As part of the foremost generation of western-style painters in Taiwan, Chen Cheng-po was the first Taiwanese artist whose oil paintings were selected by the Japanese-dominated Imperial Art Exhibition during the Japanese colonial era. Unfortunately, his life was cut short following his involvement in the February 28 Incident.
Born in 1895 when Taiwan was ceded to Japan, Chen learned the basic skills of sketching and watercolor painting from prominent Japanese painter Kinichiro Ishikawa (石川欽一郎) when he was studying in what became the National Taipei University of Education. After finishing academic studies in 1917, Chen taught at the university.
Chen’s passion for fine arts drove him to pursue a career as a painter and he entered Tokyo University of the Arts in 1924. Though Chen started his painting career relatively late, his work “Outside Chiayi Street (嘉義郊外)” made it into the 7th Imperial Art Exhibition, an intense competition that received 2,283 submissions that year.
Chen then moved to Shanghai for 4 years to study Chinese ink painting before returning to Taiwan in 1933. To promote and develop Taiwan’s arts education, Chen established the Tai-Yang Art Association (台陽美術協會) with renowned Taiwanese painters Yen Shiu-long (顏水龍), Li Mei-shu (李梅樹), and Li Shih-chiao (李石樵).
In 1946, Chen entered the realm of politics and served as a councilman following the retrocession of Taiwan. In the following year, Taiwan suffered heavy civilian casualties in the 1947 anti-government uprising known as the February 28 Incident. To make peace with the ruling party, Chen and other councilmen of Chaiyi City organized a committee to negotiate with the central government.
However, the committee members, including Chen, were punished and eventually executed under false accusations. To avoid confiscation by the government, Chen’s paintings were hidden away by his grandson until martial law was lifted in 1987.
Chen’s paintings mostly portrayed natural and city landscapes that expressed a sense of simplicity and purity in its serious composition. His unique brushwork, which was influenced by concepts derived from traditional Chinese ink paintings, coupled with the use of bold colors, developed into a distinctive style that made him a pioneer of modern art in Taiwan.