Snowy moonbeam shining over flowery forest - Y.J. CHO’s recent paintings
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Snowy moonbeam shining over flowery forest - Y.J. CHO’s recent paintings

2023/12/2 ~ 2023/12/30
2023.12.02 15:00
  • Snowy moonbeam shining over flowery forest - Y.J. CHO's recent paintings

Snowy moonbeam shining over flowery forest: thoughts after reading Y.J. CHO’s recent paintings

By Lin Chuan-Chu

                                                                                                                                                      I

If we regard the classic landscape paintings in history as portraits of the times rather than just a landscape painting, the unique meticulousness, outpouring power and nuanced feelings in Y.J. CHO's recent landscape paintings can also be seen as portraits of her life journey. Sweet hometown Pingtung, a successful college life and an exhibition that received critical acclaim as a novice, an artist life in New York, the hidden pressures under the metropolitan life, the dreary role as a housewife, the meticulous and repetitive work of photo retouching, from the death shadow of 911 New York terrorist attack and home building collapse to peaceful teaching and hiking in East Taiwan and Hong Kong, from the bleak barns in New England countryside to the majestic Forbidden City, from New Zealand to Bali, from the Silk Road to Tibet, from vines in the corner to the clouds in the sky, from the narrow camera lens to the vast world travels, from the youthful invincibility to peace of mind - all kinds of experiences, all kinds of realizations, all kinds of tastes all gathered into the images and meanings of Y.J. CHO's painting. It's like seeing the spiritual visions of Rubens and David Hockney in the landscape paintings of Het Steen Castle and the pastoral sketchbooks of Yorkshire (Note 2).

None of this is accidental. People with such a rich background and experience are bound to transform life resources into something thoughtful. Y.J. CHO has created artwork steadily for decades, one theme after another. This is not only attributed to the Western-style discipline, but also to her long-term awareness and internal pursuit life’s precarious existence. The most remarkable achievement is that Y.J. CHO's recent works have become more and more relaxed. The technique of painting that was done stroke by stroke under the microscope and spotlight seems to be buried in the past. Instead, there is a free and easy approach, a calmness that rekindles enthusiasm, and a casualness and peace that allows the scenery to speak for itself. Perhaps too many people, things, and changes have been seen over time. "The person I could talk to has passed away. I must awaken the portrait that has been frozen in the depths of eternity. I must descend to the tomb and compete with life. Under such circumstances, how can I retell a story with passion and impulse?" Or, conversely, also borrowing the words of François-René de Chateaubriand: "Her beauty blends her ideal life into our historical facts: a beam of calm light illuminates a turbulent painting." (Note 3)

In her own notebook on individuals and times, Y.J. CHO reinterprets the theme of landscape with her cool and open mind. She shrouded a beam of calm light over the undulating mountains and rivers.

II

A few years ago, around 2017, I saw a painting by Y.J. CHO at an art fair booth. Among thousands of paintings, among the bustling crowds of a trade market, I was deeply impressed by her landscape work. Like staring at a still life, I observed in the painting the shadows of densely branched trees are painted with nuanced contrast in the near distance. In the distance behind the shadows of the trees, there are mountains and the blurring horizon. Further away, there is a sky of huge proportions, as if the painter is looking upward. The cloud shadows in the sky are indistinguishably gray and white. It is hard to tell whether they are just dawn or near dusk, or whether they are due to the humid temperature of South China. The entire landscape painting reveals a sense of time without beginning or end, neither day nor night. There is also a sense of blending vicissitudes and tranquility. The sky and earth, being macroscopic, expansively open, and ever-changing, are instead condensed in the painting into a still life- like mental image by the artist.

Furthermore, what touches me the most is that there are five or six huge water stains on the painting, as if it’s an act of sabotage or the artist’s mistake. These water stains are like stained marks or scars on an old photo, prompting people to reminisce: if a landscape painting can arouse association, empathy, and resonance, it is because the work evokes a certain feeling or unique feeling that the viewer has experienced in the past. Experience triggers a corresponding relationship between the viewer and the work. Yet, this work allows a specific landscape image to be instantly transformed into a "memory", becoming a single object that can be looked back on and cherished, like a world that you and I can enjoy together (Note 4), for storing in a small, private pocket. At first, we would think that we were standing with the artist on a humid Lingnan pass or a hill in the south of the island. We were just about to talk to her about the skylight and clouds in the painting are different from those of New York City. We then would realize that we are reaching out to "memory" from our own or the artist's pocket.

Standing in front of the painting, as if we received a postcard sent back from a distant journey: at that time, in that foreign place called a scenic spot or tourist attraction, we

picked up a postcard that referred to pure scenery, write words, affix stamp, then put it in the mailbox. Now we realized that the postcard in our hands is no longer the scenery, but the echo and the memories in mind.

These water stains reminded me of the water drop from "Void is born from the ocean of enlightenment, just like a small water drop in the sea." (Note 5) It also reminded me of the Sicilian novelist Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's description of Prince Salina's reminiscences when he encountered great changes in times: "He was reviewing his life, trying to pick up the golden crumbs of happy moments among a pile of dark ashes... He remembered all those things at this moment, those seemed insignificant now but precious. Platinum interlaced, silk brocade interlaced, soil and grass juice on the canvas. His memories made those things alive." (Note 6) Since Y.J. CHO "invented" water stains on the painting, these small golden flakes under the memory light and bubbles on the sea have permeated her artwork: the sky, clouds, flower shadows and water stain series.

III

I have also wondered in my mind, how did Y.J. CHO invent, launch, and use her water stain? Was it an oil stain accidentally dripped on canvas when the symbol appeared for the first time? Did she ever recall her masterpiece of bright yellow bananas that she created when she was young, and then painted the brown spots on withering bananas? Or was it a yellowed, damp photo, waiting to be retouched, under the light in her New York apartment? Did that water drop ultimately stain the perfect picture, or did it bring the faded past, the distant and vague impression and the imperfect real world to us in a destined way, telling us the truth quietly as a coincidence? Its gentle diffusion and radiant extension gently re-dialyze the mixed colors into the original colors. It dissolves the image solidified by the developer and fixer, the image seen or created with brush, into the mysterious mind of floral thoughts.

Perhaps this is difficult to trace. As Stefan Zweig said, "Among the unsolved mysteries in the world, the most profound and mysterious is the secret of creation. Nature covered itself with veil. Even poets and musicians cannot explain their inspirational moment." (Note 7) After Y.J. CHO gradually focused on outdoor scenery, the appearance of water stain symbols was as natural as the appearance of fog and neon, no explanations needed. But I think subconsciously, it may be related to her work in photo retouching and the photorealistic painting style in New York: in the process of photo retouching, it is necessary to cover up the freckles on the character's face or the messy hairdo; you may have to constantly delve into physical nature, light and shadow, texture, and even

compete with the resolution of optical machines while doing photorealistic painting. In her recent works, Y.J. CHO liberated and rebelled against retouching and photorealistic painting. She has accepted the stains and spots and the reality perceived by the inner eye beyond the lens. An imperfect, non-photographic beauty.

If Y.J. CHO's early works, the "Wall" series, reflect the rush of real life and the struggling will as the wisteria and grass growing from the canopy, then, the perspective of her "Sky Series" seems to have moved away from the corner of the wall. She looked up at the sky with an open mind, watching the clouds release messages. A beam of orange light at dusk was enough to make her smile. Her "Cloud and Mist Series" resembles the Song Dynasty Ma Yuan and Xia Gui's local landscape paintings (Note 8), which present the unpretentious tailoring of nature: half-disappeared lakes in the fog, hilltops obscured by clouds, and hazy sandbank. Her "Yellow Shadow Series" with lush flowers and trees continue her early meticulous and precise painting techniques. However, the clarity beyond realism reminds me of the vivid sketching style of the Lingnan School: with the elegance accumulated over many years, the passion of pursuing nature and the unique innovative color of seaport artists (Note 9). The "Water Stain Series" and "Rotation Series" are like the occasional ink play with photographic filters. They also like the oriental abstract expressions casually painted by overseas Chinese artists in the second half of the last century. This seems to echo to Y.J. CHO 's personality in dealing with the world with her optimism and game spirit.

Lastly, when talking about Y.J. CHO's artistic creation, we can't help but mention SZETO Keung, a popular artist at OK Harris and Eslite Gallery in Taiwan. In 1995, I met this couple in SoHo, New York. We talked about "Dream of the Red Chamber" and classical literature on the street, went to Cantonese restaurants, watched him work under hundreds of watts of light in his basement studio. Y.J. CHO cooked Atlantic lobster at home, chitchatting and watched videos – the situation of a woman artist who lost her voice and right to speak. But the past is over, and the most gratifying thing is that Y.J. CHO has shown her strong vitality. She has been creating continuously for decades. It is noteworthy that both Y.J. CHO and SZETO Keung painted "walls". Comparing their works, I found that SZETO Keung painted indoor walls. He proved the impermanence of the world through a withered flower. Through a small piece of realistic tape, he proved the unreliability of the reality seen by the eyes. He used the material and sensory world to wake us introspectively, and used the microcosmic orbit with flowers to express his truth; Y.J. CHO painted outdoor wall. She proved the selflessness of nature through a small grass growing towards the light by the wall. In the end, she knocked down the wall, and embraced the beautiful scenery outside. She combines all things in the universe with her various life experiences, and expresses her truth with her mood, perception and memories.

I completely agree with this rule: perception, imagination and memory are stronger than the real material world, the prosperity of city, civilized systems, even our physical bodies. The impression remain by a tree with lush branches can be compared to the skyscrapers in New York. Later, I heard that the building where Y.J. CHO hosted me, the apartment at No. 74 Grant Street in the south of New York City, was tilting due to poor foundation construction of the new building next door—life is a flow, the country is in danger, those vanished karmas deepened the meaning of Y.J. CHO's landscape paintings. Therefore, I would like to conclude with a quote from New Zealand writer Janet Frame—a woman who has almost lost her voice in the English-speaking world but whose three autobiographical novels impressed me deeply— as she left her childhood home: "There is a part of our lives is unharmed, it is still perfect, it is the world outdoor, the change of seasons (Note 10)." This is a firm and wise statement for landscape paintings that entrust memories, express feelings and spiritual destination.

 

Note 1: The Tang Dynasty poet Zhang Ruoxu's masterpiece " A Flowery Moonlit Night by Spring River" contains lines such as "Drifting frost in air is unnoticeable in shine of moon" and "Snowy moonbeam shining over flowery forest", which are very consistent with Y.J. CHO's recent paintings. Named after it.

Note 2: Rubens (1577~1640) bought Het Steen Castle when he was nearly sixty years old and created "Autumn Landscape with a View of Het Steen" (1636), an art historian Malcolm Andrews appraised on this work: "Het Steen represented a range of values for Rubens, not just a place. ... For this man who has rich travel and reading experience, Het Steen is more than a house to live in. It is a place to accommodate and practice idea that is inseparable but far greater than a specific place." See pages 129~130 of the Oxford History of Art "Landscape and Western Art", Shanghai People's Press, 2014. The famous contemporary painter Hockney (1937~) returned to Bridlington, East Yorkshire in 2004 when he was 67 years old and did a lot of outdoor sketching. Regarding this, he expressed to the writer Lawrence Weschler: "I have painted many landscapes in Norway, Iceland and the Western United States. I was always painting the 'scenery' as I saw it, but this time it was different. In Bridlington, I painted earth, the feeling in my heart." Lawrence wrote in the book: "The ashes of Hockney's mother were also scattered on this field. Bridlington is a belonging in Hockney's heart for a long time." See page 198 of the "Ture to Life: 25 Years of Conversation with David Hockney", Zhejiang People's Fine Arts Publishing, 2014.

Note 3: See pages 181 and 277 of "Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe" by François-René de Chateaubriand (1768~1848), Locus Publishing, 2007.

Note 4: Su Shi's "Former Ode on the Red Cliffs" contains the sentence "The fresh breeze over this river and the bright moon above the mountains, are the infinite treasure that nature has for us to enjoy."

Note 5: Sentences in Śūraṅgama Sūtra.

Note 6: See page 234 of the autobiographical novel "The Leopard" by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (1896~1957), Shandong Pictorial Publishing House, 2016.

Note 7: See page 383 of "The World of Yesterday", the memoirs of Stefan Zweig (1881~1942), Azoth Books, 2017.

Note 8: Refers to the partially landscape paintings of Ma Yuan and Xia Gui in the Southern Song Dynasty.

Note 9: See Yang Shanshen's sketches such as "California Five Thousand Years Red juniper" (1984) and "Liu Zongyuan's Tomb" (1986). Published by Taipei Zhen Ya Tang, 1991.

Note 10: See page 84 of "To the Is-land" by Janet Frame (1924~2004), China Times Publishing Company, 1997.

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