Sichuanese by birth, Shiy De-Jin moved at the age of 25 to Taiwan, where he started developing his career in art. After a four year hiatus spent traveling around Europe and the U.S., Shiy returned to his adoptive country and never left again, yet his opening up to other cultures had left a permanent mark on the artist's creativity. While
his ties to Taiwan nurtured his humanistic views, the European and American experience exposed him to various aesthetic concerns in modern art. Altogether, his travels, his vicissitudes, his ups and downs and conflicts in life all played an important role in enriching the substance and emotion in his work. The 1950s and 1960s were Shiy's most productive years, during which he painted works that varied in both subject matter and style, including: realistic landscape, portraits imbued with idiosyncrasy and passion, abstract execution that purely expresses the massive artistic possibility of color, form and space, and works combining objective delineation and subjective interpretational. He worked both in watercolor and oil painting, manipulating the medium in a way that well reflect his idiosyncrasy and the true essence of his artistry.
Shiy's art is distinguished by a sentimental and lyrical feeling that dominates his theoretical ideals. While depicting outdoor scenes, he does not only focus on the beauty of forms, but also captures figures and objects in the same manner to provoke an immediate emotional reaction. He directs more of his artistic focus towards expressing solemnity and reminiscence than towards theoretical contemplation.
In a letter to a friend he wrote about his view of art: "I think that pursuing art must grasp the eternal principle of art - human feeling. Painting is not philosophy; painting has to be sensed by the eye. An intellectual painting is always the most tasteless." In fact Shiy's works mostly have a subdued element of sadness which might be attributed to his melancholic character, a lifelong absence of love and his delicate temperament of a poet. Through his brushstrokes filled with intense emotion, he manifests a strong affection and humanistic concern for ordinary people and their living condition. Already at the tender age of 25, Shiy wrote Men of the Tiny Lanes a work about ordinary people, living in harsh conditions, working day and night in gloomy places, who abandon themselves to their humble existence.
In a street scene filled with life, Street Scene (Lot 686) depicts Taiwan's authentic social condition in the 1950s. Poor men and women bravely marching forward, despite the difficulties of life, affirm Shiy's empathy for ordinary people. The clean picture evokes a sense of calm and solemnity; without defining facial expression or focusing on any particular individual, the painter captures the typical personality of
ordinary people subtly praising the Taiwanese toughness, simplicity and practicality. The electric poles that occupy large parts of the background, commonly seen in the 1950s, represent the visible signs of modernization and contrast amusingly with the oxen in the foreground. The contrast reflects the chaotic social condition of shifting from old to new, which further highlights the living difficulties at that time. On the other hand, the intertwined wires of the electric poles resemble the lingering sentiments, while the melancholic blue watercolor, lightly applied, creates a suffused atmosphere. All these artistic elements, including brushwork, subject and use of color assist to manifest a sentimental aura aiming to transform the formless and stirred up emotions into artistic visual language.
Whereas Street Scene is a comparatively realistic, formal and lyrical approach to Taiwan's social conditions in the 1950s echoing Shiy's later series Hometown Realist, Meditation (Lot 687) represents another cycle of works - symbolic landscapes that depict the artist's state of mind and psychology. Unlike Shiy's notable portrait paintings, in which faces are clearly depicted and based on models, the protagonist of this painting has a plain facial expression which steers on the viewer's
attention toward the figure's gestures and pensiveness, highlighting his state of loneliness and loss, while contemplating the meaning of life. In the company of a flock of geese what aspect of life could he be meditating about? Why a flock of geese? In Chinese traditional culture a wild goose has multiple cultural implications. First, it is a metaphor for love and care among friends and relatives as well as the aspiration
for eternal love. This is why the old sayings of "wild goose sending mail" and "fish and wild goose exchanging mail" signify affectionate correspondence between friends and relatives. However, in Shiy's life, having lost his parents early and then embarking on a long journey, he had failed to gain acceptance in society and among family members leading him to be very lonely and sad. Sitting alone in a corner while watching the geese from a distance, the figure in meditation justifiably represents the painter's emotional state of solitude. Is the figure's individualist character, his pensive state and his determined yet proud manner not a portrayal of Shiy's existence? Looking at a wild goose also symbolizes self-cultivation and understanding of life.
To what can we liken human life? The wild goose symbolizes the impermanence of life, which Shiy's works capture through lyrical and poetical scenes. Except for a few seemingly unintentional strokes, lines are well-defined and simple, particularly those depicting the fence in the background and the basket-seats in the foreground, capturing a lonely deserted atmosphere. The central part of the painting is left empty provoking a feeling of loss and wandering. Here the reference to Chinese traditional literati painting is clear: the use of rhythmic calligraphic brushwork and the expressive ink wash that releases an aura of simplicity, quietness, desolation and emptiness. But it is through his watercolours that Shiy achieves highest success in bringing forward traditional Chinese painting. Widely praised for his style of watercolour, the wash effect of which resembles that of Chinese painting, Shiy effectively expresses the desolation and poetics of lyrical aura. On the other hand, Shiy's oil paintings also capture his winding road of art and the submerged sentiment of boredom.
While his watercolours have a delicate, simple and graceful touch, the oil paintings mostly embody determined, ardent, bold, dynamic and masculine qualities. In IGoose beside the Pond (Lot 685) Shiy uses a painting brush and a scraper to leave sweeping brushstrokes and dynamic scrapes, seemingly transforming his stirred up feelings into textural and colourful visual language, and creating a different kind of work. Here, he abandons his usual choice of cool and pale hues in exchange at vibrant rich colours like deep red, bright blue and yellow, and combines a strong black textural brushstroke at the centre of the painting to provoke a sensational feeling. The symbolically meaningful geese are in the centre to grasp the viewer's attention, creating a desolate and solitary feeling no less powerful than Shiy's poetic
watercolors. It is significant to note that Goose beside the Pond was painted in 1957, a year in which abstract art was sweeping across the world, directing Shiy, then in Taiwan, to passionately follow the new artistic ideology and thus focus on abstract oil painting. In this work, Shiy makes good use of the thick texture of the oil pigment as well as the abstract expressionist brushwork and composition. Moreover he continues to capture his usual wild geese symbol, which assembled with his new style, proves to be an extraordinary piece reflecting his artistic turning point.