Ideas and Refinement - The Artistic Qualities of Cheng Chung-chuan


Article by Lai Ming-chu


In the first half of the twentieth century, the development of art in Taiwan under Japanese rule was dominated by Western-style art education and the introduction of modern exhibition systems, and “New Art” (including modern Eastern and Western paintings) replaced traditional art as the focus of art development in Taiwan. New art was dominated by Impressionism, Pleinairisme (Academic Realism + Impressionism) and Post-Impressionism, which were prevalent in the academy. In the 1930s, the emerging Fauvism, Cubism and Surrealism had not yet become popular, but Shiotsuki Tōho and the “Independent Art Association” that toured Taiwan in 1931 were effective in the operation of the emerging avant-garde art style in Taiwan. The emerging artists of the 1930s and 1940s, such as Yamashita Takeo and Kuwata Kiyoshi of the “Avant-garde Western Painting Association, Chen Teh-wang, Chang Wan-chuan, Hung Jui-lin, and Hsieh Kuo-yung of the “MOUVE Western Painting Group,” as well as Hsu Wu-yung and Chuang Shih-ho, all experimented with the expressions of the emerging avant-garde art during this period.


After the war, when Taiwan was undergoing regime change and in the context of the U.S.-aided economy, the development of art was centered on Chinese art and continued to incorporate American and European avant-garde art trends. In the mid-to-late 1950s, with the formation of the “Fifth Moon Art Group” and the “Ton Fan Group,” they became two of the most representative avant-garde groups. In 1956, the Fifth Moon Art Group was formed by four gifted graduates of the department of fine arts of the Taiwan Provincial Teachers’ College (upgraded to National Taiwan Normal University in 1967), including Kuo Tung-jung, Liu Kuo-sung, Lee Fang-chih, and Kuo Yu-lun, following in the spirit of the May Salon (Salon de Mai) in France. In the subsequent year, Chen Ching-jung and Cheng Chung-chuan were invited to join the group, and the first Fifth Moon Art Exhibition was held in May of that year. When the Fifth Moon Art Group was first established, the original purpose of the group was to learn by interaction and encourage each other in the art of painting. These young painters, such as Kuo Tung-jung’s Si (1956), Liu Kuo-sung’s Still Life (1956), Memories of Childhood (1957), Lee Fang-chih’s Cactus (1957), and Cheng Chung-chuan’s Still Life (1956), with the exception of Si, which used abstract expressionism, the other works tried to use cubism or expressionism to explore their own experiments with memory, concept, or picture composition. It was not until around 1960 that the members of the Fifth Moon Art Group unanimously adopted abstract expressionism as their collective style of painting.


In November 1956, the Ton Fan Group was formed by Li Chung-sheng’s students Lee Yuen-chia, Chen Tao-ming, Huo Gang, Hsiao Chin, Hsia Yang, Wu Hao, Ouyang Wen-yuen, and Hsiao Ming-hsien. The group published “Our Words” in November 1957, advocating that “we must immerse ourselves into the environment of today’s times and catch up with today’s world trends.... if we are able to make contemporary painting develop universally in our country, then the infinite artistic treasures of China will certainly emerge in a new form in today’s global trend.” The artworks of the members of the Ton Fan Group, such as Hsiao Chin’s Abstract I (1955) and Untitled (1959), and Huo Gang’s Dream (1955), Untitled (1956), and Animal Composition (1957), all sought to fuse East and West to create a new way of modern Chinese paintings by combining Chinese calligraphy lines and characters, as well as Western contrasting colors and surrealistic dream elements.


Strictly speaking, Cheng Chung-chuan only participated in the first Fifth Moon Art Exhibition and subsequently moved to Tokyo with her husband after getting married, so she did not participate in the modern painting movement in the 1960s. During the late 1950s through the 1980s, she stayed in Tokyo for nearly 30 years, and it was as if Cheng Chung-chuan would no longer be involved in painting. In fact, through watching, reading, and experiencing traditional and modern art such as Japanese garden aesthetics, literature, and film, these life experiences and literacy were a rich source of nourishment that would eventually be transformed into her creativity. It was around the late 1980s that Cheng Chung-chuan became actively involved in exhibition activities. She participated in the “One Step Beauty Exhibition,” “Machi Painting Exhibition,” and “Women’s Travel Exhibition” organized by Katsuta Kanichi in Tokyo as a warm-up for her art career. In 1991, she held her first solo exhibition at the Toho Life Building Gallery in Tokyo and returned to Taiwan in the same year to participate in the relaunch of the Fifth Moon Art Exhibition, which had been suspended for more than twenty years. These were the beginnings of her return to the art world. Around 1980, she read Dr. Joseph Murphy’s The Power of Your Subconscious Mind and realized that Murphy advocated that the law of life is the law of belief, and that belief is what is in one’s mind; one can control one’s own destiny to achieve the state of mind of having what one wants. This belief, which emphasizes the infinite potential of one’s inner power, not only supported her during her submersion period but also served as the foundation of her thinking in her future abstract paintings.


In the 1950s, Cheng Chung-chuan’s paintings were mainly influenced by Li Shih-chiao, who painted primarily still life works in a cubist style with a reverse perspective, bright colors, and divided color facets. In the 1960s, she joined the study group of abstract painter Katsuta Kanichi, and from the 1970s to the 1990s, her works encompassed landscape and still life paintings from the late Impressionist period, portraits and landscape paintings from the Expressionist period, as well as sketches of nude women. These small but continuous experimental works served as the coalescence and incubation of the inner strength of her next phase in abstract painting.


As a result, in 1999, her works such as Sprites, Soul and Scented and signaled that her works would shift from late impressionism and expressionism with bright colors and free images to the abstract realm of deconstructed images and unrestrained ideas. After the turn of the millennium, Cheng Chung-chuan’s works entered the age of “do as one pleases,” and many linear symbols in the form of flames, splashes, swirls and feathers appeared in her paintings. These unnamed abstract expressions may symbolize non-specific, spiritual meanings such as flourishing plants, dazzling clouds, reproductive cells, nurturing eggs, soaring birds, the cosmic stars and galaxies, or mysterious nature. She allowed her endlessly derived inner thoughts to transform into creative inspiration, enabling her mature insights and her pure heart to soar alongside each other. For example, in 2001, Celebration expressed the joyful and high-spirited mood of the festivities through the dual imagery of red flowers and fireworks. In 2006, Mutualism conveyed the ideal state of coexistence and symbiosis through the illusion of dragons and phoenixes, symbolizing yin and yang, respectively. In 2010, Fiery, with its unique oval shape, large red background, black and white swirls, and waves, and splashing golden water, conveyed a concept of a glittering, shimmering, vibrant and endless life that circulated the vast universe.  In 2014, the use of symbols and colors in Glory was vastly different from her previous works. In this piece, natural imagery such as the moon, clouds, and trees vaguely appear, with soft, complementary colors replacing strong, contrasting tones, and under the goose-yellow moonlight, everything in heaven and earth coexists harmoniously, overflowing with the poetry of moonlight.


In 1931, born in a family of famous doctors and gentry in Hsinchu, Cheng Chung-chuan showed remarkable talent for painting from a young age. When she was studying at National Taiwan Normal University, she was also among the outstanding students. After getting married and moving to Japan, her husband’s family was rather conservative, which postponed the further development of her talent. However, with a positive mindset, she observed, read, and contemplated her daily life, and found the wellspring of her creativity. First, she participated in group exhibitions, and held solo exhibitions, then later she returned to the art world as an abstract painter in the 1980s and 1990s. The path of abstract painting followed by Cheng Chung-chuan was neither the emerging Western avant-garde art inherited from the 1930s and 1940s by the rising Taiwanese painters, nor the abstract expression paintings by artists of the Fifth Moon Group or the Ton Fan Group of the 1960s, which fused traditional Chinese and American modernism, nor the new wave of abstract paintings in the 1980s, which were minimalist or art informel. In Cheng Chung-chuan’s later years, she chose abstract as her vocabulary, combining her observations of everything around her, reflections on life, and realization of life’s quenching to create visual art that is unique, profound, and which explores the sublimity of life.


桌上靜物, 油彩、畫布, 45.5x53cm (10F), 1956.jpg

Still life, oil on canvas, 45.5x53cm (10F), 1956

精靈 油彩畫布 6F 1999.jpg

Sprites, oil on canvas, 41x31.5cm (6F), 1999

魂 油彩畫布 38x128cm 1999.jpg

Soul, oil on canvas, 38x128cm, 1999

清芳, 油彩、畫布, 45.5x53cm (10F), 1999.jpg

Scented, oil on canvas, 45.5x53cm (10F), 1999

慶, 油彩、畫布, 91x72.5cm (30F), 2001.jpg

Celebration, oil on canvas, 91x72.5cm (30F), 2001

共生, 油彩、畫布, 38x45.5cm (8F), 2006.jpg

Mutualism, oil on canvas, 38x45.5cm (8F), 2006

煜爚 油彩木板 50.5x61cm 2010.jpg

Fiery, oil on wood, 50.5x61cm, 2010

3 耀  壓克力畫布 116x91cm 2014.jpg

Glory, acrylic on canvas, 116x91cm, 2014