Poetic Journey: A Reading of Jason Chi's Recent Works
Lin, Chuan-Chu

When Jason Chi first returned to Taiwan from the U.S., I went to two of his solo exhibitions at Eslite Gallery and was deeply impressed by his works. Just like most outstanding artists, Chi did not spend much time commenting on his own works. In general, we never had any in-depth discussion on the subject of creative work. I finally had the opportunity to step into his studio fifteen years later, to witness his creative process, finished and unfinished works, while listening to him talking about the origination of his creative work, artists he admires, and the relation of his travels and life experiences to his creative work. However, as an abstract painting does not require interpretation in counterpoint, nor does it need to be confined within a particular subject or rigidly adhere to an ornate style, between Chi's paintings and his discourse on creative work, there is a sense of freedom, which enables the viewer to reorganize their perception, make associative connections and integrate them into a unique reflection upon the works according to their own aesthetic experiences, cultural background and sensibilities. This type of freedom in annotation and interpretation is the true essence of arts. Without question, through this path of understanding, one will pass through the dense fog and see the light, the glistening lake and the dual images of reflection and reality, and one will eventually transcend revelation and thinking-this is a journey of discovery and poeticality.

The aesthetic of an abstract painting is inexpressible and the process of its creation inconceivable. However, almost everyone knows and recognize that appreciating an abstract painting is just like reading a poem or listening to a piece of music; or to use the art of Chinese calligraphy-the appreciation of which is closer to our topic here-as an example, appreciating an abstract painting is similar to viewing a piece of cursive script, whose written characters are either difficult or unnecessary to identify. At first, we read the content of the text, understand the topic, admire the technics, inspect the writing style and structure, then we savor the thickness, length, wetness, shades, speed, movements and turnings, upward strokes and pauses, smudges and flying white effects, and finally, we enter the relationship and space constructed out of the above mentioned aesthetic conditions: we first enter the space of form itself, but the most wondrous aesthetic experience lies in that when the viewer enters the space of form, he also enters the spiritual space composed of the work's sentiments, ambience and grace; in this space, the form is the content itself (every brush, every stroke and each color represents the subject), the content is the form (the meaning of each subject is transformed into tangible strokes, colors, forms and symbols on paper); within this space, the artist reaches a high level of congruence with his art work: the artist is the art work itself, the artist's feelings, emotions, energy, awareness and intellect are the feelings, emotions, energy, awareness and intellect conveyed in the art work, and we can say that each work is namely a sculpture of the artist, inadvertently made solid within the seemingly endless linear time.

There is this ancient Chinese saying: "Peach and plum are silent, yet a trail is formed underneath the trees." I like the message conveyed in this allusion: silently, footsteps form a trail under the peach and plum trees. The message is beautiful, reserved and poetic, it describes that there are people that come to pick the fruits of peach and plum, but they are not seen. In it there exists a fact, there is a phenomenon happening and some kind of truth being sensed, but no word is written about them nor testimony given. Thinking back, the messages I received from Chi's works throughout the years and their sustaining power are exactly so. Some abstract painters are obsessed with texture, causing the production and material aspects to overwhelm the spiritual aspect of their work; some are obsessed with concepts and in turn have repressed their expressiveness and receptivity; and some others are obsessed with rationality, and the poetic quality is sacrificed in the creative process; on the other hand, Chi belongs to a different category, his abstract paintings possess almost all of the above merits, yet never once has Chi fallen into the pitfalls of constructing the material texture and padding out his work with concepts. His works are moderatistic and rich-his handiwork and brushwork transform thoughts and experiences into a force in perception and a presentation of the artist's character and mastery, which is the same as the spiritual aspect of pen and ink that I have perceived from the most classic works in Chinese paintings.

Heaven and earth move back and forth, the shining calm of rivers and the sea.1 A poem, a musical composition, a piece of calligraphy, a flash of epiphany, a near-nirvana clarity without thoughts and sentiments. A split second that is not the past nor the future, even a fraction of which is difficult to preserve in the present. It exists universally in our collective aesthetic experience but is often excluded from our daily life reality. It contains universality and commonality, yet like a personal secret, it is challenging to decipher and then promises the pleasure of cracking the code. However, without a question, this shared experience in aesthetics has accompanied humanity through the history of abstract art that has only been one-century-old. To both the artist and the viewer, it is a new adventure, initiative and wonder, yet it also reaffirms the most primitive, innovative, incorporeal and meditative abstract force that is within all of us.

Chi's keywords: texture, spirituality, light, sense of time, positive energy, sense of speed, music and dance, balance, perfection, absolute, internal, open.

Chi says: "An artist should create works as a gesture of salute to the masters at least once during his lifetime." I absolutely agree. Mark Rothko, one of Chi's favorite artists, once said: "A painting is not about an experience. It is an experience.2 He also said: "I'm not interested in the relationship of color or form or anything else. I'm interested only in expressing basic human emotions."3 And: "Intuition is the height of rationality. Not opposed. Intuition is the opposite of formation. Of dead knowledge."4 I also absolutely agree.

If you ask Chi how to start creating an abstract painting, he would reply: "Begin with 'being open.'" Everything from life experiences, scenes from memory, thought provoking objects, to his recent trip to Antarctica can become the artist's sketch or "form of origination," it is, nonetheless, nothing but a "form of origination." Opening up the curtain of this starting point, what unfolds before us is a boundless landscape as well as an infinite universe; it is rich in curved and straight lines, it contains horizontal and vertical energies, passionate brushworks and moments of a calm gaze, in it there are unlimited colors available, but at the same time it is also an empty and traceless disposition. You need a completely open mind to take it in. I think this is the most advanced and challenging level of creative work, but also the most sacred; here, the gradual progress in practice turns into a moment of enlightenment, the trivial is stripped off from the crucial, just so that one can discover his most intrinsic self and initial thought. Within this realm, the artist's state of mind is sensitive and fragile like the tip of a new sprout, and at the same time he also resembles a sovereign that is in command of all living things. Who, then, decided to go against common sense and paint the impression of the light as a stream of yellow light on a vertical axis? Who sentimentally left traces of mineral green on top of the simple ground color, on both sides of the stream of light? The breathing-like, rhythmic traces-are they a display of the sovereign's absolute power in observation, thought, determination and execution, or are they rather a natural, selfless and empathic instant in the new sprout's developing process?

Openness is beautiful. There is no the-only-answer in openness. Openness is not chaos. Openness is a philosophical proposition. Openness is an essence that allows life to appear in its true form. Openness is "it was always there, ever before I realized."5

Despite his calm, rational and disciplined appearance, Chi's works are filled with impromptu and quick-wittedness. The semi-representationalistic figures of flowers, leaves, knots and oxalis that are abundant in his 2005 solo exhibition "95014" have vanished, the unconstrained writings on paper no longer appear in his works during recent years, but the forms and brushworks in paintings such as "Jazz Line" and "Soul / Rhythm" still reveal his ardent love for body movement, music and living. During our conversation, when I suddenly became aware that Chi has always been a highly skilled salsa dancer, and he also has been a DJ at salsa parties, I went back to review a series of paintings under the title of "A Moment of Tranquility," and came this shocking realization: the scraped scarlet, emerald green and the distinctively layered texture are both the joyful scenes of cheerful crowd and lively music, as well as the true savor extracted from life experiences. In the center of each of these paintings, there is a line that does not seem to belong in there yet at the same time seems like a self-portrait. This line is the overtones hidden beneath the subject, it appears diverse and colorful in the image of tranquility and inactivity, particularly calm in the bustling and ebullient atmosphere, and extraordinarily allowing within the metaphors of pain and struggles. These paintings remind me of my experience years ago listening to a Spanish artist singing flamenco in Beijing. I was deeply moved by the power of the artistry, and it dawned on me that the essence of these songs lies not in the passion and boldness but in the vicissitude; its greatness lies not in the presentation of a blossoming flower, but the artist's incessant pursuit of beauty after having witnessed, time and again, the flower being in bud, its blossoming and the eventual fading.


  1. Verses written in 767 AD by poet Du Fu, the original of which are "Heaven and earth moved back and forth, following her motions…And ended like the shining calm of rivers and the sea…," describing his emotions stirred by watching Lady Gongsun's pupil performing sword dancing, the beautiful visual experience and other mental associations. The preface of the poem also mentions Zhang Xu (658-747), the most well-known calligrapher of wild cursive script in Tang Dynasty, and the enlightenment he reached in his early years through watching Lady Gongsun performing sword dancing.
  2. Dorothy Seiberling, "Mark Rothko", LIFE magazine, November 16, 1959, 52
  3. Selden Rodman, Conversations with Artists, (New York : Devin-Adair Co, 1957), 93
  4. James E. B. Breslin, Mark Rothko: A Biography, (University Of Chicago Press, 1993), 330
  5. See Tang Xianzu's (1550-1616) Preface of Peony Pavilion.




文 / 林銓居






紀嘉華最喜愛的藝術家之一,馬克.羅斯珂說:「作品是經驗本身的一部分,而不是思考經驗的反映。」註二 他又說:「我不對顏色、形狀或其他元素之間的關係感興趣,我只有興趣表現人類基本的情感。」(註三) 他又說:「直覺是理性的最高表現。直覺是已死的知識之反面。」(註四) 我也完全贊同。





註1 詩人杜甫於西元767年寫成的詩句,原句為「……天地為之久低昂,……罷如江海凝清光」,描寫他觀賞公孫大娘的弟子舞劍的感觸與美好的視覺經驗及其聯想。詩中的序文同時提到唐代最著名的狂草書法家張旭(658~747)早年觀看公孫大娘舞劍而得到深刻的啟發。
註2 Dorothy Seiberling, "Mark Rothko", LIFE magazine, November 16, 1959, 52
註3 Selden Rodman, Conversations with Artists, (New York : Devin-Adair Co, 1957), 93
註4 James E. B. Breslin, Mark Rothko: A Biography, (University Of Chicago Press, 1993), 330
註5 語見湯顯祖(1550~1616)《牡丹亭記題詞》。