Liao Chi-Ch'un's contribution to the field of Western paintings in Taiwan and his creative achievements have made him one of the most prominent figures in the field in Taiwan. His works were frequently exhibited at prestigious exhibitions such as the Imperial Art Academy, now known as the Japan Fine Arts Exhibition, and the Taiwan Viceroy Art Exhibition. The Courtyard with Banana Trees (Fig. 1) was an archetype of his first creative stage, distinctive in the blend of Impressionist and Fauvist features and the realistic, representational composition and style that control the aesthetics of his works. Liao, however, did not confine himself to this realistic depiction, instead he began to explore the idea of Abstractionism, believing that "abstraction is the natural trend since modern painting has transformed from the visual and external to the direct expression of inner, spontaneous sentiment." It was exactly because of this conviction that Liao, when encountered the rise of Western abstract artistic thoughts in the 1950s, was among the few established artists who actively explored and responded, resulting in a new artistic direction. While Liao's second creative stage witnessed a turn to Abstract Expressionism from Fauvism, his quest for colour aesthetics never ceased. The artist, who devoted himself to abstractionism at the age of 50, was one of the very few among first-generation Taiwanese artists; he was exceptional both for this atypical endeavour and the masterful application of vibrant, spirited colours in his abstract art. In the eyes of younger Taiwanese artist and art critics, Liao Chi-Ch'un was "an evergreen that went through the evolving seasons of culture" and "a rainbow that arcs across the gulf of time" (Lin Xingyue).
The second creative stage of Liao Chi- Ch'un stretches from the mid-1950s to the 1970s, a period that is also recognized as the height of the artist's career. Liao achieved a major breakthrough in style which as a whole was directed towards abstraction. Works from this period are representative of the artist, and are often used as illustration in relevant art historical discussion. The Fish (Lot 1014), was painted in the same period and is the most abstract piece of Liao's ouevre.
Two Dimensional Colouristic Expression
Reviewing the dominant characteristics of Liao's works during this period, one observes that, Liao always preserves some outlines of his subject and some semblance of spatial depth. The Fish is unique in its strong abstraction and a purely subjective expression of colour. Given the binary nature between "form" and "colour", the artwork seems to have departed from any representational forms; but with an emphasis on colour and light and the composition of colour planes. Colours become the sole and pure means to express sentiment, scenario and ambience. Amidst the tide of exploring and experimenting abstract expressionism in the 1960s, this work is undoubtedly one of the earliest, and most successful attempts. Notwithstanding its title, the work exhibits blocks of colours in their entirety that conceals any shape, not even silhouette, of the fish. It is the liberal flow and sprawl of vibrant colours - yellow, red, blue, and green - that suffuse the whole canvas. The Fish , as its theme suggests, is a still life, and yet it is unconstrained by any single light source. The artist construes it as a flat surface of colours with no sense of distance but the startling contrast and the pulsating rhythm of hues.
The year, 1961, in which The Fish was painted, is crucial for our understanding of Liao's stylistic transformation. Art critics generally refer to 1962 as the turning point in his course of stylistic development. Li Mei-shu, a first-generation contemporary of Liao, once remarked: "[Liao Chi-Ch'un] visited the United States in 1962 at the invitation of the U.S. State Department. After that he travelled to Europe and was inspired by the concept of abstract painting. His works became more unbound and had moved beyond Fauvism." This commitment also reflects the observation and impression of most art critics. The Fish, however, suggests a different perspective. Examining The Fish, one will be surprised by how Liao's style strongly inclined to Abstractionism even before his journey to Europe and the United States. The Fish showcases a complete abandonment of narration and realistic form with a turn to the creation of a realm of aesthetics through the pure application of vivacious colours and unrestrained brushwork. Liao's trip had boosted his reception and response to abstract art, but the change in style is rooted in the artist's mentality, probably as a product of his ardent study of the expression of colours for 50 years. This is where his innovativeness lies, independent
of the influence from Western Abstract Expressionism. The art of Liao calls for a more delicate interpretation of his abstract artistic language - how he fuses with his aesthetics of colour, and how the art highlights the artist's unique personality and cultural origin. In this respect The Fish is an excellent sample. Shade (Fig. 2), painted in 1957, offers a similar vantage point, which by comparison underlines the more liberal, gleaming colours of The Fish.
"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-Ch'un
As a Taiwanese artist Liao Chi-Ch'un was renowned for his bold use of colours and his sensitivity towards it. The expressiveness of Liao's colours is unparalleled. In his works, there is always a riotous display of luscious, striking hues: pink, blue, green being the most common. In The Fish , these three colours scatter over the canvas, but the primary tone is the relatively rare bright yellow and white, which also single out the uniqueness of this artwork. The broad range of colours contrast with each other strongly. His shades do not come as sprinkles or fine strokes; rather, they are bold, incursive brushings of hues, altogether untrammelled and forceful, producing dynamic planes of colours. Those dazzling reds, greens and yellows - the class of recalcitrant hues that grow vulgar almost without a hitch - are tamed by the artist's paint brush. The thick pigments of yellow make a sharp contrast with the white, and with their radiance and purity they bring a joyful and grandiose atmosphere to the painting without the slightest sense of ponderousness. The overwhelming hues of yellow also give birth to liveliness; hence the canvas becomes vivid, energetic and splendid, evocative of sunbeams reflected on rippling waves which, either being absorbed or reflected, transform into sparkling fragments. The drops of colour on the canvas seems to liken fallen petals that float on the watery surface - or else leaping fishes amid the flowing current, engulfed in felicity. This is how Liao, by availing himself of the variety of colours, expresses emotion and ambience: from the substantial forms to the realm of colours, the latter of which leads its audience to a multitude of pictorial imagination, just as what Kandinsky, one of Liao's favorites, showcased in his early works of lyricism (Fig. 3).
An even closer reading of the painting draws us to appreciate The Fish from another perspective. The interspersing whites seem to have segmented and mediated other colours throughout the composition. Siding with the yellows, these whites enhance the brilliance of the yellows and yet neutralize their intensity. The audience is invited to move with the flowing whites to unveil the blue, green and pink within the yellow blocks. Between colours which transmute delicacy there are myriad levels of integration. In yet another perspective, the whites become the primary tone of the work while the yellows, leading a transitional role, disperse among other hues. The ever-changing relationship between colours produces a radiant flux, visualizing the glamour of The Fish in which colours accentuate and steer one another. It is a perfect example to fully illustrate the way Liao, the "colour magician", expresses his aesthetic of colours.
Liao's valiant use of primary, vivid and intense colours has surpassed the Fauvist choice of colours, as Wang Hsiu-Hsiung, an art critic, commented, "the art of Liao is even more audacious and powerful than those of the Fauvist masters K that harmonic and unshackled aura of Liao's works is almost like a symphony. We would search in vain for all this in the Fauvist oeuvres." While Fauvism in the West brings along a wave of colour expressionism in the world of art, Liao Chi-Ch'un elevates it, arraying to us a vibrant realm of colours with all the senses it kindles, and creates accordingly a wholly Eastern aesthetics and imagination.