As a youth, Ju Ming studied Taiwan's traditional art of woodcarving, working in a largely realistic style with a strong local flavor. It was in the 1970s that his work gradually extended to sculptures on traditional Chinese martial arts themes, works in a more streamlined, compact form but expressing a sense of great power (Fig. 1). At the suggestion of his teacher, Yuyu Yang, he built up his physical strength through the practice of Taichi, and at the same time, consciously incorporated aspects of essentially Confucian and Daoist thought into his art. His martial arts practice became an aesthetic pursuit that led to the creation of his Taichi Series, sculptural works imbued with strong Eastern color.
The earliest use of the term 'Taichi' is found in the works of Zhuangzi. Explaining that the Dao exists in the midst of all things, in their growth and change, Zhuangzi said, 'The Dao...existed before the Taichi, and yet could not be considered high; it is below all space, and yet can not be considered deep. It came into being before heaven and earth, and yet has not existed long; it is older than the oldest antiquity, and yet can not be considered old.' 'Taichi' here refers to the limitless extent of space, whereas in the Yi Zhuan, the commentaries on the Book of Changes, it refers to the primordial order of the universe. The original chaos and the primal void entered the state of Taichi and Yin and Yang, from which the myriad things of the universe originated. The core of Taichi philosophy is found in following the laws and patterns of nature. The practice of the Taichichuan martial arts adopts this line of thought, teaching that the soft can overcome the hard, that movement is controlled through rest. In his Taichi Series sculptures, Ju Ming seeks not so much to present viewers with the explicit forms of the Taichi movements or postures; instead, his work shows how he inherits its fundamental spirit, and through the use of original motifs, infuses new life and energy into its tradition.
Taichi Series: Sparring (Lot 49) is a two-piece set dating from the peak period of Ju Ming's work in the 1990s. The two pieces are poised with one releasing and one accepting, one advancing and one retreating, so as to emphasize their corresponding balance and complementarity. The physical shaping of the pieces conveys the sense of Taichi movements, the energy of their 'chi' and incipient movement stored in the negative space created within the sculpture. In Sparring, Ju Ming retains a great deal of the wood's original curvature and massiveness, carving out blocks that feel thick and powerful; he scores bold, abstract lines deep into their structure, highlighting the wood's grain and expressing the rhythms and the harmony of movement of the figures engaging in Taichi practice.
Taichi was undoubtedly the most important and representative theme in Ju Ming's sculptural work. What makes his Taichi Series remarkable, beyond his grasp of the balance between movement and rest, is the way in which Taichi's fundamental meaning provides opportunities to explore positive and negative space in sculpture. That is to say, how to transcend, or even 'forget' form and structure, to achieve an even more precise expression of power and energy. A similar kind of exploration can be found in Henry Moore's deconstruction of human forms (Fig. 2).
Kinetic sculpture began to appear in the West in the 1950s (Fig. 3), along with the use of geometric structures to express movement and physical forces. Viewers began to experience not just the sculptural work in itself, but the process of flow in the movement of the sculpture, as a spatial entity, through the air and through time, and the randomness of its movement. What Ju Ming's Taichi Series: Sparring explores, however, is the way in which the relationship between one physical form and another, between one line and another, can communicate the energy of this movement—and at the same time, his work conveys that this is a harmonious energy, an energy that exists in the natural patterns of all things, flowing freely in the movements of both Taichi and the sculptor’s knife. Ju Ming found great power in China's traditional spirit, allowing the intangible to shape the tangible, and making bold and decisive moves to shape the distinctive face of modern Eastern art.