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- BREATH 呼吸

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Breath
 

06 May - 10 June 2023

“Origin” depicts a new world transcending time and form. The coordinated brushstrokes allow different shape to maintain their fluid states, creating a natural order that balance each part, without interfering each other. At the center of the composition, a willow-like pink element dominates the overall structure, preceding all other elements. It precedes the huge pink moon and the glowing lake, the sprawling mountains and the breaking dawn. It is a crack that transforms the landscape into a physical body, an organ that produces an alternative mental dimension. “Origin” is the only painting with rich colors of acrylic and oil paints in Breath: A Solo Exhibition by Hung Zhen-You, presented by PTT Space. From the context of the artist’s practice, it seems to be a new world the artist has depicted for himself, while the works done before and after “Origin” feature basic elements communicating in black and white. The light in the painting is like the meridian formed by the intersection of different individual consciousness. It is reminiscent of the exploration of spirituality and the higher self in the works of Swedish painter Hilma af Klint. However, what makes Hung Zhen-You’s paintings unique is his ability to maintain the flow and rhythm of Chinese calligraphy and painting in his work. This may be another reason he named the exhibition “Breath”—to recalibrate from the most fundamental ground within the limitations.

 

Throughout his artist career, Hung has consistently attempted to depict the transparency of objects and energy, regardless of abstract or figurative painting. The artist, who gained fame for his exquisite photorealistic oil painting techniques, has been exploring the depiction of energy and objects beyond physical appearances. This inevitably brings to mind the glazing technique he applied to his early oil painting and his painstaking depiction of transparent water ripples. Subsequently, Hung Zhen-You has also dramatized light and odor in his recent works, allowing them to permeate the scenes. The sudden change in style and visual vocabulary in the works of Breath reveals the artist’s readiness to move to the next phase of his creative career. 

 

In the next phase, the powdery texture of charcoal, the fluidity of acrylic paint, and the lustrous shading of oil paint harmonize to create a sense of transparency that penetrates through the physical world. The composition consists of gradations of color and meridian-like lines. In terms of the significance of art practices, “breath” signifies the regulation of the overall meridians and nodes in the painting. It originates from the time Hung spent painting in a quarantine hotel during the pandemic. When I viewed the new works with Hung in his studio, he recalled that he took the basic material, charcoal and paper, with him for convenient reasons to the quarantine hotel. Faced with the same view from the window during quarantine and the longing to reunite with his wife, the artist returned to charcoal drawings, which he hadn’t done for nearly six years. Occasionally, he would mediate in the room, allowing self-awareness to go with his consciousness while painting, allowing the image to calmly delve inward. 

 

“I used to paint whatever came to mind, but now I start with drawing. The act allows me to be more precise when deciding what to include in the second layer on the canvas. This precision is different from what I used to achieve; it is a mental precision.”

 

Hung Zhen-You in his studio, 28 March, 2023.

 

 

 

Light and Energy Flow

 

The sense of transparency in Hung’s charcoal sketches and drawings exhibited in Breath reflects the artist’s delicate perception of how different materials harmonize on the same surface and how dualities can function as a single entity. For instance, in “Steel Man” (2023), the artist describes the fusing state of the two individuals as “the person on the right protecting the one on the left, while the left one gently cradling his heart with both hands.” In “Fluency” (2023), the two figures hold their hands to form a circle, emitting light from their heads and necks, circling the mysterious bright shape at the center of the image. Their minds connect. It is not difficult to imagine that these transparent forms represent a form of non-individual consciousness of the higher self, while the brightness represents the energy generated by that consciousness. It’s hard to guess what kind of religion these visual elements stem from; however, they may be reminiscent of images from movies such as the Tree of Souls from Avatar, Shishigami in Princess Mononoke, the “transparent world” in Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, or the visuality in anime and fictions that can see through other’s inner power. 

 

Starting from personal life experiences, beyond form and imagery, the transparency created through the harmony of self-awareness and material suggests the practice of exploring the spiritual source through abstract paintings in the early 20th century, especially Hilma af Klint’s non-modernist abstract paintings. Klint’s abstract paintings feature diverse elements, which she considered a means of constructing a priori concepts rather than a pursuit of formalism. The personal nature of Hung Zhen-You’s paintings ensure that formalism is not the artistic value he seeks at the current stage; instead, he focuses on a painting relationship rooted in personal experience and awareness.

 

Indeed, Hung is still facing the dualistic issue of painting that Asian painters and painters of Sinophone culture have contemplated. However, as an artist in the 2020s, Hung does not abandon reality in his paintings, nor does he follow the well-trodden paths of constructivism or abstract expressionism. Furthermore, he didn’t adhere to the cultural framework of modernized nationalism. In “Summer Night Breeze” (2022), Hung started from his perception and experience to create the gradation of negative space, rubbing texture and blackness, which reflects his interpretation of the relationship between light and movement in painting with the integration of acrylic pigments, oil paints and charcoal. This relationship has often been considered in art history as the fusion of two concepts from both Eastern and Western traditions that 20th-century artists contemplated. In this sense, Hung Zhen-You is refining a personal perspective on the nature of painting through a process of de-formalization and a close physical sensation observation process.

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