Culture / Art Republik

Interview with contemporary Taiwanese artist Chu Wei-Bor

88-year-old Taiwanese artist Chu Wei-Bor talks about his inspiration and the core concepts of his abstract art, deeply rooted in eastern philosophy.

Jul 13, 2017 | By Art Republik

Chu Wei-Bor, ‘Pass Down II’, 1965. Image courtesy Musée d’Ixelles & Asia Art Centre

Of all the arts, abstract painting is the most difficult. It demands that you know how to draw well, that you have a heightened sensitivity for composition and for colour, and that you be a true poet,” said Russian painter and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky. In light of this, how can we examine the unique art of contemporary Taiwanese artist Chu Wei-Bor? How and why has he created a new artistic language that positions him as one of the pioneers of abstract art in Asia?

After receiving his first instruction from Liao Chi-Chun in the early 1950s, Chu Wei-Bor then joined the Eastern Painting Society, also known as the Ton Fan Group, in 1958. His preference of the knife as a painting tool combined with his use of different mediums such as cotton, linen fabric and cotton swabs results in a style that is both minimalistic and rustic.

In an interview in the artist’s own workshop, Art Republik asks about his work, his inspirations and his artistic process.

Why did you start creating? What inspired you to do so?

I am from Nanjing, which used to be the capital of China. When I was nine years old, the Japanese invaded China and attacked the capital. The Nanjing Massacre killed over 300,000 people; I only survived because we managed to escape to the countryside. I am very lucky to have survived, but it was a difficult time to live in. I eventually joined the military as I wanted to show that I wasn’t afraid of death. Thankfully, however, I’m still alive.

After that, I started a new life in Taiwan — a rebirth of sorts. With this new life, I decided to devote myself completely to exploring the world of art, doing things that had never been done before.

What’s your state of mind when you work?

In Eastern philosophy, serenity is a place where there are no waves — but from serenity comes action.

In China, there is a saying that goes like this: when you want to plant a tree, it does not blossom. However, when it grows wild in nature, it flourishes into the most beautiful tree you can imagine. A good piece of artwork is not one that you intend on being particularly ingenious or grand. You create something brilliant from something unexpected.

Chu Wei-Bor, ‘Grey Night’, 1966. Image courtesy Musée d’Ixelles & Asia Art Centre

So how do you go about creating an artwork?

When I start, I have no idea what the work will eventually look like. I only wish to focus on the idea of space that is unique to the East. In my artworks, I can see the emptiness that I leave on the canvas, so I use this structure to create a sense of spatiality.

How did your art develop into abstraction?

My work has slowly evolved with time, from narrative woodprint to the exploration of a different sense of space, distinct from two-dimensionality of paintings. I am always looking for something that has not been thought of before, and areas where I can challenge myself.

You tend to experiment with a lot of different mediums — ink, canvas, woodcut print, cotton, linen — using knives and scissors instead of brushes. How do you decide on what medium to use?

The progression in my use of material is very subtle as I draw inspiration from everything in the universe and every aspect of my surrounding environment. I believe that the artist’s material should be closely related to his roots. For instance, I use linen, a pure and rustic material, two characteristics that resonate with my origins and where I am from.

I also use the knife to form the spatial effect of holes and protrusion on canvas. By using knives instead of brushes, I can create scars in multiples layers to break through the limitations of a two-dimensional space. In my artworks, I make use of materials that have never been used before to create a new artistic language.

How do you expect your viewers to approach your art?

Above all, I would like my audience to fully comprehend the spirit of ‘zen’ that is so fundamental to my work, as well as the concept of absolute emptiness that stems from Eastern philosophy. The idea is basically this: because of our humanity, we are tiny and dispensable in the face of the vastness of the universe, and we cannot withstand the test of time. Therefore, it is essential that we remain humble and pure so our artistic expression can surpass our insignificance as humans.

To do what you believe in is the most crucial part of being an artist. It’s what makes an artist successful.

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Asia Art Center Taipei presents three of Chu Wei-Bor’s abstract paintings in an exhibition titled ‘FROM CHINA TO TAÏWAN: Pioneers of abstraction’. It will run until 24 September 2017 at the Ixelles Museum in Belgium.

This article was written by Léonore Vitry Becker for Art Republik.

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