Dubbed the "Variegated Bird of Art (畫壇變調鳥)," Lee Shi-chi was an iconic artist who helped modernize art in Taiwan. He developed the concept of "orientation (本位)," which seeks to create modern art without losing the essence of one's culture. In 2012, Lee's achievements and contributions to the arts won him the National Award for Arts.
Born and raised in Kinmen, Lee was well acquainted with local folk arts and culture since his childhood. In the 1950s, he left his island hometown to attend the Department of Arts at Provincial Taipei Normal College (today's National Taipei University of Education). Under the influence of traditional art and western culture, Lee started to develop modern art in various forms.
From the start of his career, Lee actively joined art movements across Taiwan. He served as co-founder of the Modern Print Association (現代版畫會) and was an influential member of the Tong Fong Painting Association (東方畫會). His ultimate goal was to modernize Chinese culture without losing its core values.
Lee's creations encompass mixed media and installation arts; abstract prints that took inspiration from calligraphy; and lacquer paintings that took on folk art elements from inscribed plaques and couplets, all of which reflect traditional Chinese culture through modern abstract art.
In 2002, Lee developed the concept of "re-orientation" in his lacquer painting exhibition of "Ten Aspects of My Artistic Life - Transposition, Variation (浮生十帖 - 錯位、變置 ),” in which he dismantled and reconstructed Chinese cultural elements through abstract art to present how he found his identity in an ever-changing society.
From 1978 to 1990, Lee ran three art galleries to provide a platform for Taiwanese artists to showcase their works and interact with the international arts community. Through his galleries, Taiwanese artists were able to share ideas and experiences with notable artists like Chinese-French painters Chu Teh-chun (朱德群) and Zao Wou-ki (趙無極). In those twelve years, Lee hosted roughly 160 exhibitions in his galleries, promoting numerous new artists in Taiwan.
Lee once noted that "orientation" for him means to orientate one's identity and actions based on ethnicity and tradition, and this is the core of all his artistic creations. Lee's ability to present abstract art in Chinese form and his dedication in revitalizing traditional culture have made him an influential artist in the development of modern art in Taiwan.