Poetry of Life and Shape:A Reading of Liang Ping-Cheng’s Sculptures
Professor of School of Arts Administration & Education, Central Academy of Fine Arts
Artco Monthly & Investment
No. 322, July 2019
Tension of Minds and Objects
How shall we read Liang Ping-Cheng’s artworks? In face of artists with such rich contexts, what perspectives should we use to achieve a deeper level of insight? Appreciation, understanding and evaluation are the three integral elements of the aesthetic experience. There are several key aspects I think we should never overlook: the exploration of the artistic nature, the echo with the history of Taiwanese sculptures, the development of the contemporary sculptures, and the illumination of individualist, unique and creative expression.In other words, an outstanding artist always gives us a profound picture. Between the artist himself, aesthetics and the history of art, what has he done, and when and where does this all become fascinating? There is roughly a secondary axis following the evolution of post-war sculptures in Taiwan. It is the realism extracted and refined from the beauty of objects and the extension into the abstraction in details and with substance of shapes. This is then developed into pluralism, introduction and liberalization of materials. Throughout the process, the mind, will and aesthetic aspiration of the author becomes increasingly important. Captivating sculptures always come with a soul. They are the objects closely connecting the artist and the self, the world and the materials. Perhaps this can be described as the dialectics between minds and objects. It is such dialectics that empowers the innovations of post-war sculptures in Taiwan. For this, Liang has showed as an intriguing response. He has opened a road full of tensions, between his language of shapes and heart of spirits, and enriched with his own objectivity and color.
Liang’s life story is no doubt dramatic. This is fundamentally connected with his creative works. The nutrients his life journey has empowered him and become a priceless treasure for his works. He went deep into the mountains to find inspirations in seclusion. His family was so worried that they were looking for him. This was an episode that demonstrates his commitment and devotion. Born in Pingtung, Taiwan, in 1958, he lived throughunconstrained days of youth and finished his study in New York for wider horizons. After that, he experienced a bumpy ride in the society. This, however, gives Liang’s journey as an artist the necessary weight and texture. A sharp artistic mind will always find a way out. In 1998 or so, his encounter with wood sculpture on an unplanned trip to Sanyi was a turning point of his creative journey. This was as much as by chance and as by design. Since then, Liang released his artistic training and gift on wood sculpture, through and through. After a few years of exploration, he developed a more open space for wood sculpture in Taiwan, rich in the language of expressionism.
For Liang, the mutual realization between minds and objects is surely a confrontation of materials. He mentioned that during the first few years, he was immersed in wood sculpture without attending to anything else. The creative environment in the countryside, the solitude of his studio and the unknown elements of novelty all helped. After 2000, his experiment and practice gradually paid off. In the terminology of forms, he liberalized the possibilities of wood. He no longer relies on a single meaning, clue or image to organize his works. Rather, he turned this around into a traditional narrative, by making each detail, texture and commonality perform for the works. Without hesitation, he walked towards the materials, trees or wood, and befriends them, in order to uncover their inner life. Creation is more than innovation. It is archaeology of the materials. Trees survived the elements in nature and their materialized memory was awaken by art with Liang’s hands. Years later, he concluded his unique approach as “going with flow”.The innate attribute of the material becomes the fundamental rhythm of his works and dazzles the audience.
Interestingly, the sculpture art in Taiwan since the 1990s has been on the search for its own contemporary path, without losing the depth in aesthetics and sentiments. Liang’s work at this juncture highlights its value in the course of history. Forms and materials acquire new life from him and redefine the current landscape of sculptors. Different from figurative ingenious carvings, his initial series “Gravity Release” allows the material to express itself to the full. Wood as a medium retains its momentum, and the material is restored to its primal state. The artwork becomes more of a dialogue. The elegance of the shapes, different shades of textures, grains intertwined or extended, and the artist’s detailed efforts all come together, into a poem unique between Liang and the mediums. With infinite echoes, the sounds and melodies hidden in the wood are opened by the artist for you and me. In fact, it goes deeper into the secrets of the nature. With the artistic sincerity, Liang quietly contributed to the historic transformation of the sculptures in Taiwan from the mountains in Miaoli, away from the hustle and bustle of cities, and became one of the best artists of our time.
A Symphony of Emotions and Mediums
Liang became known at an early age, by winning the Eighth Lion Art New Artist Award in 1983. His later chapters in life are what makes him different from other artists. His integrated and synthesized his life experience for more than ten years into a vibrant power of creativity. It can be said that the lessons in life play a pivotal role in his art world. It is with this learning that he can honestly communicate with materials. Between wood and Liang is almost a process of seeking out for each other.
In the series “Gravity Release”, wood is transformed into a curvy and light existence, from solemnity to grace. The trees are brought to the audience, as part of the nature’s cadence and never straying aloof. We also witness the change of the artist’s mind and thoughts. The letting go of gravity creates a unique image of the mediums, as if at the beat of sea waves. It is also a journey of the artist speaking to himself. From the heart to the hands, and to the physical involvement of sculpturing, the world of wood and the world of Liang merge into one. Beauty is thus created.
The depth of life experience is often the cornerstone of an artist’s acuity. A sharp sense to perceive the world is a prerequisite. As a fighting artist, Liang continues to discover his relationship with the materials. It is challenging and even somewhat existential. The objects formed by nature echoes with the world in which the artist lives. The subsequent series “Book & Illegible Book” displays at the same depth the source of power behind the medium. What is important is that Liang does not reduce his work into a symbol. Instead, he allows his work to become an organic world, beaming with meanings.The artist explores the meaning of life through the gradual formation of imageries and shapes. Each contact with the medium can be described as an expedition for meaning of life. Going through the chapters of life with a sculpture knife is not only the excavation and exploration of meanings, but also the writings by the artist with all his heart
Dialectics Between Senses and Scrutiny
In the series “Book & Illegible Book”, each wave and curl seem to embody some secrets of survival. At times, they look like butterflies about to take wings. Going with flow in sculpturing can be interpreted into a sensory and intentional experience, working together with the power of the ideas. Liang’s work does more than just breaking free from the inherent heaviness of wood and metal. More importantly, he expresses the close connection between emotions, the body and the mind. Each texture of his sculptures comes with the mark of deep thoughts. This should also be one of Liang’s creative signatures.
Perhaps because of his nature, or as a result of refinement over the years, Liang’s work always comes with a sense of transcendence and a classy and blue temperament only possible after astute thinking. A lingering touch of romantism and the endless thought about life experience give Liang’s sculpture a strong personality. His series “Mask” combines wood sculpture with stainless steel or juxtaposes brass sculpture with stainless steel to stage a brilliant experiment of innovations in medium in the world of contemporary sculpture. The marriage of heterogenous materials constitutes the focal point. Liang seeks to narrate and touch the human nature in this creative work of extremely high integrity. He attempts to find the self, completely free, beneath the worldly-wise mask.
Self is a complex thing. We often need to understand and define ourselves through masks. The “Mask” series remind us that we should turn around and revisit ourselves. The observant audience will find that most figures in the series do not have a clear face. The contemporary relevance of Liang’s work is greatly highlighted here. He never simplified the complication of sculpture by trimming it into a form, beauty, meaning or concept. Instead, his creativity puts all these elements together and instills new souls to the artworks. Finally, the series “Mask” points to a deeper level of ethical consciousness and asks what the most appropriate way of living is, for us.
From a sensory touch to ethical consciousness, Liang’s work stands out from those created by his peers in Taiwan. In this context, senses are more about aesthetics. They are the artistic fulfilment to encompass the world. The essence of natural materials and the substance of human survival “meet” in Liang’s pieces. Each carving is a testimony of the dialogues between the artist and them. From “Gravity Release”, “Book &Illegible Book”, to “Mask”, Liang puts himself into his works and confront the living materials and his life story by going with flow. The worldly sadness and the sorrow have become the ingredients of creativity and transforms into lyrics with true meanings. Liang does not push for the only but remote truth behind masks. Rather, he ponders on the deeper and more sincere way of life. Whilst he tries to reveal the diversity of true colors in life, the question of ethical nature flows into his creative process and adds an important dimension of humanity to the contemporary world of Taiwanese sculptures. With the medium and craftsmanship and through self-reflection and gaze, Liang’s works continue to march towards new hopes and horizons. This journey of revisiting the profoundness of human nature perhaps began on the day in 1998 when he walked into the mountains in Miaoli and felt touched by the wood sculpture. What he didn’t know on the day is that he would travel on this creative path and into the history of contemporary sculptures in Taiwan.
Gazing into Humanity and Existence
The philosopher Emmanuel Levinas said, “Real life is not there, but we live in it.”  Of course, real life is the moment and the process we live. Liang’s works share this attitude. Whilst he awakes the true nature of medium, he feels about self even more. This thinking is what makes sculpture one of the closest art forms to existence: the change of the mind, the body and the medium merging into one. The existence of humans remains the starting point of things unfolding gradually. In the series “Utensil & Anti-Utensil”, Liang comes up with the innovative concept of aesthetics in inversion. He wonders how to restore many practical objects in life into their true status of beauty into our world. The constant removal of functionality allows continuous flows of purposefulness without purpose. There is an abundance of fun in exploring between Utensil and Anti-Utensil. It is also accessing the core and source of the aesthetic activities. With years of work from the late 1990s to the 21st century, Liang’s art pieces are increasingly confident and imaginative. The animals in his recent series “Whisper in Forest” are semi-figurative and half-abstract, as Liang shows his innocent and fun side. Wood carving transformed with stainless steel instills a powerful visual. It is in fact more of a fable about humble truth. The shape of animals is a reference beyond images, trembling with the mind of the artist. His recent series “Angel's Heart” uses the image of a heart to enfold sharp emotions, pensive rationality and great expectations about life. Our artist still looks ahead, in the face of his own creative desires, and gazing into the infinite connection between humanity and existence.
Liang chose sculpture and in truth, sculpture chose him. His strong personality, unique style in forms and persistence throughout his journey as an artist have built a solid relationship with the medium. The moment of his personal choice and the critical change of the contemporary aesthetics come together into a flow of tensions in Liang’s works. He also gives a new beat and sound to the sculptures in Taiwan. A sculptor as the poet for shapes and forms of spatial art, Liang has opened a wide filed at a meeting place of minds, objects and imageries.
 Levinas, Emmanuel. Totality and Infinity. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP, 1969, p.33. Chines translation from Chung-Hsiung Lai, 2014, “Looking for Him in the Crowd: Ethical Insight of Venue 眾裡尋「他」：列維納斯的倫理洞見〉，Humanities and Social Sciences Newsletter Quarterly, 15: 3, page 60.
Ping-Cheng LIANG 梁 平 正