallow space which could be viewed as a strong tendency towards modern art pursuit in his eventual art carrer deveplopment.

liao shiou ping 4 1966
(Fig. 4)

Oin on canvas
130 x 89 cm

(b) The Temple Décor Series
During his long stay in Tokyo, Paris and New York, Liao inevitably became nostalgic of his home land. His childhood memories of the good old days in Wanhua, Taipei kept flooding back to him. Offering prayers in temple, watching festive parade on streets, admiring the solemn structure of temple, and adoring the majestic deities in temple all become the fond memories. In this Series Liao exploited a wide range of techniques, materials, media and processes such as oil, ink, etching and mixed media to portray and interpret meanings of the various symbols of décor, imageries, icons such as door guardians, double bliss characters, dragon, shapes of window and doors, and etc., commonly found in temples or places of worship throughout Taiwan and in particular, his childhood place Wanhua in Taipei. These works showed strong efforts of Liao in the attempt to highlight the characters of Taiwanese imageries, folk art forms, shapes and colours with modern interpretation, handling and approaches. As evident in these works, there was a strong tendency to develop imageries into symbols, and 3-D space were negated in favour of flat space.

liao shiou ping 5 1967
(Fig. 5)
Gate of Wisdom

Oil & gold leaf on canvas
148 x 327 cm

(c) The Symbol Life Series
Liao started this Series in 1960’s and still ongoing. It marks the most important development of Liao’s artistic career. In this Series, representational forms and shapes of daily utensils of ordinary people were translated into artistic symbols by employing techniques and styles of modern art. The symbols in this Series were inspired and developed from the prayer items such as paper money, joss paper, shoes, cloth, and etc. commonly used in festival, manorial and funeral rituals. His interest in the shapes, forms and bold colours of many house hold items found in common folk’s home such as scissors, umbrellas, brushes, and rattan baskets, the doors and windows of houses, as well as imageries of man, woman and etc. has inspired him to develop a wide range of visual symbols. These symbols appeared over and over in many of his canvases and in prints. The visual symbols manifested not only the cultural meanings but also the oriental aesthetics.

liao shiou ping 6 1972
(Fig. 6)

51 x 69 cm

He further employed in his artworks the gold and silver foil and red colors associated with Taiwan festive celebration, finished with clean and bold black lines or shapes in symmetrical compositions to provide a sense of calm, noble and stability. The idea is to emphasize the hidden endless traditional meaning and festive joys of Taiwan within the complex life of modern society. Repetition, alternation, symmetrical juxtaposition of forms, shapes, colours, symbols are commonly found in his works of this series and beyond this Series as well. The application of gold leaf and silver foil with brilliant solid red and black formed the hallmark of this series which is still on going.

(d) The Season Series
Liao's creative career has spanned across many decades and regions from Taiwan, Japan, France to USA through which he inevitably has encountered many different cultural practices and social activities and seasonal changes. Developing social contacts and building friendship remained an important task in his life. Over the years, Liao has made friends at different levels in various societies he lives in where social gathering form part of life. In this Series, Liao employed “gold, red, black and silver” colours to represent spring, summer, autumn and winter as well as telling sorrow and joy, the up and down of life. The works reflect the mood and subjects of conversation, discussion and exchanging ideas during friendly gatherings, whether it was a casual chit chat, social occasion or toasting with bottom up ecstasy and even to the extent of poetry recital and singing during his stay abroad, in Japan, in particular. During his stay in Japan, graceful tea set of pots and cups, fruits, flowers, leaves, cakes and etc. were commonly appeared during tea or drinking sessions which were transformed into beautiful and joyful images in this Series of pleasant and poetic print compositions which he masterly employed with a variety of innovative technique and handlings.

liao shiou ping 7 1997
(Fig. 7)
Four Season

Oil & gold leaf on canvas
152 x 203 cm

(e) The Manikin Series
The manikins in this Series are seen in dancing, conversing and working which give a sense of positivity in life. The wooden box appeared in the compositions symbolized a safe harbor which protects the safety and order of the environment where we domicile, just like a home or a society with perpetual tradition. Under its protection, everyone can live and act freely to pursue and enjoy happiness afforded by the mechanical civilization. The visual focus is centered on the exploitation and treatment of rainbow gradient colours, which gives vividness to the works. It is also a tribute of positivity and vibrance to the manikins.

liao shiou ping 8 1986
(Fig. 8)
Manikin #86-2

45 x 63 cm

(f) The Silent Image Series
At around the year 2000, Liao discovered a new technique by using hammers to create milliard nail indentations of varying intensity on wood planks for his relief prints. He rolled or rubbed ink onto the wood planks containing indentations to produce powerful images of knot patterns which created an unusual unique characteristic in block prints never seen before. The powerful images of rope knots set against the solid black square or rectangular background with strong image of ropes tied around the frame like shackles in the prints created powerful visual images . It appeared to be speechless silient but there indeed hides a kind of profound metaphor. These unsual self developed techniques and texture quality have also been translated onto canvas to create oil paintings containing powerful rod images with impact, tension and unique visual quality.

According to Liao, this series of black and white creations is intended to symbolize a form of protest against the indolent and idle younger generation. At the same time, it is also meant to carry an introspective message as silent yet strong critiques on the corrupted attitude of contemporary society. The combination of soft organic rope images and rigid geometric black shapes of frames on the other hand was intended to symbolize the balance of confrontation and reconciliation of orderly and temperamental aspects of life and also as a means to rectify the demoralizing greed of contemporary society.

liao shiou ping 9 2000
(Fig. 9)
Silent Image

Oil on canvas
163 x 203 cm

(g) The Dream Series
Liao’s creative journey turned to a standstill following his interdependent lifelong partner’s passed away from a bird watching accident in the spring of 2002. After the shocking tragedy, the scene of countless struggling hands stretching out for help from the cliff edge had since haunted him in dreams. The impact of frequently appeared nightmares almost paralyzed his creativity for nearly two years. However, it must be these frequent nightmares that drove him to extend his long stand on visual conviction in employing rational geometric concept in paintings and prints into a more depressed somber expression in a new series of works.

He extended and diversified his art making to include 2-D inprint, tiled collage, papier-mâché 3-D shapes, collage with ritual joss papers mixed media, 3-D constructions and installations. For example, withered dark brown hands were seen struggling helplessly from the yellow cliff appeared to be calling for help as in the work titled “Prayer I”, 2004. In another example, a dozen odd of these gloomy withered trembling hands were fixed onto a set of wooden stools displayed on the floor without space confinement. It appeared to be served as a sacret ritual setting for the soul of the deceased to rest in peace as in “Pray”, 2008. This series of works has thoroughly manifected the sentiment and sensibility of the artist

liao shiou ping 10 2004
(Fig. 10)

Mixed media
76 x 56 cm

However, this change of direction detour in his creative journey did not linger too long. He soon returned to his usual approaches with rationality in art making. He continued to stay on the main path of creative ideology to develop further his Symbol Life Series by producing hallmark works with greater vigour and visual impact, e.g. “Gate of New Hope III”, 2008, 162cm x 552cm, “Gate of Wealth IV”, 2014, 122cm x 366cm and “Gate of Fortune, Prosperity & Longevity”, 2016, 106cm x 274.5cm are typical examples with masterly characteristic profound treatment on colour and shapes to express his inner emotion and sorrow.

liao shiou ping 11 2007
(Fig. 11)
Fromt The Dream Series

Mixed media
Size: Not known

The works in this exhibition consists of paintings and prints are mainly selected from Liao’s Symbol Life Series but also included works from other Series produced since the 1950’s. Most of his paintings and some prints are in configurations of two, three, four or five rectangular or square panel sets, and sometimes in diamond shapes. The juxtaposed huge bright colour panels consist of varous symbols and shapes in symetrical, some time assymetrical, in left and right or up and down alternate placement often raise curiosities in the mind of ordinary viewers and drive them to make repeating viewing in order to get a better visual satisfaction or to make detail scrutinization and examination for deeper understanding of his work by the more serious viewers.

The panels formed the background in each work are often in briliant red, bright yellow, gold and black colours. Symbols in concise simple shapes of flat colours are often in contrast with their various colour backgrounds which inevitably produced strong visual impacts. Viewers are always drawn for a more thorough viewing to find out and appreciate the relationship of forms and contents, or order and meanings. This is the pulling power of Liao’s creations which opens a door to induce induces the viewers to ponder and discover the deeper meanings of cultural essence behind the rationl visual order.

liao shiou ping 12 2014
(Fig. 12)
Gate of Wealth IV

Acrylic & gold leaf on canvas
122 x 366 cm

“The application and exploitation of repitition and alternation of visual symbols and forms, frontal placement with verticle symmetry juxtaposition, alternate repetition, red and black colour contrast is not just to create visual diversity and vitality in the otherwise monotonous flat and rational geometric compositions, it is, in the deeper sence, meant for my interpretation and manifestation of cultural meanings and characteristics of forms and shapes related to traditional buildings, temple and daily used objects of the rural folks”, according to Liao during an interview with me.

Prof. Liao’s solo exhibition at the National Art Gallery is the first of its kind of a contemporary master of prints and paintings from Taiwan which will certainly provide new creative insight and innovative inspiration for professional artists, art college students and the general public of Malaysia.

And through the conduct of the supporting printmaking workshop, Prof. Liao, also known as the father of modern printmaking in Taiwan will share his expertise in printmaking know-how and innovative approaches in handling various materials and processes with the Malaysian participants and offer guidance to them to discover endless possibilities in printmaking.

To sum up Liao’s life long creative contributions, may I quote, the Director of Taiwan National Museum of History, Prof. Liao Xitian’s remark: “On art creativity, he used the modern approaches to re-interpret and transform his native culture so as to find a balancing point between native land and the world, hence created his own distinctive art style. While enjoying the international recognition, he works can also be regarded as the true presentation of the totality of Taiwanese art”. (Liao Xintian: Home Art Museum ‘Symbol • Cross Domain • Liao Shiou-Ping’. Published by National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts 2016.

(From The Art of Liao Shiou-Ping: Cross Region • Diverse Approaches, published by National Art Gallery Malaysia, 2019 )
Choong Kam Kow(锺金钩)
2016 Hon. Doctor of Art, The Robert Gordon University, UK,
1968 MFA, Pratt Institute, N.Y., U.S.A.,
1961 National Taiwan Normal University, Taiwan

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drchoong kam kow
Dr. Choong Kam Kow is a well known
senior contemporary artist,
a leading art & design educationist and
an independent curator in Malaysia