Covering and Uncovering: Time and Space in the Art of Chi Chia-Hwa

Wang Pin-Hwa

"Any patient reader will, without great difficulty, come to realize that there is conscious structure hidden within my works. Finally, I would like to say that I believe we are rapidly approaching an era of rational and conscious structure. When we reach it artists will proudly declare their works complete". - Wassily Kandinsky "Concerning the Spiritual in Art" (footnote 1)

At the beginning of the 20th century, the "father" of abstract painting, Wassily Kandinsky, faced the challenge of an artistic legacy that portrayed reality and represented nature as the sole object of art. Through his probing of non-representational artistic language, art was able to conduct an exchange with its audience through simple lines, colors and shapes. In this way, the artist was able to present a subtle representation of a complex world through forceful control of form, directly conveying an "inner voice" speaking to the heart and mind of an audience. Today, almost one hundred years later and in the face of huge changes in the modern world, the pure form used by abstract artists still remains an artistic language the public finds hard to accept in capitalist societies. Nevertheless, in the direct but disassociated, complex but subtle world of abstract language to which abstract art belongs, it reveals the inner reality of the modern world through symbolism. Its influence knows no bounds its allusions completely revealed in a single abstract painting.

The abstract paintings of Chi Chia-Hwa contain a multiplicity of overlapping time and space. The vacillations and ruptures of modern life, time and space without landmarks, the emotional memory of individual life, all squeezed into the artist's paintings.

It is easy for an audience viewing the geometric short lines, brush strokes and tranquil space of Chi Chia-Hwa's paintings to take them as the main language and style of the work he is currently producing. However, this is only the beginning point in a journey of understanding, the "first world" the artist guides his audience into. His 1998 solo exhibition "Memory of a Winter", made up as it was of his major works in the period 1996-1998, serves as a beginning to this "first world" and the infinite universe that lies behind it.

In this exhibition Chi Chia-Hwa's youthful elegance and talent seems quiet and subdued. We have no way of knowing why this is. The 1996 piece, "Memory of a Winter", has a light yellow tone, its clear and delicate brush strokes convey a space that is warm yet empty. On one occasion it is shallow, on another there appear hard-edged geometric squares, whilst there seems to be a stamp to the left of the space. Together with the light yellow background, some of the slight yet hard postures create a time and space that is uncertain and flowing. This then turns into an unclear, tranquil antagonistic relationship, seemingly defining indeterminate time and space. The artistic language used by Chi in this period begins with this sort of "covering".

Small squares cover a whole world in the 1996 piece "Space", followed the same year by "The Vortex" and "Untitled". Both use different shades of white, placed indiscriminately in the picture as if spinning round. Indeed, the geometric nature of the upper level and the ordered short lines, cover the multiple space of the background. The artist seems to be saying to his audience leave uncertainty and complexity to the background world.

However, in 1996 there was still the rich and exciting piece "Fire and Ice". In the multi-layered red thick background, the white presents the contrast of geometric short lines. The tension between these displays a solemn force so that the whole work reveals the magnificence of unspeakable pain. Perhaps it comes from the redness that resembles internal organs. After the "repeated harmony and parallelism" of aesthetic form, the most extreme and modern abstract language expresses a sentiment that approaches religion.

The artist's works in this period are almost all covered with warm, simple, geometric small lines. The great whiteness of his works in 1996 and 1997 certainly brought to mind the sort of feelings one has on encountering winter frost - "a place so out of the way as to be bereft of life" (footnote 2). Following on from this, the moistness of the rain in the 1997 piece "Neverending Rain" clearly flows into the music of the 1998 piece "Dancing with Music" . Flying squares fill the air, dancing in the rhythm of the water.

In his 1998 solo exhibition Chi Chia-Hwa displayed a simpler rhythmic style, begging the question why an artist who received modern schooling in the west and lived overseas for a dozen years or so would make such a change?

Determining the world through action- abstract consciousness in art
Seeds that strive towards the abstract and non material exist in practically all concrete expression of form. They consciously or unconsciously obey the idea of Socrates - know yourself" (footnote 3).

The artist's education in art and architecture was been evident in the rich appearance of his creative work from the very beginning. He began his journey experimenting with drawing and flowing lines. These grew into character drawing, still life sketches and the use of flowing line language. Sometimes the pictures were divided in two by a central line, conducting a dialogue through the hot and cold texture of his oil paintings. In the experimentation of his earlier work, the audience witnessed Chi Chia-Hwa building a foundation for his work with lines, color, brush strokes and space. At the same time, it was also self evident that Chi was conducting what amounted to a survey or examination of the possibilities of painting on the basis of rational cognizance.

Clearly there are major differences in Chi Chia-Hwa's works before 1996 and those from 1996 to his solo exhibition in 1998. The former overflow with a youthful playfulness and chaos. In 1996 his work suddenly cooled down, replaced with more placid, sober pictures. The size of the difference between these two periods seems to indicate a "shock" of some kind. Did the artist to some extent adopt a new attitude, begin to look at things differently and thereby change his painting style ? On the one hand, an attempt to simplify and purify the painting language employed is evident in his choice of geometric brush strokes, whilst on the other he directs every element of his painting towards a calmer more serene inner self. Perhaps this covering language and frosty emotion comes from within the artist and is part of a dialogue with life itself, a depiction of the shock that results when insignificant subjectivity is willing to face the threat of a more powerful foe.

Perhaps the reason Chi Chia-Hwa's oil paintings have been stylistically minimalist since 1996 is that he has begun to view painting from a more disassociated perspective, and to face life more directly. Chi has introduced much western abstract and simplified modern language into his work, whilst approximating the clear poetic context and rhythm of Tang poetry . The former can be seen in the rational way Chi Chia-Hwa approaches his art, the second unavoidably comes from the way he deals with real experiences. Chi left home to go live in a completely different culture when he was still young. The experience of rupture and differentiation gained from living in a different culture created a sequence of life time and space that completely broke from normal restrictions. This struggle allowed Chi Chia-Hwa, through his rational approach, to unconsciously and ingeniously integrate the originally separate disparate elements within himself.

The key to important elements in abstract art is their ability to directly reveal. Although Chi Chia-Hwa's painting language has been somewhat restricted or filtered by the artist's reason, between the emotional brushstrokes and atmosphere the audience still senses his respect for life and expectation of mystery - life should have its own unique meaning, even if that is shown to be brutal. It is sometimes the fate of artists to use their powers of perception as a channel for portraying the shared condition of man. Applying various "meaningful" basic elements the artist depicts complex and deep feelings, as the overall appearance of the painting incorporates the passing of time and space and imagination. Like music abstract painting speaks directly to us through emotions awareness. The audience experiences it on an emotional level, though it may not understand the reality of the work's narrative.

In his work, as the result of "covering", there is always "revelation".

The works Chi continued to produce after his 1998 solo exhibition continued to revolve around the painting language of small geometric lines. However, the dialogue between the layers of these short lines and the background world became richer, and more diverse, almost more intense. For example here was a great increase in the number of scrape marks in the "first world" of some of the works, revealing the world within. ("Simplicity/Complexity", 1998, "Time Recaptured", 1999). Some works showed an increase in the number of color elements used ("Jungle City", "Puzzled", 1999). In still other pieces square lines replaced the earlier short lines, creating in the works the visual effect of displacement ("Insistence", 1999). Alternatively, different meanings were accorded the white cover.

Generally speaking Chi Chia-Hwa's work in 1998, 1999 and 2000, though based on the same creative pulse showed signs of experimental diversity. Subjects and content became more complex and their relationship with the real world became more random and variable. The wrinkling effect or covering brushstrokes increased and the relationship between layers became more complex. As a result it is easy for the audience to see how in these three years the artist approach to painting and the subjects addressed gradually shifted from a disassociated world to a condition corresponding to that of the real world.

In a post traditional order the challenge and layered complexity of contemporary culture in our hearts and minds in real situations is much greater than in traditional society. At the very beginnings of modern society, Kandinsky observed: "If the individual doe not struggle tirelessly, he or she collapses spiritually and morally. In this problematic condition human talent (in the biblical sense) becomes the root of trouble - It is in this difficult reality that art searches for content" (footnote 4).

Sometimes the power to transcend reason borrows the disassociated view, occasionally it learns from dialogue up close, but understanding only comes gradually.

If an artist raises questions in his work, the art always responds honestly to him. On the surface Chi Chia-Hwa's work "Slippery Slope" (1999) shows white covering red, but the gray scale white is still unable to hide the other spectrum of cold colors under the red. This area of subtlety means that between the gray scale red and white of the painting there remains a rich sense of layers, visual distortion and uncertainty. In fact, the red covered by the white also offers of motion as part of that visual distortion. This gives the short lines pointing in the same direction a sense of flowing rich with rhythm. His multi-layered red adopts an unclear posture in displaying the irrepressible flow of life. The tension that shows through the cover is unnamed yet carefree and content.

A larger piece from the same year, "Passing By", once again strengthens the artist's aforementioned use of language. He uses horizontal lines that cut straight across the painting, as if rapidly sweeping across the painting. The white cover creates layers of gray/blue and red. When looking at the painting the audience is led into uncertainty and unofficial allusions to time by the "violence" of the surface white. It is as if an unwelcome rainstorm fills the space before one's eyes, though the treatment of the picture is neither anger of conflict, but a sense of grief and distress at the fading away of time. The flow of the picture and emotions of the water also appear in some of the artists other work, though in different forms. As a result more than half his works from this period a transparent quality that very few oil paintings do. In turn the application of many methods of transparency often creates for his work a time and space that is independent and unreal.

The work "Great Expectation" takes as its background the changes in tone of green. The foreground is full of red cross shapes made from hard brushstrokes, but because the artist ingeniously controls the mix of color, once again the audience face a visual distortion that gives the sense of a geometric picture in motion. The upper part of the painting, an unknown place somewhere in the distance is like a vortex, with the red crosses seemingly flying towards it. The mechanical geometric form of elements can also be surprisingly transformed into a painting with a sense of life. The nature of this sort of language is amazing, though it the apparently rough and hard brushstrokes allude to the restriction of an unspeakable inner emotion and sense of humor.

On the other hand, the piece "Fly Away" highlights another way of leaving. In this work we see short red lines, freely arranged and a picture full of scrapes, between which is revealed an inner layer of altogether more complex colors. Whether it is the bottom to top sense of movement of the red or it is the craziness of the scrapes themselves, they both give the work a strong sense of freedom. Indeed the free brushstrokes already form a strong tension of weeds in open country, whilst simultaneously bordering on the emotional experience of the artist's earlier work. The language experimentation that Chi Chia-Hwa toyed with in this period after much searching turns full circle returning to a point of self integration.

The geometric language of the works in this period has been organized and expanded of its own accord. The artist has searched for and experimented in an attempt to understand better the relationship between himself and these linear depictions. The audience can see that some of these built up paintings come from an inner emotional world as testified to by reason, some stem from segments from the real world. Others still conduct dialogue with the cosmos and spiritual creation. Those viewing the painting should be surprised that abstract art can be so true in re-producing the reality and voices of the artist's own inner world.

From second hand data and an interview with the artist it is clear that Chi Chia-Hwa's decision to become an artist was strongly influenced by his father who was both an art lover and collector. During his childhood artists often visited the family home and as a result he came into contact with a wide range of art from very young; Chinese, Taiwanese and a variety of modernist paintings. This effectively created a cultural space full of artistic emotion. This combination of memory and imagination is just visible in the photographs Chi took on a trip to Mainland China. Chi chose a small frame size of (7.62 x 10.16 cm) for that series of black and white photographs, but allowed the line of vision to follow his heart, cutting to the distant bright and clear distance, in classical Chinese scenery. Chi Chia-Hwa suggests that China has changed, but in fact it is not so much the place that has changed as artistic thought is much less constrained than it was. By a small picture format for the photographs they become as parts of a private collection, and as such this way of thinking strengthens the sense of distance in time and space and the focus of memory.

In 1996 another series of works were also shown in an extension of this private collection format. Chi used disorganized, cutting, lines to begin with, releasing an unconscious tension in the lines but also gradually approximating to an eastern relationship between line and color, developing a space of flowing lines and ribbed layers. At the same time, the parts of the painting left blank allowed this approach to construct a painting world full of atmosphere and light. This work Chi Chia-Hwa also restricted in size (10.16 x 12.7cm). The artist had painted more than one thousand pieces in one year. I have seen only 50 of the smaller and more exquisite works. This series of works are finished in a colored ink and pencil texture. Whether in terms of the calligraphic nature of the lines, or the rhythm of the ink color, or the freehand brushwork atmosphere all are different from the style employed in the artist's earlier work, seemingly responding to an eastern lightness and vigor.

If we compare this series of pieces with oil painting work then we can see that Chi Chia-Hwa is extremely careful with his own excessively complete visual language. He always seeks to establish position by describing the immediate and the uncertain. The artist has himself said that the whole point of painting is to discover a completely new world in painting. If action determines the world then perhaps it is a valuable way of finding one's feet in the boundlessness of modern culture.

  1. From Wassily Kandinsky "Corcerning the Spiritual in Art" , translated by Lu Peng, Tan Ching Publishing Co., Ltd.
  2. From the Tarng Poet Liao Tsung-yuan (773-819) "Snow on the River" The full stanza reads: "Wrapped in winter clothes, sat in a boat fishing, in a place so out of the way as to be bereft of life, the cold winter snow falls on the river"
  3. op cit note 1
  4. op cit note 1



覆蓋以及顯露 - 紀嘉華藝術的時空通道

文 / 王品驊

實際上,我的作品裡潛藏著有意識的結構,耐心的讀者將無困難的理解到。最後我要說,在我看來,我們正迅速接近有理性和有意識的構圖的時代,到了那時,畫家將自豪的宣稱他的作品是構成的。 —「論藝術裡的精神」,﹝俄﹞康丁斯基 (註1)

20世紀初抽象畫之父康丁斯基(Wassily Kandinsky)所面對的挑戰,是來自於以描寫現實、再現自然為唯一藝術目的的藝術承襲。經由他深刻的對於非具象藝術語言的探討,藝術得以透過單純的線條、色彩、形式本身即能與人交流,直接經由藝術家強有力的形式掌握,而完成一種對於複雜世界的微妙表現,傳達一種通透人心的「內在聲響」。今日,近乎一個世紀,抽象繪畫在面對當代世界的鉅變中,藝術家所運用的純粹形式,雖然尚未成為資本社會中的大眾所易於接受的藝術語言,然而在抽象藝術所承載的直接而抽離、複雜而微妙的抽象性語言世界中,它開啟了整個當代世界以象徵性語言「再現」內在真實的局面,其影響卻是無遠弗屆,其端倪仍舊在一幅抽象繪畫中能夠完全彰顯。






藝術家在這個階段的作品,幾乎都是以溫和的、簡約的幾何短線所覆蓋,由於1996、1997作品的大量白色,確實呼應著霜冬般的情緒─千山鳥飛絕,萬徑人縱滅 (註2)。接著1997年「下著不停的雨」,雨水潤濕、流動了1998年的作品,鮮明的帶來了「隨著音樂起舞」的音樂性。翻飛的方格,在充滿空氣、水分的律動中飛舞。


「向抽象和非物質努力的種子,幾乎存在於每一種具體表現的形式裡。它們有意或無意地在服從蘇格拉底的思想-了解你自己。」 (註3)








後傳統秩序下的當代文化,在現實情境中對於人類心靈的挑戰,層次複雜得遠大於傳統社會,邁入現代社會之初,康丁斯基即已說「如果一個人不與下沉做不疲倦的奮爭,那麼他在精神上和道德上便會垮下去。在這種困難的境遇裡,人的才能(也是聖經意義上的)就成了一個禍根──藝術在艱難的現實裡尋求內容…。」 (註4)







從資料和訪談中得知,嘉華走上藝術之路,有著喜愛且收藏藝術的父親影響薰陶的背景。少年時家中常有藝術人士造訪、各種作品的欣賞品評,中國、台灣各種近現代書畫創作的接觸,積澱出一個富有情性的文化空間。這種融合記憶和想像的文化素養,藉著嘉華在大陸旅行時所進行的攝影之作,略有所見;那一系列的黑白攝影,他採取小畫面的框取限制 (7.62 x 11.43 cm),卻讓視線隨著手中方寸天地,穿梭到遙遠的風格明淨、悠遠通透的大陸古典景物的情境之中。此境已非,嘉華說現在的大陸風土已變遷,其實不是物遷境移,而是藝術的遊思從無繫絆,總可以在不斷的創造中恍然若現。這個靈思,因為嘉華以仿若私藏物的小畫面形式,加強了時空的去遠和記憶凝視之感。

1996另有系列作品,也是私藏物件般的形式延展。他以紊亂、穿梭、流瀉式的線條起始,一方面釋放無意識般奔放線條的張力,一方面漸漸以較近於東方性線條與色面關係的脈絡,發展出流動線條與多層次皴染的空間,畫面中留白的間隙,使得這種語言建構出一種飽含空氣、透光的畫面世界,這樣的作品,嘉華還曾經自設以小幅畫面的限制 (12.7 x 10.16 cm),在一年間畫了千餘幅,筆者所見的部分,僅其中五十件小而精采的傑作。這系列作品,以彩墨、鉛筆的材質進行,無論在線條的書寫性語體、或墨色韻染、或寫意性氛圍的構造上,都與先前油畫作品發展的語體脈絡不同,反而應和著一種東方性的明亮活潑。


註1 出自「論藝術裡的精神」, ﹝俄﹞康丁斯基(Wassily Kandinsky)著, 呂澎譯, 丹青圖書有限公司
註2 出自唐朝詩人柳宗元(773-819)詩作「江雪」,全詩為「千山鳥飛絕,萬徑人蹤滅。孤舟蓑笠翁,獨釣寒江雪。」
註3 同註1
註4 同註1