Yeh Shih-Chiang, Wantan and Shuinandong, 2016
** In text below, YSC stands for Yeh Shih-Chiang and YWL for Yeh Wei-Li
In 2015, three years after Yeh Shih-Chiang’s passing at the age of 86, Hong Kong based curator Chang Tsong-Zung organized an exhibition entitled Illuminated Presence: Yeh Shih-Chiang’s Calligraphy and Painting & Yeh Wei-Li’s Interpretive Works at the Hong Kong Art Centre. This compelling exhibition represented the first time a comprehensive body of work by YSC was exhibited outside of Taiwan and turned out to be a rare opportunity for YWL to enter into and research the seldom seen works of this late veteran artist. YWL based his interpretive work on YSC’s abandoned rented residence from the 1970s and 1980s in the Wantan area of Hsindian district, a riverside mountain valley in the outskirts of Taipei. With help from students and friends, YWL spent nearly a year nurturing this crumbled ruin of a brick structure overgrown with wild brush back to a semblance of life.
Born in Guangdong province in 1926, YSC studied at the Guangzhou College of Art, headed at the time by artist and revolutionary Gao Jianfu, who was a pioneer in the revitalization of the traditional ink painting language in the republic era. At the age of 22, YSC and his fellow students Yang Zhiguang and Jiang Jianfei were granted permission by Gao to take leave from the academy and set out on an adventure to travel on foot from Guangdong to the Dunhuang Caves and produce sketches along the way. With the spread of China’s Civil War, they were forced to abort their plans and redirect their route to Taiwan. For the rest of his life, YSC would remain in Taiwan, teaching painting and drawing, and making Guqin (Chinese zither) for subsistence.
Commissioned by the YSC Art Foundation to design and construct a YSC Memorial Residence Museum, YWL began work in early 2016 on the Shuinandong house located in the scenic northeast coastal area of Shuinandong. Unlike the Wantan residence, the Shuinandong residence held various objects of daily life used by YSC along with tools and raw material, paintings and calligraphy left untouched for over a decade. Interior demolition and reorganization yielded a sizable archive of daily life and clues to YSC’s artistic practice. Of this ongoing two-year project years and on exhibiting his artwork alongside the elder master, YWL states: “It is a daunting task to place one’s work next to ‘Greatness,’ but ‘Greatness’ is what makes one ponder the world around us…about ourselves, others, and the unknown…it propels one forward…in continuum… without knowing, endless questions arise, they beckon, and you dig, you mine deeper, you surrender, then enter subterranea…where magic overflows…”
In jarring contrast to YSC’s commanding speed and minimalist precision, with further differences in distance, subject, medium, and form, YWL utilizes his customary approach of gradualness and penetrating observation over an extended period of time, attentive to the architectural interior and exterior landscape, to every minutia of the things used, made, and left behind by YSC, to depict the slow mining of these remains and their eventual transformation. It is precisely this extensive labor of the hand and unflinching spirit and belief in what is necessary to achieve everlasting presence and memory of places and a life lived that binds their works together when placed side-by-side, and makes them feel in synch. Through the dual framework of constructing YSC’s residence museum and personal artistic practice, the interpretation and reimagined projections in YWL’s process and timebased photographic tableaus construct a layered dialogue with the elder artist that elucidates corresponding lives and practices, while illuminating and giving sustenance to a remarkable legacy as it continues its journey forward.