I sought for beauty with the innocent passion that was my nature; I rushed headlong into the great mansions of art and never looked back. I paint directly from natural scenes because I revere nature and I believe in the strength and inspiration within it. Only direct contact with nature can bring the self together with the unlimited and show us nature's purest and most moving aspect.
--from the foreword to "Hsiung-Shih Art Book Series of Chinese Art-Yang Sanlang"
Yang Sanlang's account gives us a glimpse of the vision and creative quest of the vanguard of Taiwanese artists, who borrowed natural and realist concepts but developed their own style with a strong, local Taiwanese flavor. In nearby Japan, during the 1920s and early 1930s, painting continued its evolution after absorbing Western styles, rediscovering traditional oriental aesthetics and moving into a deeper exploration of the "Japanization" of Western painting. Yang Sanlang (1888-1986; "Umehara Ryuzaburo" after his move to Japan) was a chief representative of these artists who were educated in Western styles but emphasized personal, subjective views and Eastern aesthetics. The modern art thinking and realist ideas they brought back to Taiwan broke through painting traditions that stretched all the way back to the literati of the Fujian, Guangdong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang regions. By the time of the first National Taiwan Exhibition in 1927, critical opinion in Taiwan's official and academic circles was united in the desire for modern painting styles capable of conveying its rich local color and the feel of the southern regions that derives from the island's unique climate and beautiful natural scenery. The most highly regarded works in Yang Sanlang's oeuvre are the depictions of outdoor natural scenes. The artist's love and intense zeal find their counterparts in his depiction of long shorelines, distinguished by endlessly varied hues of ocean and sky and the surging wash of spray against the coast. In a manner similar to Monet's own fascination with the sea in his later years, Yang Sanlang's interpretation of the subject was fashioned by an artistic style upon this very idea: immersing himself in the natural scenery with his sharp sensibilities to express his feeling by depicting the light and shadow of impressionist masters.
Among his landscape works, ocean views are very meaningful to Yang Sanlang. In his ocean view pictures, the endless coastlines, ever changing colors of the sky and ocean and the rushing of the waves onto shore clearly reveal the obsession and passionate love Yang had for art. Although inspired in his late years by Monet, a Western impressionist master, Yang's interpretation of ocean views develop into his own unique style. Seascape (Lot 570) painted in 1980, fully captures the reflection of the sun in that moment. He uses only a little blue color to capture the shadow and the depth of the sea surface and uses endless, connected brushstrokes of orange yellow, orange red and dark brown colors that continuously change in their brightness. On the rocks, powerful yellow brushstrokes are a reflection of the waves after they hit the shore. It can be seen that the artist mastered the rendering of the fleeting change of nature which leads the audience to an exploration of the beautiful world that he is seeking. In the outdoor ocean view pictures, Yang would start his study with a sketch of nature. He did not agree with taking photos of sceneries and then painting from them, instead he once said: "Painting nature is creative work." A grasp of the inspiration, a full presentation and enlightenment by nature allowed him to quickly compose and shape his picture. While his paintbrush moved, the atmosphere, temperature and the taste of the ocean waves in that moment and place would be quite directly and truthfully presented one by one.
Aside from certain influences from naturalism and impressionism, Yang's work is an exploration of the mysteries of life and nature in which the painting on site brought him closer to a sense of the earth's great energies. The work Seascape (Lot 621) depicted the scene beside the harbor with a reflection of human life. A boat in the foreground, slightly skewed to the right, is balanced by green hills behind the building, reflecting the artist's great grasp of precise composition. Mt. Fuiji (Lot 622) and Garden of Monet (Lot 623) are works painted during his visit to foreign countries, during which Yang absorbed and reflected the spirit of the locals. As he once said, "sketching should be not only the depiction of the image, but also a great way to present different colors and a variety of atmospheres of diverse places." In the work Mt. Fuiji, Yang mainly applied blue and orange, bringing together one cold color and one warm color. We can see red trees in the front view while the adjacent lake contrasts with its light grey and blue, in the meantime the reflected light yellow and light pink serve perfectly to soften the whole composition. The seemingly saturated color differs from the luscious quality of European scenery; Yang paints the Japanese mountain with great sensitivity, fully capturing its sacredness and nobility. One the other hand, Garden of Monet, with its stable composition and the use of various colors, under the artist's proficient brushwork, is a painting with clear layers and orderly structures; large amounts yellow color take over the whole drawing, reflecting the enchanting sunshine of France. Impressionism style painting was regarded as the mainstream of landscape painting at the time Yang's generation was studying abroad. He also expressed his appreciation for Monet, whose former residence Yang found great pleasure in visiting and drawing. Yang created this work at the age of seventy-eight to show his admiration for the Monet, and perhaps to challenge himself by comparing his brushwork to that of the master. Thus, the drawing is not only a demonstration of Yang's brilliant sketching work, but also has an implication of looking back to his previous ambitions, making this work highly and deeply meaningful in his creative career.