Lo Ch’ing

Lily Kostrzewa interviews artist Lo Ch’ing

In the summer of 2020, I was invited by the director of Whitebox Art Center in New York City to write a piece art review for an exhibition “Nocturnal Whispers of Pan” by Lo Ch’ing and Thomas Rose. It was the first time I saw Lo Ch’ing’s paintings; I was fascinated by the exhibition. The two artists open a new artistic dialogue that begins with an interpretation of an image’s meaning and a discussion of the cultural concepts surrounding the image. Using the cultural concept of Chinese calligraphy’s reimagined scenarios, Lo Ch’ing creates images of Chinese calligraphic “playful” icons with a focus on bizarre spatial arrangements with an abstract traditional format. He also created a poem for each image in both Chinese and English languages. In my childhood, my artistic foundation was trained in traditional Chinese calligraphy/painting in Taiwan, which made me wish to interview Mr. Lo one aday. The wish was granted two years later.

A Maple Tree’s Magnificent Autumn, ink and watercolor on paper, 27 × 54 in | 68 × 137 cm, 2018

Lo Ch’ing, who was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, was a famous poet from Taiwan; he studied comparative literature at Washington State University in Seattle and obtained a master’s degree. After returning to Taiwan, he taught at the School of Foreign Languages ​​of Fu Jen Catholic University, later serving as the director of the Chinese Language and Culture Center (Mandarin Training Center) of the National Taiwan Normal University, taught at its Fine Arts Department and many other schools as well. He has been invited to give lectures in various countries around the world and has appraised calligraphy and paintings in well-known museums, including the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City in Beijing, the Shanghai Museum, and the Chinese National Academy of Arts. In 1975, he won the first “Modern Poetry Creation Award” in Taiwan. He is a key figure in modern Taiwanese poetry, and his poems have been translated and published into thirteen Eurasian languages. In addition to poetry creation and literary theory research, he is also a representative of Taiwan’s new humanistic paintings.

Portrait of Lo Ch’ing

How does a nominee of the Nobel Prize in Literature become a professional artist?

Art is my first love. At the age of nine, I discovered that I had a keen interest in doing cartoon figures especially comic strips of “knight errant” stories, to please my boy classmates and occasionally with princesses bejeweled to covet the attention of girls. My parents and my great uncle noticed my artistic inclination and decided to support me generously by introducing me to one of the leading artists of our times, Pu Ru (1896-1963), the cousin of the Chinese Last Emperor Pu Yi (1906-1967), to study the classical ink-color painting of the Northern style. 

At the age of 15, despite the discouragement of my parents, I decided to be an artist and found myself a calligraphy teacher, Prof. Jen, Po-Wu (1910-1999), who later became a Zen Buddhist monk under the dharma name of Ju-Yu, this time to study classical ink-color painting of the Southern style.

In 1980, the opportunity for my first Taipei exhibition fell fortuitously on me out of the blue. A small but prestigious art gallery of printmakers bogged down in the trouble of exhibiting the scheduled drawing and lithograph show of the internationally well-known painter Zao, Wou-Ki (1921-2013). They turned to me desperately, pleading for me to stage an exhibition instead. Since they had snooped on that, they knew I had ready-made paintings stored at my studio from my friend Chu Ge (1931-2011), a leading art critic and painter of Taipei in the 1970s. I could do nothing but yield with a show of reluctance.

To my surprise, the short-notice exhibition turned out to be a smashing art event. The forty paintings displayed on the gallery wall were sold out on the opening day, plus sixty more during the ensuing week. All the paintings went to a group of three collectors from Hong Kong and London associated with the well-established London dealer Sydney Moss Ltd. 

One year later, a twenty-page Chinese ink-color painting market prediction report was airmailed to me from London, forecasting that within twenty years, Chinese ink-color painting will enjoy an important role in the global art market.

Nature Imitating Art, ink and watercolor on paper, 38 × 75 in | 96 × 189 cm , 2017

What are the most influential inspirations in your work?

When I read Postmodern Condition: A report on knowledge (1979) by Jean Francois Lyotard (1924-1998) in 1980, I felt what he portrayed and predicted was exactly what I had been doing in the past fifteen years. I decided to translate the book into Chinese, accompanied by articles on postmodern literature and fine art. The book “What is Postmodernism” was published in 1989 with a long introduction, discussion, illustration, and chronology. Consequently, it has become the very first introductory book of postmodernism to Chinese readers in Taiwan, mainland China and around the world and has enjoyed reprints for almost thirty years.

Tell us about a few of your career highlights or moments that have greatly affected your career.

As a senior English major, I had the luck to publish my avant-garde poem “Six Ways of Eating Watermelon” and other poems in the leading literary magazines in Taiwan. Immediately these poems won me enthusiastic critical acclaim that by the beginning of the 1970s crowned me the radiant title of “The starting point of New Modern Poetry.” The instant success of my verbal poetic experiments encouraged me to do the same in my graphic lyrical compositions. I was delighted to discover that I could freely utilize the traditional idioms learned from the Mustard Seed Garden painting manual with the images collected from watercolor sketches to reflect my firsthand experience poignantly and express my suppressed feelings and ideas surrealistically. By the end of the 1970s, I endeavored conscientiously to coin new graphic phrases and idioms such as palm tree, asphalt road, and UFO…  blending them into the high-rises camouflaged as the archaic misty rocky gorges with new temporal and special compositional structures. 

I am thrilled to realize that I could verify my eerie ideas in modern poetry and brush my whimsical inkling in ink-color form interchangeably without any restraint.

My graduate study in comparative literature and art (Washington State University) enabled me to practice further the age-old three perfections, the prestigious tradition of fusing poetry-calligraphy-painting into one integral whole with a semiotic approach of pragmatics. 

Nocturnal Whispers of Pan, installation view, 2022

How is your work different than everything out there?

Postwar generation artists tend to deal with the traditions of the East and the West with a balanced eclectic view. I think I probably belonged to the first generation of contemporary artists that could genuinely enjoy the authentic merits of Chinese traditional art as well as modern western art without the language barriers, technique hindrances and aesthetic impediments, and mental discrimination. I became the first Chinese art theorist who translated and introduced the various aspects of postmodernism, from literature to painting to philosophy, into a book entitled “What is Postmodernism”.

I began to paint a group of ink-color paintings with a postmodern touch in 1968 as the followings. Then, from 1980 to 2000, for 20 years of time, I developed my calligraphic linear movement to innovate iron-steel texture strokes to investigate the nature and impact of the kaleidoscopic industrial worlds.It took me about a thirty-year period of trial and error to mature the power of my calligraphic strokes, enrich the contents of the segmented spaces, and reflect the agrarian, industrial and post-industrial worlds synchronically and diachronically in my “windows landscape painting series” launched at the beginning of the 21st century. 

What would you like collectors and curators to know about your work?

I prefer to discuss my works with those who have a keen interest in reviewing the Chinese postwar artists from a historical perspective. 

This collector/curator will say, “Lo Ch’ing, born in 1948, transformed and evolved with the agrarian-industrial world into a postmodern internet condition. With the introduction of his innovative mode of linear windows landscape, he features segments structured by improvised fortuitous bold calligraphic strokes (the DNA of Chinese art). While, on the other hand, as the protagonist of his dramatic composition, he fills up the segmented windows with juxtaposed scenes.” (Crammed with postindustrial images parallel to the mixture of synchronic temporal and special orders.)

Viewers should conjecture their own interpretation and eventually reach a charismatic Epiphany.

Summer Gorge Cloud, ink and watercolor on paper, 71 × 38 in | 180 × 96 cm, 2017

To learn more about Lo Ch’ing and his work, please click here.