In a sea of red and gold, there is one work that stands out at the gallery. Rows upon rows of hands reaching up from the inky black abyss, desperately clawing and grasping at metaphorical straws that slip and slide ... and remain forever just out of reach.
This is the stuff of nightmares.
More precisely, they are images right out of the screaming dream sequences that used to haunt Taiwanese pioneer artist Liao Shiou-Ping’s uneasy sleep after the untimely demise of his wife in a tragic accident. She fell off a cliff while she was birdwatching in 2002, and nothing was ever the same for Liao again.
“There were many ups and downs in the many decades I have lived as an artist, but this work was drawn from the lowest point in my life. It felt like an endless struggle fraught with restless nights and nightmares that would not stop,” shares Liao, 83, who is fondly known as Taiwan’s Father of Modern Printmaking.
In time, however, he picked up the pieces of his life and went down the big and bold path for many of his recent works.
Liao recently was in town for the launch of his solo exhibition The Art Of Liao Shiou-Ping at the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur.
The 77 works from the prolific artist comprise mostly of prints and paintings, with a few sculptures and installations, wood relief pieces and mixed media works thrown into the mix.
These are pieces selected from his Life Symbol series, Silent Image series and the Dream series, which dates back to the 1960s.
Fans of his work will find his earlier etchings and silkscreen works a real treat to have under one roof, a number of which were loaned from the collection of the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts and the Taipei Fine Arts Museum.
But to the casual gallery visitor, it is likely that it is his recent works that will dazzle with their large format, and striking red and gold geometric appearance. Many are multi-panelled paintings that are stylistically reminiscent of graphic design works, with symbols that transport you into a world where hieroglyphs and symbols, cultural/architectural elements and everyday objects intersect.
This visual language has been something Liao has been refining ever since he was an art student, and over the years, have found its way into his many different techniques and artistic expressions. Printmaking and painting are inseparable bedfellows in his decades-long journey as an artist and a teacher, and in both, he draws heavily upon inspiration from daily life.
“When I was a young man studying art in Paris, my fellow students and teachers seemed very impressed at what they perceived as a fresh, new take on printmaking visuals and forms. They saw my visuals as something innovative, something so special. But I was merely drawing on what was familiar to me, the sights and sounds of my childhood while growing up in Taipei,” shares a modest Liao.
He recalls how he used to follow his mother to the temple, and how the architectural elements - such as gates, windows, ceilings and doors - went on to serve as inspiration for his art.
Visitors to the exhibition will find recurring symbols representing everyday objects like chopsticks, fan, scissors, chair, cup and teapot, door and gate, among others.
After graduating from the National Taiwan Normal University in 1959 with a degree in fine arts, Liao went on to study at the Tokyo University of Education in Japan, and then at L’ecole des Beaux-Arts and Atelier 17, both in Paris. Over the years, he had stints in the US as well, before moving back to Taiwan in 2002, where he is based today.
He has held over 80 solo exhibitions around the world, with numerous art prizes and awards to his name.
“Liao’s works are precise and rational, but at the same time they are expressive with warm colours. He incorporates oriental imagery in the form of Chinese characters and symbols, many of which appear over and over again, carrying different meanings both in this world and the realm thereafter. Most of his works are hard-edge, with flat geometric forms set within rectangular, triangular, square or diamond compositions, which are then treated with textures and marks to elevate its visual appearance,” says veteran Malaysian artist Choong Kam Kow, who is a guest curator for this exhibition.
No doubt, Liao’s visually bold creations are a fine study in elegance, composition and balance.
“As my age catches up with me, I find myself being more contemplative and adopting a more calm and collected outlook on life, with all its ups and downs. I find great joy in making art, in the big reveal after the final step, and the surprises that still delight me after all these years. With this exhibition in Malaysia, I hope that people will take away with them that same sense of happiness,” he says
These works, with their clean edges and geometric precision, are a pleasure in itself to view. But many might find that it is his use of symbols and elements of folk traditions that speak to the viewer on a more intuitive level. His works are a feast for the eyes, as they are for the soul - and combined, they make a perfect marriage.
Across the hall from Liao’s solo is an exhibition of 56 original prints from masters such as Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Joan Miro, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Georges Braque, Henry Moore, David Hockney and Tsuguharu Foujita. These are all from Liao’s personal collection.