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Duration: 59:31



Hey, everybody, now we're entering into our featured, first featured artist talk. So, before we will come, artists, Liu Kuo-Sung. Let me just briefly introduce Liu Kuo-Sung.

Liu Kuo-Sung is indisputably, one of the earliest and most important advocate, and practitioners of modern Chinese painting in Taiwan.

Known as father of modern ink painting (Chinese translation).

He's also an eloquent writer and a tireless mentor who has nurtured generation of artists. After graduating from the Department of Fine Arts and National Taiwan Normal University in 1956, at the age of 24, Liu co-founded the Fifth Moon Group and dedicate

himself to the modernization of Chinese painting.

Upon gaining recognition in the 1960s, the trajectory of his artistic career extended beyond Taiwan, to Hong Kong in the 1970s, and mainland China in the 1980s. With a vast repertoire of art work collected by 70 institutions, and nearly 100 solo exhibitions

around the worlds, Liu Kuo-Sung unquestionably, is unquestionably Taiwan's first global artists.

As an artist, artistry student from Taiwan myself, I attest to the facts that Liu Kuo-Sung has long been a legendary figure to my generation.

I first got to know him in the Taiwanese modern art circle in the mid 1980s, when I was working the National Palace Museum

Show. My late colleague, and my dear friend John Clark

Ensure by his passion charisma.

I was equally impressed by his openness and sincerity.

I'm a true believer in Yuen Fen that bring together like minded people.

And I believe it was Yuen Fen that I was able to connect with Liu Kuo-Sung during a short trip to Taiwan in 2019.

It was the eve of his respective show titled "To the Moon" by Yuan, marking the 70s year since his arrival in Taiwan, at age 17.

And I was just able to connect with him and visit his studio on my way to the airport before returning to the states.

So it's really kind of miracle, you know, without hesitation, he graciously accept our invitation, into this very difficult period. He remained steadfast in his commitment.

Despite postponement in the move to the online technology. It's an incredible honor and blessing to have him as our featured artists to open our similar events, and to connect, many of us. Without further ado, please welcome Mr. Liu Kuo-Sung to speak on his

artistic journey titled "Modernizing Ink Painting: A Personal Approach and Philosophy" (Chinese translation)

Hello everyone, I am delighted to be here today. I apologize my English is not very good.

Therefore I am speaking my mother tongue, so the presentation will flow better.

Sorry, interrupt a minute. Actually I forgot to mention a live transcript is available in the lower right corner, so please click it. You can choose to hear Professor Liu Kuo-Sung's speech in Chinese, or the English translation already available, so

you just click the live transcript, you will, you know, be able to choose.

Sorry. Yeah. Please go on.

Okay. I have enjoyed painting ever since I was a child.

Can you see the screen. Yes.


All right, great.


When I was in eighth grade

I began learning Chinese painting in Wuhan

When I graduated in secondary school in Nanjing,

my Chinese paintings were appreciated.

Many people complimented that I was a “little painter"

which inspired me to begin my career.

During my second year in high school

When my teacher asked me what my aspiration was,

I said:

I would like to be a painter.

Soon I applied to be a fine arts major in university.

During my time in the university,

my training was still based on imitation of teachers' work

as you can see here

particularly works by Pu Xiyu, and Huang Junbi.

During my freshman year, our art introduction professor said to us,

“great art has its roots in real life.”

When I began learning western painting techniques in my sophomore year, the training consisted entirely of still life and sketches.

I soon realized that western painting is rooted in life.

I consequently shifted my focus towards western painting, and gradually embraced a total Westernizing mindset and approach.

From second to third year

I was enamored by works by Cezanne

which made me transition to Western painting completely.

In my fourth year, I was already carrying a Minimalist


Matisse was also an influence of mine.

This is a watercolor painted in my fourth year.

I have already adopted the path of “East Meets West"

by this time.

My graduating work (the water color) won first prize

Due to my admiration for Western Painting

so called the “total westernization” approach,

the works you see here are all results

of my imitation of Western masters.

After I graduated

I was influenced by Abstract Expressionism,

the works you see here are the results of my influence by Abstract Expressionism.

I was fascinated by wall sketches by children,

I consequently used gypsum

as the basis of my canvas and produced texture.

But I soon realized that

Abstract Expressionists

in fact used the approach of “East Meets West"

as you see in this Motherwell painting

I realized that “total westernization” might not be correct approach

which prompted to explore the path of “East meets West”.

On the left you will see works by Chinese masters

and on the right

works by Abstract Expressionisms

the similarity of their work bring me great shock

and made me decide to pursue my own path, which is a combination of “East meets West”,

realized by the oil painting medium.

I used Gypsum as the foundation, and used oil splashing

to create texture.

I also place veil

on top of the canvas to create mixed media work.

At this time,

I came across an exhibition catalog by the National Palace Museum

which intrigued me greatly.

I further recognized the great difference between

the expressive modes of Chinese and Western paintings.

For example, Western artists are more invested in conveying emotion,

therefore emphasizing figurative painting.

However, Chinese artists recognized that “emotions” are too fleeting.

Hence, depicting eternal landscape was the key for Chinese artists.

Works on the left are by Chinese artists,

and works on the right are mine.

Guo Xi, for example, was a great influence of mine.

My goal was to add the spiritual consonance in my exploration of the oil painting medium.

After the seventh “ Fifth Moon Group Exhibition",

I went through another great transformation.

I was then influenced by the highly abstract nature found in my ancient masters' work,

which resonated with me greatly.

Comparing the trajectory of Chinese and Western Painting

seen in this slide,

you will realize that

the level of abstraction achieved by Song's Liang Kai

preceded even Renaissance!

Such expressive mode and ability

was not achieved until 20th century in the West

by German expressionism.

This puts Chinese art history at a thousand year lead!

Since ink painting of the East possesses such a great tradition, why should we give it up?

Due to my antagonist stance towards traditional Chinese painting pedagogy,

I was rejected by all art departments,

and was relegated to a teaching position in the department of architecture.

Once I attended a symposium on “Material Science” in the architecture department,

which left an big impact on me.

The discussants were criticizing

a trend at the time during which steel-reinforced concrete was used to mock the traditional palace style buildings.

Cement at the time was painted with red paint.

Red paint was originally painted to prevent moths,

but now the Dougong method was in fact realized by cement,

which in these discussants' minds

was a form a cheating and dishonesty.

I was deeply struck upon hearing such a comment,

as I was precisely using oil paint to achieve the fluid effect of the ink wash.

My goal was to convey the fluidity

of Chinese art

which made me ask the question:

Why don't I use

ink and paper

as a medium?


wouldn't that be a more effective expressive medium?

I saw the preview exhibition from National Palace Museum in Taipei before its tour to the United States.

Upon seeing some of the original works

such as

Fan Kuan's "The Travelers among Mountains"

exhibited at a large scale,

I had chills all over my body

feeling a gust of cold wind,

but where does such wind come from?

It is in fact due to how moved I was by the painting.

Liang Kai's Immortal in Splashed Ink also shook me to the core,

making me realize of the greatness of Chinese art.

Although I have established the personal oil painting style of “East Meets West,”

I still gave up oil painting and returned to the Chinese tradition of ink on paper.

Giving up my previous exploration on Gypsum,

these two works are currently in the collection of Art Institute of Chicago.

Professor Wang from Harvard went to Chicago and saw my work,

he liked them so much that

he tried to convince me to not give up on oil painting.

When I decided to return to Chinese painting

I recognized that strictly following tradition wasn't appropriate either.

So I continued to seek solution.

I was influenced by technique of rubbing

which can you see here.

From 1963 on,

I first saw the print work of Shi Ke's works here.

I recognized that walking script was dominant in literati tradition,

but wild cursive style was under-recognized.

Therefore, I decided to take on the wild cursive approach.

I hence developed a personalized abstract ink style named “stripped tendons, peeled skin texture-stroke”.

From my visit to the paper mill, I realized that cotton paper was made from tree bark fiber

after erosion and unrefined fiber was sifted and discarded.

I realized if I merged the discarded fiber with the cotton paper and painted ink on top of the surface,

the ink would be trapped by the paper streaks.

If I tore the streaks off the paper after the painting was finished,

the underlying white lines would reveal.

I really liked this effect

because Western painting prioritized surface to surface,

whereas Chinese painting prioritizes dots and lines.

If white lines were added to Chinese painting––

generating black and white linear composition––

wouldn't that increase the expressive range and expressivity of Chinese painting by twofold?

Therefore, I started to make such a specific request to the paper mill.

I then took inspiration from Shi Ke's wild scribble (kuangcao) brushstroke:

adding black within the white,

hence developing a personalized abstract ink style named “stripped tendons, peeled skin texture-stroke”.

These are all works from 1963 on,

you will see the coexistence of black and white lines.

This work was well received by Professor Li Chu-tsing.

When he visited my studio in Taipei,

he saw this work and was very pleased.

He told me that he visited Asia

hoping to see experimental ink work.

He told that he was interested in introducing new ink work in the United States.

He agreed to curate an exhibition for me,

entitled New Chinese Landscape”.

I was also granted a a two-year global traveling grant awarded by a foundation.

The exhibition “The New Chinese Landscape” was very serendipitous,

several museums were interested in making solo exhibitions for me.

The exhibition also received favorable reviews from a New York Times art critic, which was significant to my career.

The works you see here

exemplify my “East Meets West” approach in the 1960s.

At the same time, the United States was developing space technology.

Deeply moved by the first space image, I started “Which is Earth?” series.

I pasted photos of the moon onto my painting.

These are some of the works.

The seal you see here

which writes the man of everywhere (dong xi nan bei ren),

was an enlarged seal

pasted onto my canvas.

It was also the exhibition image of my show in Cologne.

This work was later collected by the British Museum.

Like I was saying,

I was not able to teach in any fine art department in Taipei.

I was invited to be a guest lecturer at the fine art department of Chinese University of Hong Kong

I was appointed as the chair to the department.

I finally made myself useful!

I founded a curriculum on modern ink painting.

The curriculum went against traditional pedagogy which emphasizes imitation;

it was a new educational approach that fostered experimental methods.

It is my belief that traditional pedagogy was influenced by the “pyramid” style pedagogy,

which considered imitation as an important foundation for art making:

the wider the base (foundation) is,

the higher the pyramid (artistic achievement) will be.

As a result, imitating teachers' works and ancient works were prioritized.

However, I realized that

because the better one is at traditional techniques,

the harder it is for one to leave the constraints of tradition.

I opposed such a teaching method

and proposed that “a studio is a laboratory, and not a factory for traditional painting”.

Prioritizing experimental approach

I told my students,

Never underestimate yourselves.

Like scientists, we are also actively shaping human civilization:

scientists created the material civilization,

and artists created the spiritual civilization.

We are also shaping human civilization.

Like scientists,

we should also experiment with new technique or material.

My experimental pedagogy nurtured a group of innovative painters who are now critically acclaimed and valued internationally.

In the past, I was concentrated on

sobering up traditional artists who were blindly following the literati tradition,

I published the essay “Discussion on Painting Techniques”.

I wrote

Before the rise of literati painting, there were ‘eighteen methods of painting clothing folds' in figure painting,

and ‘thirty-six texture strokes' in landscape painting.

Since the domination of literati painting in Yuan,

there were no longer new technical inventions or styles.

Literati were typically well-read scholars and held official posts after passing the national exam.

They spent the daytime performing administrative tasks,

such as writing memorials to the throne, approving official documents, writing poetry and prose,

practicing calligraphy, and so on.

They were mainly calligraphers.

What happened if they did not know how to paint, one may ask?

They copied paintings by the ancients.

As time progressed,

imitation and copy became the Chinese literati painting tradition.


I was interested in highlighting non-brush based technique.

For example, there is splashed ink,

broken ink, powdered method, the blown cloud method,

water washing, power dashing, and the shading (& contrasting) method,

as well as hair painting, lotus pot painting, sugarcane husk painting, fire painting, water painting, finger painting, and etc.

As you see, it is too limiting to hold onto just the paint brush.

Nevertheless, literati supported their [lack of innovation] by proposing the theory of “consubstantiality in calligraphy and painting”,

limiting the brush (which was for calligraphy) to paint.

Based on the fact that most calligraphy frequently involved the centrality of the brush tip,

literati artists

raised the false claim that “all good paintings must involve the centrality of the tip”.

Such an argument pushed such a great and elegant Chinese tradition [of painting] into a dead end.


I was trying to rectify that during my time in CUHK

In the talk before me,

someone asked the question of

my influence on Chinese mainland artists.

In 2000, I was invited by a mainland Chinese curator

to bring two works of mine to participate in an experimental ink art show.

The curators liked my works very much.

I was then invited by the artist association to have an exhibition

showing my work in Beijing and Nanjing.

However, the exhibition was so well-received that it traveled to eighteen cities.

Inspired by this, I started giving speech that focus on the concept of “Studio as Laboratory”.

The works you see here represent my experimentation on the water splashing technique.

Now, you can see works that exemplify my concept of “Studio as Laboratory”.

In particular, this series was created to oppose the “pyramid” pedagogy.

Nowadays, any skyscraper could easily surpass the height pyramid

height of the pyramid.

However, skyscrapers do not have as wide, or as deep as a base of a pyramid.

Therefore, I revised my theory

and said that Ink paintings do not have to be as tall as a skyscraper

but, it needs to be just as far reaching, and deep reaching.

Deeply moved by the primitive landscape in Jiuzhaigou,

I later painted a Jiuzhaigou series, which shimmers with light and shadow.

When I returned from Mount Everest in Tibet,

I create a snow mountain series-

you can see some of the works here.

Next year I will turn ninety and will be retiring.

But I am still eager to challenge myself

particularly in doing large-scale works.

This is a commission by the American Express building in Hong Kong

The work is 5 stories high and covers the wall.

However, when this work traveled to Shanghai,

Professor Shen Kuiyi, who curated this exhibition

decided to feature my work in such a manner

which was interesting.

While I remain healthy and fit,

I plan to paint several large-scale works passing down to future generations and fulfill my life journey.

Thank you, everyone.

Thank you Professor, I would like to ask you one question, which I will say in English first so everyone can understand.

Thank you Professor Liu-Kuo Sung, this is truly amazing.

He actually, you know, composed a new speech just for this event.

And, I want to thank Felix Chan, who actually complete the English translation

and also doing the transcript simultaneously.

A lot of work, but really, certainly, very gratifying.

Right now we are running a little bit tight in time, but

please send in your question and maybe he should be able to entertain a few.

Depends on, we have 7 more minutes.

Right now I have one from an anonymous attendee.

Ask about the so-called, you know, of the ink division Chinese hand painting, or the (Chinese translation)

painting, sketching idea,

suggest a very different kind of abstraction. The western oil painting or sculpture.

So can Professor Liu comment on this difference based on his experience, with both media

or can this different abstraction, from different tradition, even be spoken to each other.

(Chinese translation)

Professor Liu's answer is that, you know,

essentially, there are you know, fundamental difference.

In the Chinese tradition, is more it's kind of spiritual, kind of harmoniously, or in the,

extract or abstract the essence.

So it's more, kind of, a spiritual approach.

Whereas, in the western tradition, it's more in a formalistic approach. So that's his answer.

Alright the second question is: Thank you Master Liu. Truly believe your best work is yet to come.

The question is, I have always been curious about the many paintings of the moon, and outer space

following the USA moon landing in 1969.

Why are you fascinating with this?

(Chinese translation)

His answer is uh he's always live in the moment.

Fully, in a kind of learns and experience the moment.

So, of course, these historical moment, the landing on the moon,

had a great impact on him. (Chinese translation)

Ask him about the, um, the generation of modernist artist um, impact on him.

So, the Professor Liu's answer is that um he didn't mention that the um the impact on him

on the other hand, um seems none of them agreed with him.

He's always going against them and therefore, he wrote extensively

to kind of, you know, advocate his new his idea in trying to move forward.

Alright, um I think it's 6:00 and unfortunately, you know, we have a few more questions but

we cannot follow. We have to stick to our schedule.

One thing to announce, we are taking a 15 minutes break

and then we will resume in the conference. We'll proceed to the first panel in 15 minutes.

Thank you everybody.