Wang Pan-youn – known as the "Poet of the Canvas" – is a late painter remembered for developing his own superlative, unique style in traditional ink wash, oil painting, and watercolor. His distinctive skills and sensibilities have combined into an artistic blossom that reflects Taiwan's own cultural diversity, inclusiveness, and creativity.
Born in Xujiahong, northern Jiangsu in 1912, Wang graduated from Shanghai Art College in 1936. His original college plan had been to follow artist Pan Yuliang (潘玉良) to France to study painting but, unable to raise the travel expenses and caught up in the chaos of the Chinese Civil War, he found himself in Kaohsiung, Taiwan by 1949.
After many twists and turns living a hardscrabble life, he finally ended up teaching at Luodong Middle School in Yilan, where he at last built a settled life in Taiwan and was able to rediscover the joy of painting.
Wang's paintings are simple and bold, their sense of isolation containing within them a wealth of touching tales. Under his brush, delicate strokes of thick oil paint stack up to create symbols that can be viewed as metaphors for Wang's life.
Passionately burning red sunsets, women in red from his interior world, lonely boats drifting between shores, or drizzling rain obscuring Suao Port and Guishan Island — each image is rich with Wang's charming style, characterized by its simple compositions, condensed brush strokes, and evocative tension.
Wang rarely publicly exhibited his ink wash pieces. While he formally studied Western painting, the hardship of his early years meant he lacked the money to buy oil paints, leaving him with little option but to invest his emotions into ink wash, which led to a unique depiction of the Oriental form with the bold colors and brush strokes of Occidental art.
His ink wash paintings also bear the influence of early Qing-era monastic painters like Bada Shanren (八大山人) and Kun Can (髡殘), as seen from the sense of loneliness and despair in his paintings of birds surrounded by stark branches. Compositionally, he took cues from Yuan dynasty painter Ni Zan's (倪瓚) sparse, almost supernatural brushwork.
In 1961, Wang and his friends formed the "Lanyang Painting Society." There he focused on his artistic work, entering a creative golden age and marking the start of his profound influence on the development of art in Taiwan.
His difficult life journey is closely mirrored by paintings produced during this period. Simple but bold in color, his simple compositions contain within them many moving stories, while his tight brush strokes are full of emotional and poetic tension, profound artistic vision, and accomplished artistry.
In 1973, Wang retired from teaching and wholeheartedly dedicated himself to his beloved painting. Wang received the National Award of Art, Art and Business Award, and Kavalan Award before passing away in December 2017, aged 106.
An artist who bore witness to an era of great historical change, Wang's life and creations comprise a significant chapter in Taiwan’s art history.