Legacy Series XI: Cheng Shan-hsi
A defiant classical ink painter
Cheng Shan-hsi is a venerable master of traditional Chinese ink painting, in which one only paints with ink. His aesthetics, however, mark a distinctively different flavor from traditional Chinese ink paintings, as he does not believe that one has to “refer to the traditional in order to complement the modern,” or to “draw something from the West to fit an Eastern context.”
Despite his strict classic upbringing in the four arts, this creative approach becomes more apparent in his later works, in which he chooses subjects that are a far cry from those upheld by classic Chinese literati painters.
Instead of elegant forests, stately mountains, magnificent waterfalls, or galloping steeds, Cheng opts for the minute yet lively corners of nature, painting nameless birds chirruping, faceless people rowing down the stream, and a decidedly crooked bamboo patch.
Moreover, whereas classic Chinese literati painters carefully complete their artwork with a choice poem penned in tight, neat calligraphy letters, Cheng delightfully scrawls his thoughts with an unsophisticated expressiveness and rawness.
It’s this playful humor, the light touch of self-deprecation, and a deep fondness for the people and landscapes of Taiwan that make Cheng a unique artist beloved across all generations.
These days, content to observe, the master takes moments from everyday life and transforms ordinary scenes into unsophisticated, down-to-earth works of art.
More information on one of the most representative ink painters in Taiwan’s post-war era can be found here.