Going with Flow
The Chronicle:Bright Star Arts Association 炫光志
1. Life Story
The teenage Liang Ping-Cheng was not too different from most of his peers, enjoying life and running away from school. Art was not considered a serious pursuit. He only became a hardworking student when he entered the Department of Fine Arts, Chinese Culture University after the completion of military services. The memory of his youthful days was one of the ingredients of Liang’s future work. In university, he was deeply inspired by two professors, Jun T. Lai and Guo Da Wei. The academic training has significant influence on Liang, especially with control and sensitivity with materials. During his sophomore year in 1983, he won the Eighth Lion Art New Artist Award and formally launched his career as an artist.
After graduation and with enthusiasm, Liang decided to go to New York, the center of fine arts, to study. In fact, the whole city was his classroom. He found that the streets of New York were richer and more interesting than lectures. He met the most brilliant minds and the worst human beings from all over the world. As many people say, New York is not part of the U.S. New York is a world of its own. You can only feel it by being in New York. The best talents from different countries are drawn here. Liang hanged out in the streets because there was so much fun and so much to learn. Classrooms and museums bored him. Even the world-renowned galleries could not attract him. One day Liang walked by a tall building and suddenly realized that everybody in New York was an artist. Studios and exhibitions are everywhere, and he seemed not required. He realized that his art and life are still in Taiwan and his homeland is the source of his inspirations. With this idea in mind, he took his wife and leave New York, after spending nearly two years there. He knew that he had unfinished business as an artist in Taiwan.
Back in Taiwan, Liang was involved in interior design and hotel planning & management. His income grew from meager to massive, until it became a numbers game. So, money was no longer an issue, but the mind was. This experience taught him to be humble. It seemed that he was on a roll, but he was not happy when waking up at night. Liang knew that there was no art there. That was where he belonged, and he would return to the creative path. Only that this time it would be different.
Liang is the anchor of his family. He is very protective of them. When he speaks with his wife, his tone is soft and tender, different from his usual cool. Sometimes he tries to make her laugh. They respect each other, without hiding any secrets. They remain as intimate as newly-weds although they have been together for more than 20 years. They have one daughter and one son. After all the ups and downs in life, Liang remains concerned with how his children grow and develop.
In 1998, Liang moved to the mountains of Sanyi to start his wood sculpture. At that time, his son Joy was studying in the elementary school. He remembered everything back then.
Life was tough in the beginning, without many essentials. The only road back home was not paved with asphalt. It was a stony and muddy lane. There was no water heater, so they had to boil some water, mix it with cold water, jump into the tub and quickly finish the bath. Of course, there were many bugs and mosquitos on the mountains. Sometimes even snakes. Life was not easy but Joy got used to it. There was a small pond in the yard, beaming with life. He loved to watch the lively tadpoles. Joy said he may be the only child in Taiwan that saw tadpoles growing into frogs. Although life was not rosy, it was still full of happiness. This was why Joy was able to handle problems that children of the same age would not normally encounter. It was also the reason why Joy shares some personality traits and attitudes with his father. It was perhaps not by nature, but by nurture. Both Liang and his wife were busy working for money. So, Joy’s sister, eight years older, did not live with them but stayed with Liang’s mother-in-law. Liang’s wife went to work every day, so Liang took care of Joy at home. Joy said he really admires his father. He could see his father’s persistence and perseverance when they lived in Sanyi. Liang does not live a bohemia life as other artists. Nor does he succumb to social pressures by losing his artistic integrity. He has a regular and disciplined schedule, doing his work every day: sculpturing, painting and teaching Joy to do homework. What is most remarkable is his resistance to opinions from the art community at that time and insistence on the development of his own style. This attitude is perhaps what makes Liang today. Joy was deeply inspired by his father. He learned a lot from spending time with his father. Maybe they do not talk much but they influence each other.
Joy is now a chef in a French restaurant, because he studied in Kai Ping Culinary School. He was not good with schoolwork, so his teachers encouraged him to learn a skill. Joy found his calling in the culinary school. In fact, he was selected to participate in international competitions overseas and won many awards.
Joy also has a DJ dream. He has been learning from a teacher and working on his own music by doing live shows all over Taiwan. This is perhaps the insistence he has learned from his father and dedication to what he enjoys doing. What is more important is how to realize your dreams. Joy also wondered why the world is so unfair and some people have it easy. He needs to try so hard and does not always get the same returns. His teacher listed to Joy’s complaints and said, “Only the useless complains about unfairness.” This remark has heavily influenced Joy’s life and kept him going forward.
Liang as a person and as an artist is not separable. His art is him, and he is his art.
Liang’s wood sculpture starts with his relocation to Sanyi. From the peak amid hustle and bustle to a small town of wooden fragrance, Liang was exploring the meaning of being an artist and creating artworks. This was a change, and a process. He wanted to discover the meanings of creative arts outside the pure aesthetics and discourse. At this juncture, his behavior and etiquette had changed completely. Perhaps he did not know, but the local people could see it. In the eyes of old masters, an artist was born. His work is original, and he knows about the theory. He is humble, modest and diligent.
In 2011, Liang’s first solo exhibition in Taipei, “Possibilities of Wood, Imaginations of Sculpture” 木的可能、雕的想像was held in InSian Gallery. This event was a concluding remark Liang made on Sanyi. Except for “Gravity Release”, all the other five series were at display for the first time: “Book & Illegible Book”, “Utensil & Anti-Utensil”, “Whisper in Forest”, “Mask” and Metallic Works金屬鑄造.These are the typical dialectics post the San-yi period: books that are not books, utensils that are not utensils, species not from the earth, masks that are not masks.
Aesthetics of Inversion~
Speaking of Liang’s wood sculpture, his aesthetics of inversion spring to mind. His aesthetic theory comes from the dialectics of functionality removal. “Utensil & Anti-Utensil”is a work pure on the beauty of utensils, without worrying about their purposes. “Book & Illegible Book” expresses how books are for viewing in the era of the Internet as people are not reading physical books anymore. “Whisper in Forest” abandons the rationality of evolution. Creatures are carved along with the original grains of wood, so they look somewhat like the species on the earth but not exactly. Masks are no longer the decorative gear for faces. They allow the audience to get to know themselves. The learning in life is to take off all the masks and only keep the true wisdom. Liang describes his work as an aesthetics of inversion. The starting point of creativity is the pure beauty and nature of objects.Humans created a plethora of items as necessities in life. At this point, functionality was important. How they looked was less relevant. As new utensils replaced old ones over time, pure beauty began to emerge. For example, all the treasures in museums are impractical. The aesthetics of inversion is the core of Liang’s artistic theory. It underpins the creation of all his works.
Going with Flow~
Going with flow is Liang’s unique approach to sculpturing. Flow refers to a nature of life. Liang believes that everything has life, emotional and unemotional. As everything is constantly changing, he uses all his senses to communicate with wood. With his imagination, it starts with sight, followed with touching, hearing and smelling to feel the once-alive wood. He feels when he is sculpturing. It is a natural process, without thinking. It is interacting with wood. Liang said, “Wood is as imperfect as humans, and should go with flow. I am discovering, not creating.” He described his sculpturing a process of making friends with wood. He does not produce sketches or designs. He said, “I work with wood. Different from clay, wood used to be trees, alive. I carve along the traces of life, so I can work with decayed wood.” This is similar with his improvisational painting when he was young.
People often think artists as a lone pack, living by their own rules. The typical image of artists are heavy drinkers, in seclusion from the worldly, behaving differently and not sociable. They think differently from others, and they often break away from norms and conformities. This stereotype may be complementary or demeaning, but people believe this is how artists can create their own works to amaze the world. However, our interview with Liang completely changed our expectations and our stereo ideas about artists.
When we first saw Liang, we saw a good-looking middle-age man was greeting some children. He did not have the long hair, did not wear a white vest, and was by no means “rough” as we had imagined. Rather, he had short hair, and wore a smart outfit and a fashionable hat. He said politely that he would drive us to his studio up in the mountains. We were talking and laughing on the way. We noticed that Liang did not consider us strangers. Instead, he treated us as friends who he had not seen for years. It was then we figured that he is different from the stereotype artists. Of course, we gradually discovered how he is different. He studied overseas after university and was involved in business after he returned to Taiwan. So, his horizon is wider than that of typical artists.This combined with his belief in Buddhism gives him an attitude of not succumbing to the conventions. He is not up against the world and he is not ignoring the society. Rather, he lives with it. He does not blindly follow trends or abandon his own ideas for personal gains. He believes in his passions and dignity. He focuses on his sculpturing and insists on his convictions.
We can sense his independence from social conformity. It also shows in his work. Liang always says that his personality shines in his work. There is never copycatting others because he does not produce “trendy” works. He insists what he is, and he continues with it. He does not like serving as a judge in contests or a teacher at school. He feels that art comes within, and there should not be a set of measurements to evaluate or instruct. It is necessary to adhere to one’s true self in the pursuit of one’s own art. This is what he means by saying “going with flow”.He believes that all the refined and elaborated sculpture have been distorted because these works were predetermined before they were carved. In this regard, they should not be considered “artistic”. The only institution he has ever worked for is Fu-Hsin Trade & Arts School and he did not stay long. He never takes on the job as a judge for competitions except for Bright Star Arts Association because it is a very meaningful award. He does not follow the crowds.
Ping-Cheng LIANG 梁 平 正