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Richard Lin (Lin Show-Yu) (1933-2011)
PROPERTY FROM THE ESTATE OF RICHARD LINAngus Granlund in conversation with Malu Lin Swayne, May 2018.Angus Granlund: You come from a very distinguished Taiwanese lineage, tell me about your father’s upbringing.Malu Lin Swayne: The Wufeng Lins were a very wealthy and powerful family in Taiwan and the family house is one of the largest in the country. It has now been completely restored by the government, rather like a National Trust house, and is open to the public. My father was the first child to survive, two babies having died before him. Being male and the eldest, he was the heir. AG: How many siblings did he have and what was the family dynamic? MLS: He had three younger siblings, but their relationship must have been complicated. He was treated so differently from them. He was dressed differently, ate at a separate table and was given everything he wanted. He was completely spoilt, particularly by his grandmother, who still had bound feet. I think the only time he was disciplined was when he chased his mother round the table with a huge sword, and I believe his father really did punish him then. I remember him telling me that he saw the film The Last Emperor, and saying he was treated like that boy Emperor. AG: What was his education like? MLS: During his young primary school years he was sent to live with a Japanese family, and went to a Japanese school; this ensured that his family co-operated with the Japanese government in Taiwan. He had completely the opposite treatment in this Japanese family; he was treated like a servant and routinely humiliated. AG: Do you think that would have actually helped to round him as an individual?MLS: In some ways, yes, but for a child to have such extremes is unusual. And yes, I’m sure some sort of discipline was useful after having had no discipline at all. I think Japanese culture had an enormous impact on him. Significantly, my eldest sister and I both have Japanese names, and when we lived in Wales and had horses, he gave all our horses Japanese names, rather than Chinese names. I’m sure the minimalist interiors of the Japanese houses must have had a profound influence. AG: What was the impact of the Chinese Civil War in the late 1940s, particularly Chiang Kai-Shek’s retreat to Taiwan in 1949?MLS: My father was in Hong Kong by then. He was sent to Hong Kong to an Anglican school. Presumably in preparation to send him to the West, I imagine, so he then learned English and Cantonese there. He would have been in Hong Kong when all this change happened in Taiwan. I’m sure it would have had a profound effect on the family, though. AG: Why was he sent to England in 1952, to continue his education at Millfield School? MLS: The idea was that he would get A levels, and then go to Oxford or Cambridge. His parents wanted him to study aeronautical engineering and go back to Taiwan to help build the country up. AG: Did he enjoy his time there, it must have been quite a culture shock.MLS: I don’t know anything to the contrary – he was confident, highly intelligent and excelled academically. He even played rugby and was particularly fascinated by the blonde hair of Western girls!AG: And then he moved to London to study art and architecture at Regent Street Polytechnic. Were his parents supportive of that decision?MLS: They tolerated it, I think, but it wasn’t what they had planned. He became very interested in art and architecture at school and wanted to pursue a career as an artist. They continued his allowance. But it was when he married for the first time - very young, to a Western woman, and then a baby on the way - that he was cut off from the family, and they passed his ‘position’ in the family to Philip his younger brother. AG: Was that because she was Western? MLS: Well it was the final straw in a succession of decisions he had made. And yes, I think marrying a Western woman was completely, just awful! (laughs). AG: Do you think having the safety net of his allowance, and position within the family, taken away from him, would have actually motivated him and helped to reinforce his conviction to become an artist? MLS: Yes, especially in the context of such a comfortable upbringing. He was on his own two feet for the first time in his life and suddenly had adult responsibilities.AG: He had his first exhibition at the ICA in 1958, was then taken on by Gimpel Fils and had his first solo exhibition with them the following year, how did this come about? MLS: He used to visit the art galleries, lots of them, and chat to the owners. He chatted to Charles and Peter [Gimpel] on one of these visits. They initially employed him to set up exhibitions for other artists but very quickly gave him his own exhibition. It was around this time that his first marriage ended. Not long afterwards he met my mother.AG: It was around this time that he Anglicised his name. MLS: He was using both for a while, and I don’t know what the exact reason was, but it’s a lot easier to pronounce and write down. AG: Do you think there was a commercial perspective to it? MLS: Yes, probably. I don’t know the precise reason for choosing Richard but my mother told me it was because the sound was phonetically close to a particular Chinese word, I’m not sure whether this was in Mandarin or his native Hokkien language. AG: And later in life did he still go by Richard, or revert back to Lin Show-Yu? MLS: I think professionally he still used Richard but privately he reverted back. AG: He joined Marlborough New London Gallery in 1966, which had been set up by Tony Reichardt. Do you know what informed his decision to switch galleries at this time? MLS: Marlborough offered him a retainer, so it was really the lure of having a regular income. By this point he’d had two boys with his first wife and three girls with my mother.AG: Marlborough also represented Victor Pasmore who shared a similar aesthetic to your father at that time. Exhibiting alongside a likeminded artist might have been a catalyst for his decision. Was he someone that was concerned with other artists’ work; did he enjoy going to exhibitions and reading books on artists?MLS: Definitely, when we lived in London he was very active and went to see lots and lots. He didn’t have so much opportunity when we moved to Wales but still read a lot on other artists. In London, he mixed a lot with Tony and his wife, Jasia. It was through Tony that he met Miro. Tony showed him some of my father’s pictures and Miro asked to visit his studio. Upon seeing my father’s work Miro said something like, ‘In the world of white you are without equal’. Miro was an artist who my father greatly admired, and he was very touched by that remark, and by the visit. AG: I remember when we sold The Tony Reichardt Collection in 2013, which included some Lins, Tony commented that Miro had been blown away by your father’s ability to draw a perfect circle, freehand. MLS: He was extremely talented and actually my name is the Japanese word for circle.AG: The use of circles in a stripped back minimalist aesthetic, echoes Ben Nicholson’s White Relief series of the mid-1930s and the Modernist movement at that time. I always assumed artists like Nicholson and Mondrian would have had a profound influence on your father but is it possible to overemphasise their importance?MLS: I think Nicholson and Mondrian were obvious influences and Rothko too. Pasmore was certainly another contemporary of his that he admired but maybe surprisingly he was also influenced by figurative art and greatly admired Turner, whose work verges on the abstract.AG: It’s really interesting to hear of his appreciation for figurative art. The 1950s and 60s must have been such an exciting time to be an artist in England with so many important groups coming into prominence. You had the School of London, the birth of Pop Art, and the Abstract artists working in St Ives. Did he feel he was swimming against the tide of the prevailing styles to some extent, and did this bother him; or did he feel more of a pioneer, like Turner?MLS: I don’t think it would have bothered him, and he wasn’t concerned with conforming or being part of a ‘group’ or ‘school’. London, particularly in the Sixties, was such an interesting and vibrant place, it would have suited him perfectly, I would have thought! He was interested in so many new things and really fell in love with Western music. We still have a vinyl record of his, of the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, and I find that fascinating. Someone from his background, having had no Western music at all in his childhood, wasn’t just listening to Beethoven and Mozart - who were his favourite composers - but was also interested in what was happening at the cutting edge of music. To have a record of Stockhausen, which not many Western people would have gone to the trouble of listening to, I think reflects his approach to the Arts as a whole. He was interested in new ideas. To me, as a musician, that tells me a lot about him and how he would have been in the world of art. He certainly wasn’t afraid to challenge with new ideas. AG: Which brings us to the dramatic stylistic shift in his work around 1960/61, when he began his ‘white series’. What was the catalyst for this? MLS: I don’t know what caused that, and can only speculate on various things going on. Sometimes the longer you’re away from your home country, the more your deeper rooted influences begin to surface, in his case the Oriental influences. AG: Likewise, I’ve always felt his study of architecture must have influenced his work, whether consciously or more subliminally. MLS: I think architecture must have had a profound influence on him. I see it all there: lines and proportion, shape, space, light. It had to.AG: Was there a particular architectural school he liked? His paintings definitely have an affinity with the clean lines and white concrete structures of International Modernism and the work of the émigré architects who came to London in the 1930s.MLS: He liked Corbusier. The influence of architecture is also evident later on, when he did very large sculpture back in Taiwan. There’s something very architectural about those pieces. AG: How about Chinese philosophy or Taoism, was he interested in that at all? His paintings have such a meditative quality it’s an easy leap to make.MLS: I can only speculate on the influence of philosophy but it’s bound to have had an impact. He did read widely, and had a lot of books on philosophy. He never read fiction as far as I know. AG: Did the meditative nature of his paintings reflect his personality?MLS: (laughs) Well, yes and no! I mean, he was incredibly disciplined in many ways. He had a very mathematical brain and was a very neat person. But then, on the other extreme, he could be explosive, violent and unstable, so that certainly isn’t reflective of the things he made. I think a lot of artists, be they musicians or painters, put so much in their work of a certain element which is often lacking in themselves. Sometimes you get that strange dichotomy in artists where they’ve used up everything of that aspect in their work, and there’s nothing left of it in themselves. It’s just my little theory! He used up everything he had – all his tranquillity and all his calmness was put into his pictures. It was quite scary to be his child because of his volatility. AG: You’d moved to Wales around 1970 and his studio was attached to the house, did he mind you and your sisters visiting him in the studio while he worked? MLS: No that was fine. But we had been brought up to be very careful.AG: Did he have set hours that he worked? MLS: Not at all. If he was busy or putting on an exhibition, he would just work and work and work. He would work all night sometimes - with three girls it might have just been quieter then. AG: We touched on it earlier but did he listen to music while he worked? MLS: Yes, very much. He had lots of records of Chinese classical opera, which is what he grew up on. And he would quite often sing along to it, you know - taking on various roles. But also Western classical music and huge amounts of Mozart and Beethoven, blasted out with all the doors open! AG: That must have had a profound impact on you and your career as a violinist? MLS: Definitely a big influence. He had a lot of violin concerto recordings, which he loved, and piano concertos, symphonies - quite a large record collection in fact. AG: Did he also listen to the contemporary popular music? MLS: No, he didn’t go into that. I don’t remember him listening to the radio or that sort of thing. I think it was mainly visual things he went out to go and see. I don’t remember him being interested at all in popular music. However, I remember being very surprised when I visited him in Taiwan, that he had started to listen to music which was much more sentimental in feeling; I recall finding a CD of American country western songs in his collection! AG: It must have been a big change moving from Sixties London to tranquil Wales. MLS: Yes, it was 1970 I think that we moved. He was very successful at that time so maybe thought he could leave his teaching job at Ravensbourne and with a bigger house there would be more space to hang pictures. My parents just started looking further and further afield. They came to Wales and completely fell in love with it. They found this enormous house, and houses were incredibly cheap of course then. AG: Would people often come to visit, or would he go to London to stay in touch?MLS: Certainly the first half of our time there was busy, and then of course things started getting difficult. Patterns were changing in the art world, and then there was the big break-up with Marlborough in the late Seventies. I think they wanted him to change his style but there was no way he was going to do that. The lack of work meant lack of money - the house had a mortgage. The pressures of life increased and things got quite difficult.AG: The falling out with Marlborough happened in the mid 1970s and he later then separated from your mother.MLS: Yes, he moved out and went back to Taiwan, I think about 1980. He returned to the UK for a while and lived in Scotland first, and then France for a bit before returning once more to Taiwan and living there permanently. AG: How was he received when he returned to Taiwan?MLS: He was doing some teaching back there, and I think he had a big influence on the art scene in Taiwan, which had been quite traditional. But things began to change - with my father’s influence, I believe. It generated some new thinking in Taiwan, and helped some contemporary artists out there. I think he was very pleased. I remember him talking about the acquisition of one of his pictures by the National Palace Museum in Taipei in 1983. They hadn’t bought anything new in about 100 years and I think the painting is still the only ‘contemporary’ work in their collection. AG: Was recognition and acceptance in Taiwan important to him? MLS: I think so. It must have been very difficult for someone who had been away from a country for a huge period of time to then come back. I am very glad he had that big retrospective in Taiwan in 2010; he was genuinely excited about it. AG: It was always his parents’ intention that he would study aeronautical engineering, and return to help build up Taiwan. In essence he did that, just a few decades later and as an artist. MLS: That’s true, I’d never thought about that. AG: He brought something back to Taiwan from the West that was more unique and arguably more important. So many people could have studied aeronautical engineering, but his artistic vision is unique to him and his paintings feel as fresh today as when they were painted. His cultural legacy has had a profound impact not only on the country but the whole continent. MLS: I agree: I don’t think they will ever date, and I hope he felt good about his extraordinary artistic legacy.
Richard Lin (Lin Show-Yu) (1933-2011)

Painting relief 1965-66

Details
Richard Lin (Lin Show-Yu) (1933-2011)
Painting relief 1965-66
signed, inscribed and dated 'LIN PAINTING 1965-66' (on the reverse)
oil and aluminium on canvas
18 x 14 in. (45.7 x 35.5 cm.)
Provenance
A gift from the artist to the present owner's mother, and by descent.

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