為時代而畫

——五月畫會發起人郭東榮
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2010 / 11月

文‧郭麗娟 圖‧郭東榮提供


美國畫家傑克遜•帕洛克於1947年創始「不用畫筆作畫」技法後,世界美術產生劇變,繼抽象表現主義之後,新達達、普普藝術、歐普藝術、新寫實主義、超現實主義,以至新表現主義、後現代藝術……,短短數年間,各種繪畫表現方式紛紛出籠。

在世界畫壇景觀丕變之際,台灣畫壇卻始終停留在獨宗印象派或野獸派的保守氛圍中。1956年,一個由師大藝術系學生所組成的「五月畫會」終於打破成規,不但以前衛之姿引領藝術潮流,對台灣畫壇邁入現代化更深具刺激與影響力。

半世紀來,五月畫會雖一度沈寂,它的創始成員卻堅守崗位、各自走出一片天,以色彩和結構著稱的郭東榮就是其一;而老畫家扣緊時代脈動創作的生猛精神,也歷經半世紀越戰越勇。


 

郭東榮,日治時期1927年生於嘉義,父親以製作服裝展示模特兒的模型為生,看父親為模型上色,讓他初識色彩的應用;就讀白川公學校(今大同國小)一年級時,教「習字」的老師寫得一手漂亮的毛筆字,讓他對撇捺線條之美深深著迷;3年級時,導師今久留主帶來石膏狗模型讓學生寫生,郭東榮畫得最神似,導師將他的畫掛上黑板當眾誇讚,小小心靈大受鼓舞。

5年級時,來自日本四國的美術老師安西勘市,指導他水彩人物、靜物等基本技法,並督促他勤於寫生。當時準備升學的5、6年級生都要留校補習,老師卻規定他每天都要完成一幅水彩寫生再參加升學補習,兩年下來,獲得全校繪畫比賽第一獎,心中也隱隱浮現要成為畫家的夢想。

親炙名師

1940年,郭東榮考入5年制嘉義農林學校農科,隨著大東亞戰爭轉趨激烈,日人自1942年開始在台招募志願軍,青年學子則被發派為學生兵。郭東榮1945年畢業後,隨即被派至製造飛機燃料的嘉義溶劑廠,負責保護工場。

幾個月後戰爭結束,郭東榮短暫任職於嘉義農業試驗場,兩年後轉任母校嘉義農林,1950年從同事口中得知師範學院已成立藝術系(今國立台灣師範大學美術系),便利用課餘苦讀,考上後,大一暑假就留在李石樵教授的畫室勤練素描,奠下扎實基礎。

對於近年流行「現代藝術不必學素描」的說法,郭東榮相當反對,他認為無論走抽象或寫實路線,素描的「基本功」絕不可偏廢。

在師院另一位影響他至深的是廖繼春教授。1954年3月,他出任廖繼春「雲和畫室」助教,不僅學到不拘泥古典派的浪漫畫風,師生共用夾板作畫,也在畫壇傳為美談。

當時社會物資匱乏,油畫布端靠進口,取得不易,為此,郭東榮經常用三夾板充當畫布。有回他剛完成一幅靜物,廖繼春也正好進畫室,一時找不到畫布,就利用他作畫的三夾板背面,畫了一幅〈師大秋天小路〉。郭東榮非常珍惜這幅「雙面畫」,無論是到小金門當兵或留學日本,都把它帶在身邊。

1954年,師院藝術系4年級全班到阿里山寫生,回校後展出寫生作品。他和郭豫倫(後娶台大才女林文月為妻)因未參加寫生無法參展,讓他深感遺憾,便向系裡申辦兩人畫展,雖未辦成,但聯展的念頭卻由此觸發。

開創台灣現代繪畫的新路

當時郭東榮已駐守「雲和畫室」,後來劉國松和郭豫倫也來同住,3人討論後決定邀請李芳枝加入,1956年在師大藝術系舉辦「4人聯合畫展」,郭東榮展出的抽象畫〈思〉,堪稱是台灣公開展出的首幅抽象畫。

據說全世界首幅抽象畫,是由俄國畫家康定斯基於1911年畫出;至於抽象畫在台灣,依郭東榮的說法,1953年日本水彩畫家荻野康兒來台為Pentel顏料公司作廣告宣傳時,現場示範了抽象畫創作,首開先端,此舉對台灣藝術青年影響甚大,荻野康兒可說是台灣抽象畫啟蒙者之一,加上當時留學法國巴黎的趙無極以抽象畫成名,1955至1960年間,台灣已有不少人開始嘗試抽象油畫。

「既然抽象畫已成世界畫壇主流,當然要嘗試創作,」郭東榮表示,抽象畫既能表達畫者內心的感受,又不容易被觀者輕易解讀,這種曖昧趣味,才是他選擇的主因。

4人聯展後,在廖繼春教授鼓勵下,郭東榮1956年成立畫會,以聯展成員為基礎,畫會名稱經李芳枝提議,效法當時法國「五月沙龍」的實驗精神,同時也期許成員每年5月定期開畫展,定名「五月畫會」,1957年另邀當年剛自師大畢業的陳景容與鄭瓊娟加入,在中山堂舉行第一屆「五月畫展」。

郭東榮回想創立畫會的初衷:「成立畫會,純粹為藝術,大家互相勉勵,秉持表現時代性與創新精神的共同信念。同時我們也意識到自己所肩負的責任,我們要開創出一條自己的路,一條屬於台灣現代繪畫的新路。」儘管每位成員風格不一,但大家都朝著共同的理想摸索前進,也約定都以油畫為主。

1962年他留學日本時,日本畫壇瀰漫在前衛現代主義之中,幾乎有「不畫抽象畫就不是畫家」趨勢,他特地寄回抽象水墨畫和被稱為「墨象」的抽象書法等資料給劉國松,在劉國松推動下,「抽象水墨」在台灣蔚為風潮。

成名作〈師大化妝舞會〉

回顧當年,已擁有穩定教職的他居然偷偷報考師院藝術系,父母得知後十分反對,因為當時社會風氣保守,學藝術的人很難找出路,師院雖然免學費,但油畫顏料卻相當昂貴。郭東榮記得,他師院畢業後分發到台中二中任教,月薪410元,但小小一管顏料竟要價17元。

幸好在師院就學時,當時台北第一家美術社「學校美術社」老闆姜鏡泉愛才,先提供顏料給他,還讓他把畫作掛在店裡寄賣,賣出時再「抵繳」顏料費,讓他不必為顏料費傷神。此外他也積極參加校內外競賽,除證明自己的才華外,最大的誘因還是那些獎品——他最渴求的顏料。

1955年,郭東榮以總成績第一名畢業,同年以〈師大化妝舞會〉獲台陽美展「台陽獎」。郭東榮回想每年的3月25日美術節,全國大學美術系會共同舉辦化妝晚會,這幅畫中,聚光燈下戴著面具的兩人舞姿曼妙,圍在旁邊的二十幾個人物,或以面具遮臉,或彩繪變裝,讓人難以辨識真實面目,營造出詭秘的氛圍;一齣人生大戲看似正要上演,即連牆壁上的小丑臉譜也融入真真假假的化裝舞會中。

陳澄波震撼

師院畢業後郭東榮考上預官,在政工幹校受訓時,在一篇「思想調查」的文章中,耿直的他將內心對「228事件」、「白色恐怖」、「實施戒嚴」等的反感,以及眼見「戰敗國」日本已從戰後廢墟中積極建設,台灣卻停滯在內部權力鬥爭的不滿,在文章中一吐為快。

「一文賈禍」的結果,讓他成為首批「外放」的預官,被派駐到最前線——小金門黃厝。當時正逢1956年「624砲戰」,有一回,他從藏身的防空洞出來,看到剛才還在跟他說話的當地孩童被炸得只剩下半身,井水旁邊正在洗澡的士兵也通通中彈倒地,如此慘重的傷亡,第二天中央日報竟粉飾太平說:只死了兩頭牛!

滿地支離破碎的同袍殘骸,還讓他回想起陳澄波被槍決的那一刻。

與他同為嘉義人的知名畫家陳澄波,兩人住家相距不遠,「當時嘉義中正路附近有一條河溝,從公園流經郵局,再從我家後面向西流。母親曾說,陳澄波曾經從河溝對岸,畫我家緊鄰溝邊的廚房和伯母煮飯的情景。」

1947年發生228事件,自願當「和平使」為民請命的陳澄波,竟被冠上叛亂罪名,槍斃當天被載上大卡車遊街示眾,郭東榮隨著大批鄉人一路跟著卡車來到嘉義火車站,親眼看到陳澄波等人被處決並曝屍,對當時剛滿20歲,身處政權轉移、身分認同、國府政權的文化落差和語文轉換等調適期的他而言,震驚與衝擊終身難忘。

他記得1945年終戰時,看到前來接收台灣的「祖國」兵士衣衫襤褸、舉止粗鄙,和戰敗國日本兵的肅穆壯盛軍容形成強烈對比,當時滿腔愛國情懷的他,還公開呼籲鄉親要節省開支,讓國軍能吃得飽、穿得好,不要被日本軍比下去。但此刻,他的祖國夢已隨槍聲乍響完全破滅。

留學與就業

由於熟諳日文,郭東榮一直渴望能赴日留學,擴大藝術視野。1961年為了籌措費用,在鄉親林淇章醫師協助下,在家鄉舉辦個展,展出100幅油畫。當時的教員薪水每月僅新台幣500元左右,這次個展賣出22幅作品竟創下兩萬多元佳績,足見嘉義父老提攜家鄉子弟的心意。

1962年4月,郭東榮終於一償夙願乘船赴日,就讀武藏野美術大學。

初抵日本,郭東榮經常流連各美術館,西方藝術大師的原作不僅開啟他的視野,也讓他體驗從畫冊上無法把握到的力度和內涵。豈料東京物價昂貴,半年內即盤纏用罄被迫輟學,就在前途茫茫之際,獲東京中華學校聘用,憑著正直的操守和工作能力,從教員一路升至教務主任,逐漸獲得董事會倚重。

有了穩定收入,讓他得以持續留學夢,1966年早稻田大學西洋美術史研究所畢業、1973年國立東京藝術大學大學院油畫技法材料研究所畢業,先後獲兩個碩士學位。

就讀東京藝大時,郭東榮參與日本「迎賓館」的明治時代壁畫修復工作,日本畫師告訴他,顏料必須攪拌200次,才能塗上去,如果少於200次,顏料質地會不均勻,經不起時間考驗,容易龜裂脫落。日本畫師說完,隨即動手調了200次,足見日人作畫的嚴謹,及對顏料材質認識之深。

藉藝術一抒時局憂思

留居日本時,郭東榮的畫題跟著時代走,擅於從生活取材,表現手法無拘無束。他認為一張畫的價值在於它的實質內涵,而不是形式上的抽象或具象,從事藝術工作者應多嘗試、多變化,「風格是自然形成的,絕不能勉強犧牲自我感受,去迎合時代需求。」

對於有些畫家一生只畫一種題材,郭東榮坦言,面對世局的變動,他不可能無動於衷,不管是韓戰、越戰,都對他產生極大衝擊,並渴望藉由畫筆表現出來。

例如1973年美國「阿波羅11號」登陸月球,舉世振奮,但當時美國正深陷越戰泥淖,國內反戰浪潮四起,戰場上,美國大兵們因承受不了精神磨難,往往藉著施打毒品逃避現實,而美國民眾卻在世界霸主的光環下缺乏堅忍精神,以致越戰節節敗退。

同年,郭東榮以唯美構圖、豐富色彩,完成了200號巨幅油畫〈向阿波羅11號挑戰〉,細膩筆觸營造出男女擁吻的浪漫氛圍,但在讓人心神蕩漾的主圖右下角,登月小艇返航時的勇往直前,才是他想傳達的意念,他希望藉此警惕剛退出聯合國的台灣人民,不可奢華貪圖享樂,在國際局勢艱難時期,唯有努力才能安居樂業;左下角一群振翅高飛的飛鳥,則是他對台灣的祝福,也是對世界和平的期待。

「激動抽象」

又如畫於1976年的〈公害╱公益200年〉,時值美國建國200年,也是日本田中首相接受美國洛磯航空公司5億日圓賄賂被判刑的一年,畫中代表美國的自由女神像,手中的書被一顆大花生所取代,胸前掛著一串小花生,每顆小花生代表100萬日圓的賄賂款;右下方的印地安人頭像,代表美國白人對少數民族的迫害,左下方則是日本廣島原子彈爆炸,犧牲了數十萬無辜百姓,這一切都是「公害」。

另一方面,自由女神的花生項鍊墜飾,是愛迪生所發明的燈泡,右上角是登上月球的「阿波羅11號」,對人類科技文明而言是「公益」,整幅畫採用陰鬱的墨綠色,為美國的歷史功過把脈定調。

世界在變,畫風也在變

1986年,美國挑戰者號太空梭發射後73秒在空中爆炸,7位太空人當場犧牲,當時透過電視轉播目睹此事件的他,震撼、悲痛的情緒無法描繪,在〈宇宙探險的犧牲〉中,他選擇熟悉的書法,以不規則的粗黑線條表達起伏糾葛的心情,並以重複噴刷讓線條呈現濃淡變化,象徵太空梭爆炸時的濃煙密霧與火光。同年以相同手法畫出〈宇宙笑地球戰爭〉、〈兩個地球之夢〉等作品,被藝評家稱為「激動抽象」。

由於當年考取東京藝大研究所時,東京中華學校不肯放人,最後他只好允諾一旦取得學位後即返校服務。為了信守承諾,郭東榮長居日本,直到1989年退休,才返台任教於國立藝專(今國立台灣藝術大學),1991年重組已中斷二十多年的「五月畫會」,主辦「1960∼1990五月畫會紀念展」。

當初組畫會時,郭東榮的構想是,每年邀請師大美術系油畫表現最優秀的兩位應屆畢業生來參加,50年後就有100名特優的會員,必定是台灣最傑出的畫會。這樣的理想如今仍相差甚遠,但第一代成員都不負所託,在台灣藝壇扮演重要角色之際,他也期許新一代接續起「五月畫會」的動能。

1998年,郭東榮師法帕洛克不用畫筆作畫的技法,先用噴槍噴灑底層,之後擠出條狀顏料,讓各種色彩交織纏繞成一幅幅變化無窮的畫面,完成《硫磺山之戀》系列。

藝術,是最強大美好的力量

兩年後,台灣舉辦總統民選,他在《2000年台灣總統大選》系列中融入後現代「拼貼」手法,將候選人的照片及選舉相關文字黏貼在畫面上,並將頗具爭議性的論調書寫在畫上。台師大美術研究所前所長王哲雄評論此畫時表示:「配合線條纏繞的背景,締造台灣選舉的熱鬧、混亂和複雜的現象,也表現了郭東榮對時代議題的關心。」

2008年台灣政權再度移轉、2009年美國出現首位有色人種總統、南北極因溫室效應冰層快速融化崩解、聖嬰現象讓各國天災頻傳……,世局不斷變化、環境變得很糟、人心變得複雜,郭東榮祈禱世界能變好,於是畫出《世界在變》系列,以滴灑技法,將油彩在畫布上一層層滴落、相互交錯成無數個不規則小面積色塊或線條後,選擇性塗上顏料,再用刮刀滴灑黑色墨線。如此隨性的層層滴灑與著色,希望藉畫作所呈現的幻化美感,導引世人朝向美好世界的方向前進。

為求表現時代性與創新精神,郭東榮一再求變,畫作形式全無拘泥,有時抽象、有時具象,有時抽象與具象融合,甚至將東方文字與西方油畫結合,他堅持「美術要有符合時代精神的造形表現」,如同畢卡索,要不斷求新求變——創作、破壞、再創作。

自詡無法以「不變」為滿足的他,即使已屆83歲高齡,仍將持續透過畫作,傳達對世局的關懷與提醒,並以藝術調和、包容、轉化出恆久的真善美。

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Painting Changing Times-Fifth Moon Group Founder Kuo Tong-jong

Kuo Li-chuan /photos courtesy of courtesy of Kuo Tong-jong /tr. by Josh Aguiar

In 1947, when American iconoclast Jackson Pollock (1921-1956) put aside his brush to paint with unconventional objects, the art world would never be the same. Pollock's abstractionism lighted the pathway to movements as varied as Abstract Expressionism, Neo-Dadaism, Pop Art, Optical Art, Neo-Realism, Surrealism, and even Neo-Expressionism and Postmodernism, all of which emerged in his wake within a short span of years.


While art underwent radical change in much of the world, Taiwanese artists remained loyal to two dominant strains, Impressionism and Fauvism, at least until 1956, when art students at National Taiwan Normal University organized a band of forward-looking artists united by a common desire to challenge the status quo. Known as the Fifth Moon Group, they were largely responsible for ushering in the avant-garde and inciting Taiwan's artists towards modernity. Though the group has been quiet for many years, its founders have remained active, each one carving out his individual niche. Among them Kuo Tong-jong is particularly admired for his use of color and form. This elder statesman has always kept a finger on the pulse of the times, his creative spirit only growing over a half a century of work.

Kuo Tong-jong was born in 1927 in Chiayi. His father made mannequins for a living, and watching his father apply colors provided his first lessons in the use of color. His first grade instructor at Shirakawa Elementary School (now Ta-Tung Elementary) possessed fine calligraphic skills, and he was drawn early on to the beauty of the brushstrokes. In third grade, his teacher brought in a plaster model of a dog for the students to draw. Kuo's rendition was the most lifelike, and the teacher hung it on the blackboard for the others to admire, greatly boosting young Kuo's confidence.

In fifth grade, a Japanese fine arts instructor from Shikoku, Kanichi Anzai, tutored him in basic watercolor portrait and still life technique and oversaw his efforts in sketching. At that time, all of the fifth and sixth-grade students were required to stay after school to prepare for the junior-high-school entrance exams, but Kuo's teacher made him complete a watercolor sketch every day before heading off to the cram session. Two years of this regimen improved his skill to the point that he won first prize for painting in the all-school competition. Within his heart he could feel faint yearnings to become an artist.

In 1940, he tested into the five-year Chiayi Agriculture and Forestry Public School. As World War II escalated in Southeast Asia, the Japanese began recruiting Taiwanese volunteers for their armed forces. Teenagers were enlisted to help the war effort as noncombatants. Following graduation in 1945, Kuo was sent to be a groundskeeper at the Chiayi Solvent Factory, which at that time was manufacturing airplane fuel.

Laying a foundation

The war was over a few months later, and Kuo worked briefly at the Chiayi Agricultural Experiment Station before transferring back two years later to teach at his alma mater. In 1950, when a coworker told him that National Taiwan Normal University had established a fine arts department, he used all of his time away from class to prepare his application. After passing the entrance exam, he moved to Taipei the summer before matriculating so as to begin studying sketching with Professor Li Shi-chiao at his studio. By the time the semester started, he had developed a solid foundation in the subject.

He disapproves of the oft-heard opinion so flippantly bandied about in recent years that modern art has little use for sketching; on the contrary, he feels that sketching provides an indispensible foundation for both abstract and realistic art.

While at NTNU, he was influenced by another teacher, Professor Liao Chi-chun. In March of 1953 he began serving as Liao's teaching assistant at his Yunhe Studio. During this time Kuo was able to distance himself from the romanticism of classical painting. In fact, he and his teacher once created paintings on the same piece of plywood, which created a sensation in artistic circles.

Since Taiwan in those days was not materially well off, canvases for oil painting had to be imported. Kuo occasionally made use of plywood as a frugal substitute. Once when he had just completed a still life, Professor Liao entered the studio looking for canvas to begin painting. Unable to find anything suitable, he used the reverse side of Kuo's finished still life to paint an autumn vignette of a small street near NTNU. Kuo was so charmed by this "reversible" painting that he took it with him on all his travels, including Little Kinmen, where he did his military service, or while studying in Japan.

In 1954, the fourth-year art students at NTNU took a class trip to Mt. Ali to paint nature scenes to present at a school exhibition. Kuo and classmate Guo Yulun were unable to make the trip and were thus prevented from participating in the exhibition. Frustrated, the pair applied to put on a joint exhibition on their own, which, though ultimately denied, nonetheless planted a seed in their minds that would later bear fruit.

Opening new paths

Kuo already had his post at Yunhe Studio; later on, Liu Kuo-sung and Guo Yulun began living there, as well. The three young artists later decided to invite a fourth individual, Li Fang-chi, to join them, and in 1956 they put on a four-person exhibition at the NTNU Fine Arts Department. It was at this event that Kuo Tong-jong premiered his abstract painting Contemplation, which has since been described as the first abstract work by a Taiwanese artist to be publicly exhibited.

Most art historians attribute the first abstract painting to Russian Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) in 1911. In Taiwan, the breakthrough didn't take place until 1953, and it was enabled by the visit of Koji Ogino, who had come as a spokesman for the Pentel Company, a Japanese art supplier. Ogino composed an abstract work at a workshop in the presence of mesmerized young artists, and in that moment, a new age of Taiwanese artistic expression was born. In a sense, Ogino could rightly be called one of the progenitors of Taiwanese abstract art. At this same time, Zhao Wuji, a noted abstractionist, was studying in Paris. The years 1955-1960 witnessed many young artists venturing into the abstract realm.

"Abstraction was in vogue throughout the world-of course we all wanted to try it for ourselves!" Kuo recalls. Abstract painting is particularly able to convey the mood of its creator, and at the same time, its ambiguous quality opens it up to variable interpretation. These were the reasons that attracted him to the genre.

In 1956, with the encouragement of Professor Liao, Kuo and his three co-exhibitors decided to form an artistic fraternity with the four of them as core members. Drawing inspiration from the adventurous spirit of the French "Salon de Mai," the group accordingly took the name "Fifth Moon Group," and vowed to hold exhibits annually every May. In 1957, they invited a pair from that year's graduating class, Chen Jingrong and Zheng Qiongjuan, to exhibit with them at the group's inaugural show, held at Zhongshan Hall.

Kuo reflects back on their founding purpose: "When we started the group, our artistic motives were very pure. Everyone encouraged one another. We were all trying to push ourselves creatively while also expressing the zeitgeist of our generation. At the same time, we were aware of an important responsibility, namely to create art that was uniquely ours, a modern artistic path that could be said to be uniquely Taiwanese." The output of the group was by no means homogenous, but they were conjoined by shared ideals, and also by the agreement to make oil painting their primarily vehicle.

Receiving exposure

He well remembers the strenuous objections of his parents when he told them he intended to forsake the steady income of his job in favor of a precarious life as an artist. Taiwan at that time was extremely conservative, and it was typical for his parents to worry about their son's livelihood. Even though NTNU charged no tuition, oil and paint were exorbitantly priced. He recalls that when he was assigned to teach at Taichung Second Senior High School after graduation, his monthly salary was NT$410, yet a small tube of paint cost NT$17!

Fortunately for Kuo, when he was studying in Taipei, Jiang Jingquan. the proprietor of Taipei's first ever art supplies store, Scholastic Art Store, became his ardent supporter. Jiang gave him the paints he needed without charging him up front, instead deducting the cost of the supplies from the sales of his paintings, which Jiang displayed inside the shop. Competitions both at and outside of school, besides affording opportunity to obtain recognition for his talent, were also a way to win free art supplies-this was, in fact, his primary motivation for participating in the first place.

In 1955, Kuo graduated at the top of his class. That same year his work NTNU Costume Party won an award at the Tai-Yang Art Exhibition. Fine arts departments throughout Taiwan traditionally hold an annual costume party on March 25. Kuo's painting evokes the event with a pair of graceful dancers under a spotlight who are encircled by a crowd of around 20 onlookers whose masked or painted faces impart a creepy ambiguity. A profound human drama appears on the cusp of unfolding, and even the clown masks hanging on the wall seem to play a part in the masquerade.

Recalling martyrs

After graduation Kuo passed the qualifying examination to become an army reserve officer. While training at political staff school, in a confessional essay used to assess orthodoxy of thought he held forth frankly on his dim view of the February 28 Incident, the White Terror, and the imposition of martial law. He also fumed about how Japan had arisen from the ashes of defeat and was rebuilding itself as a nation while Taiwan stagnated amidst internecine strife.

Unamused by his candor, his superiors included him in the first group sent off to the dangerous "front-line" post of Huangcuo on the island of Little Kinmen. It was 1956, the time of the June 24 Artillery Battle. One time he emerged from a bomb shelter after an attack to find that the upper torso of the boy he had been chatting with a moment earlier had been blown to smithereens. The soldiers who had been bathing at a nearby well had fallen under the maelstrom. Yet the official cover-up reported that only two cows were killed in the attack.

Seeing the littered remains of his comrades made Kuo think back to the execution of Chen Cheng-po.

Chen Cheng-po was a well-known artist from Kuo's hometown of Chiayi, who in fact made his home not far from Kuo's own childhood residence. "At that time, there was a ditch near Zhongzheng Road that ran from the park past the post office and ran westward behind my house. The kitchen of our house was close to the ditch, and my mom said that Chen Cheng-po once stood on the other side of the ditch and painted my aunt cooking," he recalls.

When the anti-KMT uprising broke out on February 28, 1947, Chen volunteered to mediate between the government and the protesters. But the government regarded him as a traitor. They put him in a truck with other "troublemakers" and paraded them in front of the citizens of Chiayi. Kuo joined the crowd that formed behind the truck as it made its way over to the train station. At the train station he saw Chen and the others executed, their bodies left exposed to serve as an example. Kuo was just barely 20 at the time, and the shock of the transition-the change in government, gnawing questions of identity, the harsh governance of the KMT, and the sudden insistence on Mandarin Chinese-left a formidable, lifelong impression.

He remembers the bedraggled appearance and crass manners of the victorious Chinese troops at the war's end in 1945-such a sharp contrast with the solemn dignity projected by Japanese troops. At that time he was excited by the thought of Taiwan returning to Chinese rule. He exhorted everyone to save their money so as to allow the KMT army to eat better and wear better clothes, so they could obtain a measure of dignity equal to that of the Japanese troops. But the gunshots of February 28 dashed his patriotic dreams to pieces.

Venturing abroad

With his fluency in Japanese, Kuo was anxious to broaden his artistic horizons in Japan. In 1961, a distinguished local citizen, Dr. Lin Qizhang, helped him organize a private fundraising exhibition. He ended up selling 22 out of 100 oil paintings, yielding more than NT$20,000, an impressive sum considering the fact that his monthly salary as a teacher was only NT$500 or so. The exhibition demonstrated the considerable willingness of the Chiayi citizenry to further a promising local lad's career.

His wish was finally granted in April of 1962 when he embarked by boat to study at Japan's Musashino Art University.

When Kuo first arrived in Japan, he frequented all of the art museums. Seeing original Western masterworks up close was a mind-blowing experience that allowed him to feel their power and profundity to a far greater degree than simply seeing facsimiles reproduced in an art book. He was unprepared for the high cost of living in Tokyo, however, and impending poverty derailed his study plans within the first six months of his stay. Just when it appeared that all was lost, he landed a position at Tokyo Chinese School. Over time his rectitude and integrity-to say nothing of his fine teaching-won the trust of the school board, who gradually promoted him from teacher to administrative director.

Regular income made it possible for him to resume his studies. In 1966 he graduated from Waseda University with a master's in Western Art History. In 1973, he earned a second master's degree from Tokyo University of the Arts, this time in oil painting materials and techniques.

While at Tokyo University of the Arts, he participated in a restoration project of a Meiji-era mural adorning the State Guesthouse. A Japanese teacher told him that it was important to mix the paints 200 times before application. Any less and the consistency of the paint would be uneven, causing it to crack and peel in the long term. No sooner had the instructor finished his warning than he proceeded to mix the paint 200 times, giving full proof of Japanese painters' discipline and deep understanding of their materials.

Art as cultural criticism

While in Japan, Kuo frequently changed the subjects of his paintings to reflect the changing times. Life experience and the issues of the day usually provided the inspiration, but the techniques he employed to express them varied considerably. For him, artistic value is wedded to content, not whether the outward manifestation is abstract or concrete. He maintains that artists should be open to experiment. "Style should flow directly from the subject itself. The artist should never feel pressured to sacrifice his own feelings in order to cater to contemporary trends," he says.

He has never understood how some artists explore the same topic their entire lives. For his part, Kuo can't remain unaffected by the turmoil in the world around him; events like the Korean War or the Vietnam War all entered his consciousness and found expression in his paintings.

For instance, in 1973, when Apollo 11 successfully landed on the moon, the world was awed by America's accomplishment. Yet at the same time, the US was bogged down in the Vietnam War, which was becoming increasingly unpopular at home. Meanwhile, drug use was becoming rampant amongst the GIs fighting the war as they sought refuge from their tormented reality. Smugly contented with their country's superpower status, American citizens lacked steadfastness in the face of adversity, which contributed to the eventual defeat.

That same year, Kuo painted Challenging Apollo 11, a large-scale, colorful, romantic work. At canvas center painted in delicate brushstrokes is a couple locked in a passionate kiss. But the painting's lower right-hand corner, away from the rapturous focal point, contains the auteur's message: a space capsule parachuting downward reminds Taiwanese, at that time only recently ejected from UN membership, that in those days of international turmoil, hard work, not material gratification, would show the way to prosperity. The flock of birds soaring majestically in the lower left-hand corner embodies Kuo's benediction for the Taiwanese people and his hope for world peace.

"Frenzied" abstraction

Another example of Kuo's art-as-criticism is his 1976 piece Public Harm, Public Good 200 Years. 1976 was the bicentennial of the United States and also the year in which Japanese prime minister Kakuei Tanaka was sentenced to prison for accepting ¥500 million in bribes from the American aerospace manufacturer Lockheed. In the painting, the Statue of Liberty is carrying a peanut in place of the book; around her neck is a string of peanuts, each peanut representing a sum of ¥1 million of ill-gotten cash. A bust of an American Indian in the lower right-hand corner reminds the viewer of the brutal persecution they suffered at the hands of the white man. At lower left, a mushroom cloud recalls the destruction of tens of thousands of innocent lives at Hiroshima. These all speak to American abuses.

Representing positive contribution is the pendant dangling in front of the Statue of Liberty-Edison's light bulb. The Apollo 11 spacecraft also appears in the upper right-hand corner, and it, as well as the former, celebrates the enrichment of human civilization through beneficial technology. A gloomy dark green dominates the composition of this work which, in a sense, is a report card on America's net impact on the world.

In 1986, the American space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after takeoff, instantly claiming the lives of the seven astronauts on board. When Kuo saw the relayed broadcast of the tragedy, he was shocked; his grief knew no words. In Space Exploration and Sacrifice he made use of familiar calligraphy, which he rendered with thick, disorderly black lines to convey his tangled emotions. On top of that he added repeated layers of spray paint to highlight the varying degrees of shade in the lines, evoking the plumes of smoke and blazing light of the explosion. That same year he revisited the same technique to create The Universe Mocks Human War, and Dream of Two Earths, both of which were described by art critics as "frenzied abstraction."

Changing with the times

The year he was set to matriculate at Tokyo University of the Arts, his employer, the Tokyo Chinese School, was reluctant to lose him. They eventually relented, but Kuo promised to return once he had obtained his degree. Fulfilling his promise kept him in Japan for many years, all the way up to his retirement in 1989, at which time he returned to Taiwan to teach at the National Academy of Arts (now National Taiwan University of Arts). In 1991, he restarted the Fifth Moon Group after more than 20 years of inactivity, and that year they held a commemorative 30-year retrospective exhibit spanning the years 1960-1990.

When the Fifth Moon Group was established, Kuo had the notion of adding the two top art students from each graduating class at NTNU. Over time, the organization would expand-in 50 years there would be 100 outstanding members-to the point where it must be the greatest artists collective in Taiwan. The dream never panned out exactly, but in the meantime, the original members have created prolifically and carried the mantle of leadership well, and Kuo hopes that the younger generation will extend their creative spirit into the future.

Art: A benevolent force

In 1998, Kuo took a cue from Pollock and put his paintbrush aside in favor of other implements. He used a spray gun to put down a foundation and followed up by squeezing paint from a tube onto the canvas. The "Sulfur Mountain Love" series that resulted were mercurial works boasting dazzling interplay of color.

During the presidential elections two years later, he took a stab at postmodern pastiche techniques. In the "2000 Presidential Election" series, he took photographs of the candidates and textual content related to the campaign and pasted them on the canvas, and then wrote a number of highly controversial statements onto the works as a final touch. Former NTNU Institute of Fine Arts chairman Wang Zhexiong praised the series as follows: "The tangled background lines evoke the complexity of the election, both its exciting and its chaotic aspects. The work also reveals Kuo as a trenchant chronicler of contemporary events."

2008 was another year of political transition in Taiwan. The following year the US elected its first non-white president. Ice shelves continued to melt and crack at both the North and South Poles. The El Nino phenomenon wreaked frequent havoc on nations around the world. Not only was the world politically in a state of flux, the environment was deteriorating. People themselves were more complex packages than before. Kuo encapsulated his wishes for a benign future for mankind in his "World Change" series. He composed these works in drips and drops, first sprinkling a layer of paint on the canvas which randomly combine and connect to form small blocks of color or lines. He then applied color swatches in a more deliberate fashion, and followed that by using a painter's knife to pour on lines of black droplets. The spontaneously layered patches and drops yield a kaleidoscope of color and line intended to lead the viewer into a beautiful and fantastical dreamscape.

The twin prerogatives of timeliness and creativity have made Kuo an artistic chameleon. Not beholden to any particular style, he flits between abstraction and realism, or when the fancy seizes him, combinations of the two. He boldly mixes Chinese characters with Western painting methods. He firmly maintains that "art needs to express zeitgeist in order to be fresh." That was why Picasso was always inventing and reinventing himself.

Though the ever protean Kuo has reached the age of 83, he'll continue using his art to both express his concern for the world and to create lasting beauty.

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