Half or more of the best new work in the last few years has been neither painting nor sculpture. Usually it has been related, closely or distantly, to one or the other. The work is diverse, and much in it that is not painting and sculpture is also diverse.
- Donald Judd - 1965
Whole poems are made of out of many single poems we call words … I am trying to recover a part of the poet’s work which has been lost. Our first poets were namers, not rhymers.
- Carl Andre
As Lin Show-Yu entered Millfield School in England, his privileged and carefully curated life was unfolding to his family’s judiciously formulated plan. A top English public school, up to Oxford or Cambridge to study engineering, returning home to help build Taiwan into a strong and powerful country, thus cementing the Wufeng Lin’s position as one of the most influential families in the country. Regent Street Polytechnic, a western marriage and a precarious career as an artist and teacher could not have been further from his father’s masterplan. Following the birth of his first child he was duly disinherited and replaced by his younger brother, Philip, as the heir apparent.
What happened? What compelled Lin Show-Yu to turn his back on the security, privilege and power that he was assured in order to pursue a life of financial insecurity and possible obscurity?
It was almost certain that his interest in art and architecture was sparked at school and once in London he voraciously consumed the exhibitions and gallery shows that were on offer. This was a time of ground breaking exhibitions like 'Nine Abstract Artists' at the Redfern in 1955,'This is Tomorrow' at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1956, the 'Staging Jackson Pollack' show at the same gallery in 1958 and 'The New American Painting' at the Tate Gallery in 1959. Britain was looking to America but also finding its own expression and voice in vital arenas such as the ICA.
During his studies at Regent Street Polytechnic Lin met Charles and Peter Gimpel and would assist in them in hanging the latest exhibitions at their Gimpel Fils Gallery. Showing the gallerists his own paintings he persuaded them to give him his first selling exhibition. In 1958 the ICA also put on a one man show of his latest abstract work. As he became more widely exhibited Lin Show-Yu made the decision to adopt the western name of Richard. He never fully explained why he specifically chose to do so but he recognised that to build a career as an artist in 1960s London he needed to Anglicise his name but without losing his original identity. This fusion of Eastern and Western names occurred around that same time that his work dramatically shifted in style. The use of colour, tone and texture were bleached from his paintings as they took on a minimalist purity.
“White is the most mundane of colours, and the greatest of all colours; it is the most colourless and the most colourful; it is the most noble colour and the most common colour; it is the most tranquil colour, and the saddest colour too. White in and of itself is many colours; it can be thicker, thinner, heavier, lighter, transparent, semi-transparent … which means that with white and white, you can construct many strange and wonderful relationships of shapes and shapes, or spaces and spaces.”
Although this change in his work seemed sudden and dramatic it had actually been gestating for some time as he absorbed the maelstrom of movements and manifestos that whirled around London’s artistic community. Drawing on his interest in the great Modernist architects such as Le Corbusier, that he had studied at Regent Street Polytechnic, and the contemporary western art movements, that he had experienced in the galleries and museums of London, Lin distilled this into the beautiful white canvases of his work in the 1960s by drawing on his Taiwanese upbringing and the teachings of Eastern philosophy.
Painting Relief 27.7.64 shows Lin combining his painstakingly slow technique of building layer upon layer of paint to create subtle lines of varying thickness with the pure, machine produced material of Perspex. Seemingly flat and uniform in colour on first glance the subtle textural and impasto variations of paint and plastic emerge as the complexity of composition unfolds with closer inspection. These works are objects. Simultaneously pictorial, architectural and sculptural. The positive and negative spaces created on the canvas surface are constructed with an understanding that one cannot be present without the other. Donald Judd stated that “Actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific that paint on a flat surface” (D. Judd quoted, D. Waldman, Carl Andre, New York, 1970, p. 6). Like Yin and Yang, Lin explores these Taoist concepts within his painting but from the perspective or viewpoint of working in a minimalist paradigm. He draws on many contemporary influences of the time, be it Le Corbusier or Ben Nicholson, Donald Judd or Robert Ryman, however, his cultural background and education allows him to create a synergy between Western and Eastern teachings and it is this collaboration that gives the work of Richard Lin/Lin Show-Yu a uniquely beautiful and timeless spiritualty.