Art is cultivation, not limited to learning, and is about spiritual practice. All practice is a lifetime dedication. If something can be achieved by studying, it only stays on the technical level, and it has not yet transformed into real art. The process of cultivation and spiritual practice is the only way to reach the highest artistic realm.
- JU MING
“Ju Ming's accomplishments go beyond the impregnable power and aesthetics emanating from his works. More importantly, he is keener than any other Chinese sculptors in recognizing his own cultural traditions that act as a natural force in his creative momentum, ... it's even said to be the fountainhead of all his creations. His vocabulary is contemporary as it is Chinese.”
- Carving for Humanity- The Biography of Ju Ming
Ju Ming debuted his first solo exhibition in 1976 at the National Museum of History in Taipei, featuring his Nativist Series that centres on the portrayal of meticulous, lifelike sculptures. He shot to fame and was highly praised by people far and wide. However, Ju Ming believed these works drawing from historical figures and home nostalgia could not help him reach the height of artistic freedom he was pining for. At the encouragement of his mentor Yuyu Yang, Ju began the creation of the Taichi Series in the late 1970s. Single Whip (Lot 35) presented in this auction is hailed as the iconic work within the Taichi Series. Compared with early works of the Taichi Series, this wood sculpture created in 1983 was carved with bold and daring cuts to conjure up the body movements, culminating in the true meaning of "tai chi"-the spirit pervades not only in the form, but permeates in the cuts and crevices of the wood, harnessing the energy and force as tai chi is meant to be.
THE HANDS AND THE MIND HARMONIZED WITH SPONTANEITY
Yuyu Yang once noted Ju Ming's works "have entered the realm of oneness of heaven and humanity, where tai chi has opened up his mind; it can be clearly seen from the impressive verve with which he engraves the wood." Single Whip illuminates Ju Ming's mastery control of the blade. Working with material such as wood, the artist retains the natural qualities of the wood that comes from trees weathered through rain and wind, hot and cold, which give each and every piece of wood its unique texture, tone, and flaws. Ju Ming flows with the texture and shape of the wood, dynamically cutting and engraving to harmoniously converge technique with nature. This resonance with nature can be felt by the viewer.
Casting off the uncompromising attention to external shape brings out the natural grain of the wood. Ju Ming has reached the bliss of letting go in his creation-no trace of hesitation, only straightforward cuts-which embodies the artist's philosophy of the hands and the mind harmonized with spontaneity. The so-called spontaneity is cutting without deliberation. Ju Ming believes creation doesn't come from thinking and should not come from thinking. A good art piece should not be "designed", but born naturally. This echoes the "forgotten" philosophy championed by taichi practitioners, in which the mind and body are attuned to be free of the techniques, the moves, and the forms. Ju Ming has expressed that his creations are at one with traditional Chinese spirit, like Bada Shanren ("Mountain Man of Eight Greatnesses") whose freehand brushwork imbues his ink wash paintings with eclectic liberty, going so far as to forgo the integrity of objects. Different from other artists who would generally finish painting and then place their signature and chop at the appropriate spot, Bada Shanren would render a mental blueprint then let his unrestrained creative surge take over to express what's on his mind. The results are powerful works animated with life. Meanwhile, Ju Ming symphonises emotions and techniques through his sculptures, in the process forming a set of modern sculpture vocabulary that moves the world yet still unique to himself.
SIMPLIFICATIONFOLLOWING THE IDEA, NOT THE FORM
Taichi Series - Single Whip stands imposing and larger than life through the large block cuts and balance of shapes, making it vividly three dimensional. Unlike his earlier wood sculptures that focused on details and surface texture, the expression highlight of this piece has shifted to the multi-faceted variations of the blocks and forms. Ju Ming's deft manoeuvre of the blade produces audacious large surface cuts, accentuating the slackening of the left hand with the sinking of the waist, while the right leg is bent as if sitting on an invisible chair. The form is concise and prodigious, from the head to the arms, then to the lower body, the entire sculpture is alive with succinct layers of energies. Delivering compelling aesthetics to the visual senses, the arms, one above and one below, and bent legs form a calm tai chi stance waiting to be released for action. The arms specially capture viewer's attention. They are not squared rectangular cubes, but are rather the combination of various geometric surfaces-slanted, triangular, irregular, horizontal, vertical, or obliquewhich bring to mind the fluttering of the shirt sleeves when arms are waving, moving the air around to pour forth the kinetic dynamism of the graceful figure. Contrary to Constantin Brâncusi's completely abstract wood sculptures in his later years exuding childlike sense of nascent pureness, Ju Ming's figurative forms and dexterous cuts evoke some sort of abstract imagination, which underpinned his creation of wood carvings in the eighties.
The Taichi Series marked Ju Ming's complete break from the illustrative and figurative constraints of subject matter, and ushered him into an era of deepened spirituality and search for pure form. Tracing back, a wooden sculpture entitled Kung Fu was featured in Ju Ming's first solo exhibition in 1976; this figure assumed the posture of what would later become Single Whip in the Taichi Series. This goes to show the significant place of this form in the artist's heart. Ju Ming's ingenuity of exerting human force to carve in sync with the unique natural texture of the wood itself brings out the aesthetics of forms—the impeccable artistic practice of connecting man-made and heaven-made.