signed in Chinese; dated ‘1962.11’ (lower left)
oil on canvas
72 x 91 cm. (28 x 35 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1962
Private Collection, USA
National Museum of History, Liao Chi-Chun Hua Ji, Taipei, Taiwan 1976 (illustrated, p. 35).
Artist Publishing Co., Liao Chi-Chun, Taipei, Taiwan 1981 (illustrated, p. 37).
Ever Harvest Art Gallery, Centurial Rarity Complete Works of Liao Chi-Chun, Taipei, Taiwan, 2017 (illustrated, p. 318-319).

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Lot Essay

With the use of simple and strong colours, I confer through contrast and emphasize a richer sense of colour on the work. With the lines I pay attention to the amusement of the figure engendered. I am not depicting an impression of a given time. I am expressing those senses of colour that I want to express.
- Liao Chi-Chun

Hailed as the “Magician of Colours”, Liao Chi-Chun showcased complexity and intense expressions from his mature period in the 1962 masterpiece Ancient Castle in Spain. Energetic arrangement of rich colours, inky blocs, atmospheric light, and the musicality of shapes makes the current painting undoubtedly one of Liao’s most treasured works in his oeuvre.

From 1962 to 1963, at the invitation of the U.S. State Department Liao Chi-Chun visited the United States where he saw and experienced abstract expressionism firsthand. Afterwards he travelled to Europe in particular Spain for several months, and was deeply inspired by the unique scenery. His oil paintings based upon sketches along the trip carried more vivacity, fluidity, daring colours, and unbounded lines.

This same period in the 1960s, there was a big debate between “abstraction” and “concreteness” in the creative process within the modernization movement in Taiwan. Many artists were experimenting with new ways in order to remove themselves from the confinement and limitations of conventional approaches. Ancient Castle in Spain displayed a complete abandonment of narrative and figurative elements, where Liao was able to build an aesthetic realm with pure application of riotous and enigmatic forms, brilliant and vivacious colours, and rampant brushstrokes. Although the full explosion in Abstract Expressionism during his travel in US might have spurred this change, Liao’s innovation can be traced back to his strong interest in exploring the effect of colours in his long and celebrated artistic career. He held belief that "abstraction is the natural trend since modern painting has transformed from the visual and the external to the direct expression of inner, spontaneous sentiment." He also once declared, “the fundamental question of modern art is neither about abstraction nor figuration. Rather, it is about whether an artwork has substance. The formality and style of an artwork is merely the medium for the author to transpire his inner soul.” Since Postwar period, Liao Chi-Chun, as an esteemed Professor of Art at National Taiwan Normal University, led the modernism movements in Taiwan. He encouraged students to break through the traditional technique, subject matters and styles and to explore Fauvism and other modernist trends in their artistic creation.

Liao Chi-Chun’s heightened sensitivity to colours and his playful application of contour is full display in the current painting Ancient Castle in Spain . These two aspects contribute to the unique abstract language that distinguishes Liao from other artists of his contemporary. In the 1890s, Paul Cézanne started a revolution which set him as the pioneer of the Cubist movement. He dissected the pictorial plane into small geometrical facets, and then reassembled the fragmented forms and compressing both temporal and spatial axis into an illuminating conglomeration. For Liao Chi-Chun, colour blocks with irregular contours push and pull each other, making the painterly surface into an action field which pendulates between pure gestural abstraction and subjective figuration. What is more interesting is the pen marks occasionally unrelated to the form, for example, the cluster of overlapping square shapes within the white area in the foreground. This reminds one of the second phase of Cubism, i.e. Synthetic Cubism, when Picasso and Braque (Fig. 1) would insert randomly stenciled letters on top of seemingly divided composition, therefore bringing the work back to its two dimensional plane. From this perspective, what Liao was trying to experiment was to unleash the painting to flow in its imaginary state and at times to remind the spectator the ultimate and undeniable quality of painting as a flat art.

The time abroad in early 1960s left an indelible mark on Liao Chi-Chun’s painterly language, after which the artist embarked on a fully-fledged abstract journey (Fig. 2). The life experience and artistic change was reminiscent of another master in the 20th century. After Jackson Pollock’s sudden death from a drunk driving accident in 1956, Willem de Kooning was left as the public face of Abstract Expressionism. The immense pressure of the role as well as New York City stifled him, who, five years later purchased a house not far away from the Pollocks and moved to Long Island permanently, though he had been going to the East Hamptons regularly even long before then. The coastal scenery, and the natural splendor seen while driving from the City to the Hamptons, quietly yet unmistakably changed the jagged lines and swirly colours in his previous works to more flowing brushstrokes resulting in a looser, freer, and more complex works (Fig. 3). Both Liao Chi-Chun and De Kooning looked around with new pair of eyes. Although paintings appeared abstract more or less to each individual’s extent, hints of natural or figurative forms often emerged and fleeing visual moments implying a real world, as well as the path of the passage of time and the painting process.

Lin Xingyue once said, in the eyes of younger Taiwanese artist and art critics, Liao Chi-Chun was "an evergreen that went through the evolving seasons of culture" and "a rainbow that arcs across the gulf of time". Ancient Castle in Spain, painted at the height of Liao’s career, is an important piece that engulfs the influences of east and west and watersheds a new era in Liao’s artistic trajectory.

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