Artist Statement - Robert Huang (English Version)
I was born in 1959, in a small town named “Ruisui” in the rural Hualien County that serenely stretches on the paradisal southeast coast of Taiwan. In my eyes, Ruisui’s profound beauty is incomparable. I can still vividly recall the midsummer nights of my childhood - my grandparents would sip tea with our neighbors on wicker chairs; and children would lie on a plastic mat facing the most grandeur splendor of stars of dazzling ivory and flickering gold. As if the stars were my guardian angels, I felt my loneliness swept away by their heavenly warmth. Stars eventually became an integral part of my self-identity as well as the first emblem of love in my life.
In 1979, after retaking of the college entrance examination, I was admitted to Tunghai University in Taichung City. On a summer afternoon in the university library, I encountered “The Little Prince.” In the cover stands the Little Prince and one single rose by the edge of a planet. I could tell with just one glance the forlorn sorrows of its author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, strikingly similar to my own sorrow of leaving home and studying alone. I found “The Little Prince” comforting and quite empathetic. I learned from the Little Prince that this world is actually a wonderful kingdom of sensitivity. Each of us owns a deep well of emotions, and a unique star of our dreams. On this unique planet, there’s a rose that blooms just for love, the love that each individual has infused into it. In the novel, the Little Prince passionately adores his rose with a blazing innocence and zeal. That very passion inspired me on my own pursuing; and eventually I have found that very “rose” that belongs to myself, I call it a life of love.
In the heart of the Tunghai University campus sits the grand Luce Chapel designed by renowned architect I. M. Pei. Although I majored in at the time, I fell in love with the minimalistic structures of the Luce Chapel architecture. Throughout my four-year college, I took several courses on architecture design, learning the trade of sketching and composition. I also made living by illustrating posters – in fact, half of the brick wall by the college cafeteria was filled with my cartoons. At the time, I was fascinated by the works of Antoni Gaudí i Cornet, and I found that the structure of the Luce Chapel was built with separate surfaces that defied the traditional symmetrical design, resembling the traits of Gaudí’s unconventional architecture. With a multitude of colorful porcelain and mosaics, these asymmetrical surfaces created movements within still material, producing astounding visual effects. All of these elements became inspirations for the colors and creative ideas for my future work. Least to say, my time at Tunghai University was the start of my artistic career.
After graduation, I took on two short jobs in Taipei, working at a food manufacturer and a magazine. In 1986, I returned to Taichung, alongside a couple Tunghai Architecture School alumni to build a startup company. Our first project was to renovate a dilapidated housing community on Taichung’s Dadu Plateau into a new residence complex, which we later named “Utopia” and “Art Street.” This was the first case of community development projects in Taiwan and it brought me my first great fortune. However, throughout the development of our startup, I realized this job gradually grew against my nature, as the bundle of stress and complications of the business became incompatible to my tranquil personality. In 1990, I left the construction business to search for “the rose” of my life. I opened Rose House, an afternoon teashop that was themed with roses on the “Art Street.” My original intentions was to simply create a business that integrated my passions for both living and painting, but the store grew to become a phenomenal success, which further initiated the boom of afternoon tea culture in Taiwan. The Rose House Company expanded into a franchise with over dozens of stores as an acclaimed brand, and my ensuing financial stability allowed me the rare privilege to create art at will, and even till this day, I am thankful for that life has been exceptionally kind to me.
When I first started painting, I never questioned its cause—I just followed my passion for roses. I did not encounter much hardship throughout my artistic career, because I always enjoyed the happiness that painting brings. In the early days of my art career, I emulated the works of the great masters such as Cezanne, Matisse, de Kooning, Ryūzaburō Umehara, Liao Jichun, and in turn my roses were fused in the aspects of Fauvism and Romanticism. For instance, I would structure the composition after Matisse, incorporate the colors of Liao Jichun, and integrate the abstract representations of de Kooning. This particular time period, which I call the “Rose Period,” covered a wide range of subjects, including flowers, people, cities, mountains, and seas. Including my practice sketches and artworks, I have created more than a thousand pieces. Moreover, I am perhaps one of the few artists that have painted the most roses in the world. In 1999, I held my first solo exhibition in Taichung City Cultural Centre, and in 2000, my second exhibition was held at Changhua Cultural Center. Then in 2003, my work was selected to be printed on an international VISA Credit Card, and from such recognition I have gained further confidence and encouragement.
In 2010, “Huang Tenghui's Rose Art Exhibition” was held in National Taiwan Art Museum. Till this day, the 99 Flying Roses sculptures that I crafted for the occasion still soar about the museum ceiling as the museum’s permanent visual. In 2011, I painted posters as well as set designs for the stage play "Red and White Roses" at the National Theatre in Beijing. In the same year, the "Huang Teng-hui Paris Rose" solo exhibition was held at the Paris Chinese Culture Center. As my art career progressed itself, I had the honor to have designed Prince William's wedding ceramics and the Queen's 60th-anniversary mug for Aynsley, a porcelain and chinaware brand for the British Royalty, and my porcelain designs are popular among collectors in dozens of countries. Also, my oil painting was sold for 598,000 yuan at Poly Auction in Beijing. At the time, my artistic career was fairly successful, but I also began to encounter a dilemma of having my artistic direction bound to the singular theme of rose, as I gradually enjoyed less curiosity and enthusiasm that fueled my creative process. This particular state of mind perplexed me, and I decided to educate myself and read, attempting to settle my mind and re-examine myself. I knew I had to return to the original purposes of my artistic creation.
By 2012, I was 53 years old. I applied for masters study in Aesthetics at the Institute of Philosophy of Tsinghua University in Beijing with Xiao Ying, an esteemed artist and critic in China. I came across great scholars such as Xu Encun, Zhu Liangzhi, Jia Fangzhou and Huang Wenrui, who were also my companions and mentors. Through casual chats and scholarly discussions, I pondered upon the unity of my art and endeavored on the rethinking on the stylistic and practical approaches in my art by exploring a wide range of creative themes, ideologies, and forms. The first challenge was my sole focus on “the rose” for the past two decades of my artistic development. Should I replace new themes within my past artistic forms, or make partial modifications to the forms itself? Finally, I decided not to repeat the past. I set forth a new direction for myself, utilizing the medium of acrylic paint, and focusing after the European and American Art of the 20th century. The privilege of studying in Beijing also gave me new ideas that broadened my artistic views from Asian perspectives. The metaphysical aesthetics pursued by the Chinese Taoists, including cosmology, aesthetics and the practice of inner spiritual cultivation, began to emerge in my new abstract works. I also studied closely the fundamental concepts and pieces of classical art, modern art, post-modern art and contemporary art, and I grappled with ideas of visual symbols and texts, creating fresh narrative modes and styles. Now, I see that my painting plays a more profoundly diverse aesthetic role, inspired by Zhuangzi's imaginative and colorful symbolic techniques. I am able to combine Chinese expressions with Western vocabulary, connecting ancient Chinese painting ideals through a free-flowing creative process. The works of Fan Kuan, Xu Wei, Zhang Daqian in China and Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns, Gerhard Richter, Jean-Michel Basquiat in the West all have given me a variety of influence and creative sense.
From my rose period to my Beijing period of abstract expressionism, regardless how the form shifts in my art, one firm and unchanging concept remains. That is, to explore the existence of human solitude and the pursuit of pure beauty in the universe. To me, solitude is the most profound cause for existence in life, and solitude is not a mental anomaly. In fact, it is an indubitable dilemma that every human faces. Zhuang Zi said, “Life happened between the heaven and the earth, as if a white horse sped through, life occurred in a sudden.” This line portrays however much one acquires material gains in life, everything eventually vanishes as one passes away. Taoism tries to solve this issue through opening a transcendental level of existence, promoting the perfect amalgamation between human and nature, giving human the awareness of our fundamental reason to exist. The Chinese masters of landscape paintings instilled their works with this Taoist concept and rendered this concept into their extraordinary landscape paintings.
My works portray my passion for roses and care about human solitude, depicting the relationship between humans, the universe, mountains, clouds, the seasons, and mother nature. I like to dip wet paint upon wet paint so the traces of my strokes are clearly visible. The strong tension brings an intuitive harmony to the time and space between colors and forms. Just like how I despise water intermixed with wine, I enjoy the essential pureness in paintings, as objects that are not intentionally created for the purpose of beauty are truly beautiful for their purity. I believe this true beauty exists in every other pure thing in life. I like to paint something that holds real experience. If it's real, even if it's a pile of ashes, there must be some remnants of warmth with its depth. Art is a pure environment. In here, I found my true self. The abstractions in my paintings painted a more real world than the world I live in. I sincerely hope that my works could continue to explore and inspire more beautiful meanings to the world.