穿梭古今的水墨仕女──李蘇羽

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1998 / 10月

文‧棲月 圖‧李蘇羽提供


百花盛開的盆花靜置在現代的廳堂裡,藉著西畫的多彩與光影處理,花朵、茶几恍若真實。然而百花的姿態、聞香的彩蝶又吐露著中國水墨的情韻。

一如清末將西畫透視、素描技巧引入中國水墨的意大利畫家郎世寧,經過台灣及美國完整中西美術教育的李蘇羽,出入東西繪畫之中,尋找水墨繪畫的新意。


雖然水墨是李蘇羽主要創作形式,但是很難以水墨家來稱呼李蘇羽。「我從來不自限,我是人,不是女人;我是藝術家,不是水墨家。」

藝術博覽家

畢業於國立師範大學美術系的她,在台灣從文霽學過水彩,從袁叔武學習書法,從吳詠香習花鳥山水,還從萬玉其學習嶺南畫派技法。到了美國,先赴密蘇里大學修美術教育,跟著在邁阿密大學修服裝設計,其後在佛羅里達州立大學獲得教育碩士。創作上,她畫水彩、膠彩、油畫,也做金屬焊接、立體雕塑、陶藝、玻璃鑲嵌、還從事舞台設計、服裝設計、珠寶設計。

活力無限的李蘇羽覺得,「創作一如生活,不同階段有不同喜好;要儘可能地去經驗,內在才會更豐富。」生活上,「有好東西,我都樂於去嘗試;」她游泳、溜冰、滑雪,為了體驗從高空俯瞰大地的感覺,她還學習飛機駕駛並且取得執照。

水墨畫家誕生

一九四四年生在四川、長於台灣的李蘇羽,母親張同香是一位水墨工筆畫家,伯父則為前故宮博物院副院長李霖燦先生。從小李蘇羽就擅長以畫筆來表達自己的感覺,四、五歲的時候,聽到收音機廣播說:「李麗華穿著漂亮的高跟鞋來台灣了。」她就在腦海裡想像那雙漂亮的高跟鞋,然後將它畫在牆上,家裡的牆壁總是被她畫得滿滿的。鄰人認為她母親太過寵她時,相當鼓勵女兒畫畫的母親就會回答說:「沒關係,牆再刷一道就是了。」

在這樣自由開放的教育之下,使得李蘇羽得以不斷突破自我,不限於某種流派或師承。身為李蘇羽伯父的李霖燦認為,李蘇羽之成為一個畫家,「是天生也是訓練,既有天賦,也得到最好的教養。」

負笈美國之後,無論創作或生活都更加多采多姿。她的作品入選國家水彩畫協會,得以四處巡迴參展。並獲得美國東南航空公司贊助,環遊世界寫生四個月,從歐洲、中東走到亞洲。這時不到三十歲的她,在美國已經每年有三次個展或聯展, NBC電台還在足球賽節目前的最佳時段,為她做了三十分鐘的專訪節目。她覺得當時美國社會對年輕人的鼓勵與肯定,使得初出茅廬的她更加堅定創作的道路。

我是王昭君

一九八○年,對李蘇羽是個創作的轉捩點,她花了三個月的時間遊歷了中國大陸十三個省。她發覺過去歷史、地理課本和唐詩宋詞所讀過的東西,原來都還活生生的存在今天,血液中的民族情感也霎時甦醒了起來。尤其到了古都西安,更能體會當年中土與西域之間的文化交流,唐朝文風音樂的燦爛。

於是她開始將歷史與繪畫結合,以中國的詩詞歌賦、小說典故為創作素材,並捨棄潑墨,而以修行的心態重拾工筆重彩。畫出了故事哀淒的《虞姬恨》、唐朝仕女盛裝出遊的《麗人行富貴唐天寶》、描寫唐朝風俗的《盛唐球戲》、教坊歌舞妓歲末時,不施胭脂祈求平安的《祈福》等等。雖然畫的是古人,然而創作的過程,相當容易感動入戲的她總有與古人相同的心情。

有一回李蘇羽在飛機上看到新聞:指出在新疆的阿爾泰山冰封下,發現一具漢朝女性的屍體,並有六匹馬殉葬,有學者推測可能是漢朝王昭君的歸骨所。

對於也曾旅居他鄉的李蘇羽,向來就對王昭君和蕃西域的寂寞與哀傷及埋骨異鄉的身世,有著深深的感動。於是她用超現實手法畫出《千年萬載不生塵》:畫作中王昭君懷抱琵琶躺在漂浮的空間裡,六匹馬在一旁守護。王昭君是她,她是王昭君,中國文化、歷史故事,就這麼存在她的生命裡。

「好古、懷著各式各樣的心情回眸歷史,是中國藝術的普遍性。但李蘇羽的歷史情懷還應與她僑居海外的經歷有關,在潛意識中,這也許是對二十載遠離故國的一種精神補償,」大陸北京中國藝術研究院近現代美術研究室主任郎紹君指出。

以水墨穿梭古今中西

畫過漢唐仕女,李蘇羽又回到現代,以身旁熟悉的女子入畫,用淡墨輕描勾勒她們秀麗的面容,人物的四周以悠遠的意境來傳達畫中人的性格心境。她以獨創的方式處理中國人講究的「留白」,將留白以隱約景物、色彩呈現為一種氣氛;她表示:「我要追求的目標就是如何展現今人的丰采,又不與中國人物畫脫節。」

儘管李蘇羽的創作因為寬博而不夠精深,中西融會的表現形式也因尚在實驗階段而略見刻意。不過,美國美中民藝學會主席李藍認為,這些畫作的內涵裡,隱隱地浮現一個輝煌而神祕的文化中國,從傳統緩緩走向現代。一如她筆下的那些生命,非常幽雅而閒適。

在台灣、美國受過完整美術教育的李蘇羽覺得,中西文化都有非常美好的東西,在不知不覺中就把二者融合在一起了。「她的畫融合了膠彩、水墨的多種技巧,畫面統合了寫實、寫意乃至超現實,反映出傳統藝術接受現代文明洗禮後,所取得的一種自然、平衡,且富有新意的成果,」藝評家黃小石表示。

對於李蘇羽而言,以毛筆或油畫筆在繃緊的絹布上作畫,就像初春的季節,在大地上滑雪或溜冰那樣流暢;而畫筆和絹布之間有力度的互動,最是令她忘我。無論畫作或生活都不自我侷限的她,今天以精細的工筆畫來修行,至於未來,她笑著說:「我的理想是──談笑用墨」。

p.54

除了繪畫,李蘇羽也從事立體雕塑。不論是創作或生活,她都廣博涉獵。

p.55

《春有百花》117x84cm 絹本 一九九三,由李蘇羽的花卉作品,可見其成熟的寫實技巧。

p.56

《及笄》54x80cm 絹本 八○年代,走遍中國大陸十三省之後,李蘇羽開始以歷史人物、傳統風俗等中國文化為創作主題。

p.57

《千年萬載不生塵》75x80cm 絹本 一九九五,揉合水墨勾勒與西方超現實手法,李蘇羽感同身受地表達漢朝美女王昭君客居異鄉的心境。

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EN

The Lady Who Crossed the Ages with Ink --Lee Su Yue

Chi Yue /photos courtesy of pictures courtesy of Lee Su Yue /tr. by Brent Heinrich

Potted flowers in bloom are set in a modern living room, and rendered in the polychrome, light-and-shadow style of Western paintings. The flowers and the tea table seem to be real; however, the positioning of the flowers and the fluttering of the butterflies reveal the tonality of Chinese water-and-ink paintings.

Like the Italian painter Guiseppe Castiglione, who introduced Western perspective and representational techniques into Chinese water-and-ink, Lee Su Yue, having received a complete education in both Western and Eastern art in both Taiwan and the United States, has demonstrated a new dimension of water-and-ink painting, traversing the gap between East and West.


Water-and-ink is the main medium of Lee Su Yue's creative work, but it would not fitting to label her a simple water-and-ink artist. "I never impose limitations upon myself. I'm a human being, not a woman. I'm an artist, not a water-and-ink painter."

An all-around artist

Having graduated from National Taiwan Normal University, in Taiwan she studied watercolor painting with Wen Chi, calligraphy with Yuan Shu-wu, and traditional Chinese bird-and-landscape painting with Wu Yung-hsiang, as well as Southern School painting techniques. In America, she majored in art education at the University of Missouri, and in clothing design at the University of Miami. She then obtained an MA in education from Florida International University. In her artistic works, she has employed watercolor, color with glue on silk (sometimes called "glue-color"), and oils, as well as metal welding, sculpting, ceramics and glass beads; she has also delved into theatrical design, clothing and jewelry design.

Brimming with energy, Lee Su Yue asserts, "Artistic creation parallels life; you have different preferences at different stages. We should experience as much as possible, so that our internal universe may be rich." In terms of living, "If there's anything that's good, I love to give it a go." She swims, skates and skis. To experience how it feels to look down on the earth from high above, she learned to fly airplanes, and has earned her pilot's license.

A water-and-ink artist is born

Lee was born in Sichuan Province in 1944 and grew up in Taiwan. Her mother, Chiang Tung-hsiang, was herself a painter of the traditional gongbi form (characterized by delicate brushwork). Her uncle Li Lin-tsan was formerly a curator at the National Palace Museum. Since childhood, Lee Su Yue has been good at expressing her feelings with the brush. When four or five, she heard on the radio that "Li Li-hua is wearing a pair of beautiful high heels on her visit to Taiwan," and she began to picture that pair of high-heeled shoes in her mind and put them on the wall. All the walls in her home were always adorned with her murals. The neighbors thought her mother spoiled her, but her mother always encouraged her daughter's artistic endeavors, and would answer, "Never mind. We'll just paint the wall again, and that'll be that."

This kind of free and tolerant upbringing made it possible for Lee Su Yue to constantly achieve personal breakthroughs, not restricted to a certain school or set of techniques. Lee's uncle Li Lin-tsan thought that the making of Lee Su Yue as an artist "was both a matter of nature and nurture. She has the gift, and has received the best cultivation."

After she studied in America, both her creative work and lifestyle turned more colorful. Her works were admitted to the National Watercolor Society, and her paintings soon appeared in exhibitions far and near. She also won a sponsorship from America's Southeast Airlines to travel around the world for four months doing outdoor sketches, from Europe to the Middle East to East Asia. At the time, she was not even 30, but she had either personal or joint exhibitions three times a year in the US. NBC once aired a 30-minute exclusive interview with her during a prime time slot right before an NFL football game. She feels that the encouragement and affirmation that American society gives young people bolstered her confidence in taking the road of art when she was but a mere fledgling.

I am Wang Zhaojun

1980 was a creative turning point for Lee Su Yue. She spent three months traveling through 13 provinces in mainland China. She found out that stuff she had read in history and geography textbooks and poems from the Tang and Song dynasties was still in existence today. The emotional bond with her people that flowed in her blood suddenly awakened. Especially when she arrived in the ancient capital of Xi'an, she was moved by the cultural interchange between China and the ancient cultures of Central Asia, as well as the literary, artistic and musical glories of the Tang dynasty.

Thereafter she began to incorporate history with painting, taking inspiration from the various forms of Chinese poetry, as well as Chinese fiction, and she also abandoned splash-ink techniques, and began once again to use gongbi water-and-ink painting, adopting an attitude of spiritual cultivation. Since then, she has produced such paintings as The Wrath of Concubine Yu, which portrays a tragic tale; Beauties Journeying, depicting Tang-dynasty ladies dressed up for an excursion; Gaming in the High Tang, which depicts the prosperous society and folk customs of the Tang era; and Praying for Blessings, which portrays female performance school students, sans makeup, praying for peace at the end of the year. As she painted people of ancient times, the highly empathetic Lee Su Yue was able to intuit the emotions of the ancients.

One time when she was on an airplane, Lee Su Yue read the news that a female corpse from the Han dynasty had been found buried under the ice of the Altai Mountains, along with six horses. Some scholars speculated that it might be the remains of the Han-dynasty beauty Wang Zhaojun.

Lee Su Yue, herself having lived in a foreign land, has always been greatly touched by the story of the lonely and brokenhearted Wang Zhaojun, who was married out to a barbarian chieftain of the western hinterlands and buried in an alien country. Therefore, Lee used a surrealistic technique to draw Everlasting. In the painting, Wang Zhaojun holds her lute and floats in space, with six horses watching over her. Wang Zhaojun is Lee; she is Wang Zhaojun. In this way, Chinese culture and historical tales exist in the lives of every contemporary person.

"Longing for an idealized antiquity and sentimentally reflecting upon history are extremely common in Chinese art," notes Lang Shaojun, director of modern art studies at the China Art Research Center in Beijing. "But Lee Su Yue's historical sentiments seem to be related to her experience as an expatriate Chinese. Subconsciously, this might be a kind of spiritual compensation as a result of two decades away from her motherland."

Bridging the ancient and the modern

Having painted ladies of the Han and Tang dynasties, Lee Su Yue then traveled back to the present, treating images of women more familiar to her. She uses light ink to sparsely sketch their fine appearances, with distant moods to transmit the different character of each subject. She makes innovative use of blank space, an aspect about which Chinese artists are very particular. Within the white spaces of the canvas she places obscure scenery or color to portray an aura. She says, "The goal I pursue is how to demonstrate the splendor of present-day people without losing touch with the traditions of Chinese portraiture."

Because of their breadth, Lee Su Yue's creations might be considered insufficiently deep, and her means of presentation which merges influences Eastern and Western is still experimental and seems to be slightly forced. Nonetheless, says Li Lan, chairperson of the Sino-American Folk Arts Association, located in the United States, in Lee's paintings there lurks a glorious and mysterious cultural China, marching slowly from the traditional to the modern, just like those personalities that have come to life through her brushes-very elegant and languorous.

Lee Su Yue, who has received a complete art education both in Taiwan and the US, feels that there is something very beautiful about both Chinese and Western cultures. Unconsciously, she blends the two into one. "Her paintings amalgamate various techniques, including glue-and-color-on-silk and water-and-ink. On the surface is the coordination of realism, symbolism and surrealism, reflecting a sort of natural, balanced and fresh effect, attained after traditional art has been baptized by modern civilization," opines art critic Huang Hsiao-shih.

For Lee Su Yue, to paint on a raw silk canvas stretched tightly on a frame, with either traditional Chinese or oil-painting brushes, is to flow fluidly, as if skiing or skating across the wide landscape in early spring. She most readily loses herself within the energetic interaction between brush and canvas. Whether in art or life, she never imposes restrictions. Today she achieves spiritual cultivation through the minute, delicate details of gongbi painting. As for the future, she says smilingly, "My ideal is... to use ink with absolute composure."

p.54

In addition to painting, Lee Su Yue is also involved in sculpting. Whether in her work or her life, her interests range far and wide.

p.55

Spring Flowers, silk, 117 x 84 cm, 1993. Lee Su Yue's flower paintings reveal her mature representational techniques.

p.56

The First Facial and Hairdo Ceremony of a Young Courtesan, silk, 54 x 80 cm, 1980s. After traveling through thirteen provinces in mainland China, Lee Su Yue began to adopt historical personages, traditional customs and other aspects of Chinese culture as her subject matter.

p.57

Everlasting, silk, 75 x 80 cm, 1995. Blending water-and-ink drawing techniques with a Western surrealistic style, Lee Su Yue expresses with deep emotion the sense of exile felt by the Han-dynasty beauty Wang Zhaojun.

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