Splendor in Simplicity
Ping-Cheng Liang’s Sculpture and Aesthetics by Emerson Wang
Artist magazine 539 April 2020
The nature of humanity as the deepest level of self-consciousness reflects the ultimate mystery of human survival. The German philosopher Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach (1804~1872) explains the biggest difference between humans and animals lies in consciousness. Rationality, love and will power constitute the completeness, the highest strength, and the absolute nature of humanity. This is the reason for our existence. (1)Artists often deal with issues pertinent to the nature of humanity.
Throughout his years of creative journey as a sculptor, Ping-Cheng Liang has been constantly exploring the texture and content of wood. He describes his time in the studio before cutting falling in love with the wood. He views life as the ultimate object a creative artist must face with. The process of feeling and understanding the material is paying respect for life. Going with the flow is about following the nature of wood in the sculpturing process, rather than destructively changing its content. This is the reason why the inner of the material often illuminates in his artworks. The series “Mask” showcases the beauty of figurines with the shape and the texture of wood. Transformation and representation must integrate into the artist’s conscious re-creation, instead of directly exposing its original look. First, the specific reference should be reduced. Both in painting and in sculpture,portraits are likely to provoke associations for a certain character. Audience tend to directly and unknowingly project their personal experience to these works. This runs contrary to what Liang’s intention to express the inner of the material. The presence of a mask can mitigate excess, emotional, and subjective involvement, by restoring the nature of the material and the essence of the artistic creativity.
The female figurine in the “Mask” series is neither personificationnor a ready image. The material itself is treated as the body of life. Liang merely lays bare the beauty of wood with an artistic form. The rising torso, proportional breasts and hips, and soft spine curvature resonate the time-honoured classical beauty of the human body. The facial expression is deliberately faded in order to give way to storytelling. Masks are not to cover or change the identity or to hide the facial expression. Rather, they convey multiple and comprehensive meanings for the image of a head. I do not think Liang intends to discuss the authenticity or hypocrisy of the character, or the conflict between spontaneity and performing.Liang is showing the beauty of life with different shapes.
The artist’s creative desire and idea are the embodiment of his times and the articulation of his personality. Alois Riegl (1858~1905), a scholar of the Vienna School of Art History, analyzes in his book “Stilfragen” how artists present the world in a natural and scientific way, i.e. with senses and sensitivity. They create a will to art, Kunstwollen. Rieglbelieves that both high art and low art exhibit “Kunstwollen” as shown in the evolution of styles.To be precise, the change in forms are driven from within the forms. This can be referred to as a reference to the appreciation of Liang’s work. The shape created with the material is the outcome of the inspiration the artist draws from the shape of the wood, a material of life. The key to the interpretation of artworks is how the artist successfully express his artistic views by using the material in the combination of visual and tactile factors.
The depth of the human soul is real, as much as the appearance. The world of collective consciousness is also objectively real. The outer expression of collective consciousness is shared values and formalities in the cultural world. To Carl Gustav Jung (1875~1961), the deepest and inaccessible level of personality is the accumulation of the personal memories stored in subconscious. Collective unconsciousness stores the experience ofhomo sapiens and prior hominid species. This is the charm of Liang’s works, from the primal beauty of the material arising from the personal soul and integrated with collective emotions. This expression technique transcends the pure aesthetics of form and once again reveals the splendor of life in simplicity with an abstract concept.
The female body of the series “Mask” is a return to the soft and beautiful image of Mother Earth. The shape of her head looks mystical. These are not the anti-form or anti-material elements in the contemporary art. Rather, they are merely the creative techniques seeking to convey concepts. For Liang, sculpture is a will to present the beauty of shapes, more than just touching upon functionality. Many art historians and critics discuss formalism at length. The French philosopher Roland Barthes (1915~1980) argues that forms act like thoughts. They reinforce the intentional functioning via close exploration of objects. The variety of shapes in Liang’s work, from the torso to the head speak of his understanding of life. Roland Barthes and another scholar Guy Scarpetta (1915~1980)elaborate on forms, “There is no need to discard, prematurely, the term ‘formalism’. Any attack on it often comes from conflicting with contents. As far as I am concerned, talking about formalism is not forgetting about the contents, because contents will be pushed back at any time. The key is not materialism. The focus should be whether it is possible to respond to and safely assume a large amount of information. Formalism is more than shapes. It is corresponding extensions and in fact questioning of contents.” (2)
The series “Angel's Heart” is a showcase of pure aesthetics in form. Contemporary sculptures have more materialist expressions than prior works. This is partly because of the structure feedback from the world we live in. It is also a result of the implantation of humanism via material forms. The transformation code of this duality raises the question of current and living existence, transcendence of thoughts and materialization of the society today. This can be termed as “spiritual materiality”. It is like Liang’s creation of a heart-shaped sculpture, from delicate to gigantic, from wood to stainless steel. The weight of the material becomes light, as if it has taken wings. The shape is the key to the connection among the artist, the work, and the audience. It is through the shapes that transform the stereotype about the material.
In the concept of materiality, the image of a heart is a clear expression in form. What moves the audience is more in the abstract, sentimental level. The communication between souls does not come from languages. It touches the inner emotions, as presented by the sculpture. Liang’s large pieces open the gate to the viewers by creating a visual sense of the inner world that cannot be imaged. The reflection on stainless steel mirrors the space and even brings the views into the sculpture by providing gazing of the surroundings and perspectives of selves. The inner implications are distinctively oriental and pertinent to the 21st century when re-thinking about the living environment. This series emphasizes the artist’s personal concern.
From “Mask” to “Angel's Heart”, Liang presents the inner and outer of humans, and reflects the rational thinking in the environment and the emotions of the psyche. The artist constantly talks about “love” in his works. Anchoring on the humanity-centric spirit of both series, “Whisper in Forecasts” is an extension of Liang’s compassion.
All the lives are originated from where and belong to somewhere. These animals come with a plethora of shapes, familiar but mythical and surrealist. It is a breakthrough of fixated formats. Compared to prior works, this series is teaming with celebration and respect for life. The innards of time and life can be felt everywhere, and this creates organic and vital aesthetics. Even with different animal images, Liang’s creative context remains the same. He follows the grains and characteristics of the material and transform them into various curvatures. More importantly, he integrates fauna (the shape of the sculpture) and flora (wood as the material) and balances between dynamics and stillness. Two life forms are converted into a new life in his art. Their rhetoric is not alone. It is a chorus calm and loving.
Liang’s work is also known for friendliness with the audience. The touching and feeling of these sculptures are essentially re-affinity to love. Life is plain and humble, yet crystal and clear. All the splendour in Liang’s art comes from simplicity.
(2) Roland Barthes, “Disgressions,” in The Grain of the Voice: Interviews 1962–1980. op. cit., p. 115
“We should not be too quick to jettison the word ‘formalism’…attacks against formalism are always made in the name of content…The formalism I have in mind does not consist in ‘forgetting’…content…content is precisely what interests formalism, because its endless task is each time to push content back…It is not matter that is materialistic, but the refraction, the lifting of the safety catches; what is formalistic is not ‘form’ but the relative, dilatory time of contents, the precariousness of references.”
Ping-Cheng LIANG 梁 平 正