The Taste of Nostalgia – a Review of Liang Chin-Chia’s Painting

It IS Not a Plastic Bag
An outstanding artist’s life is built with affecting work; work that has been developed over decades, with talent, hard work and adversity. A deep sense of the same also leads the artist through distraction to achievement. After thirty years of painting, and evolving styles, Taiwanese artist Liang Chin-Chia has at last created, yet another achievement. After nearly five years, Liang’s solo exhibition of oil paintings, “This Is Not a Plastic Bag” was shown at Art Taipei 2014. Premier works in the exhibition Include fourteen large-scale still-life oil paintings and his fourth solo exhibition catalog.

From being a star in the art world to become a [pillar-of-strength].
In the early 90’s, Liang was already well known in the art world; he received the Chi Mai Arts Award two years in a row, 1993 and 1994. His paintings Flying and Memory Box, from the “Box and Crane” series, drew their content from the objects of daily life and their technique from the precision of portraiture; these paintings made Liang the first winning young-artist by way of still Life slowly. With people who are young and sincere, with a Skillful oil painting technique, good at bonding a nostalgic sensation to the art, And enhancing texture in his presentation to create a sharp sentimental feeling.

Liang’s focus is not only still-life painting but also portraiture and the figure. He has quite a capability in his comprehensive, realistic, presentation and even sharper [skills of] observation. He knows how to find the beauty in ordinary things and defense it Into a refined art. Personally, I believe his most important milestone came in 2008, in his work Sensation Realism; where simple, ordinary objects are transformed and elevated to a different level of feeling, and flow into a poetic nostalgia with spacious comfort. There Are several [recurring themes] in his oil painting: 1. Nostalgia 2. The golden age of Spanish painting 3. A creative world view.

Poetic nostalgia – antique, sentimental, time-worn, era
Poetic nostalgia is the primary thread woven through the three decades of Liang’s work. In 1995, his master, Lin Hsin-Yueh, pointed out in Liang’s exhibition catalog, “Liang was born with a natural nostalgic character. He describes old things with unique feelings. And, he knows how to appreciate experiences with a resolute spirit.” His passion for time worn object silently deepens under his brush becoming ever richer. Liang is quite different from other artists who became famous and thereafter like to “repeat their specialty,” again and again, until audiences feel bored. Liang has said: “I truly understand that to be a realistic painter, I must accept more, stricter, criticism than if I worked in another style. Working hard and having a strong mindset is necessary. Refusing rote creation, and easy indulgence is the only way to achieve beauty.” Liang’s 2007 works—Girl from Paywan tribe, Persimmon in the Red-and-White Plastic Bag, Fountain II, and Good Morning Taiwan—revealed in objects such as Taiwanese natives and fruit … and strengthen the artistic effect of the paintings each time they are shown. Whether it is the choice of composition or the technique that breaks through, he has developed ingenious changes in painting.

No matter how consummate the skill has been, it only counts as a “technical achievement;” “art itself” is the crown at the top of the art pyramid. A successful, realistic painting not only presents accuracy but it also reveals how well the painter can match the five senses; sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch; with the spirit of the portrait. During the Tang Dynasty, the painter Zhang Zao said “Present the outside with the heart inside” this is the best description of art.

The beauty of art comes from the origin [of the subject] and is higher than its reality. From a certain point of view, the beauty of reality belongs to the meaning of “existence” and the beauty of art is the “product of creativity” and belongs to the meaning of “consciousness.” The German philosopher Hegel once said, “The beauty of art is valued higher than natural beauty because art is produced by the mind and is the rebirth of beauty. To the extent to which art is created by the mind is equal to the degree to which art is valued higher than reality.”

Profound, nostalgic — a taste of Life
Tracing the beginning of Liang’s nostalgic creations, he started the concept in the late 80s. Locals raised national consciousness after the end of martial law in Taiwan. A series of movements then followed, placing an emphasis on Taiwan’s local history, geography, culture and [social] awareness; disrupting individual and social order. This change reinforced Taiwan’s escape from the influence of Chinese culture and basic social/cultural roots. Unlike both “native literature” which carries sorrow, and “native art” with its earthy quality, Liang’s nostalgic work is refined, reserved and profound and stands the test of time.

The taste of homesickness
There are numerous painters who focus on “Nostalgic” themes. Some have painted water buffalo; some have painted night market vendors as well as shrimp farm fishing. The broad meaning of nostalgia includes the longing for landscapes, the dream of country living, the pursuit of the nature and memory of childhood. The narrow meaning of nostalgia is the homesickness of people who have left their towns. However, Liang’s work stands out from those painters of nostalgia and is unique, with its own delicate presentation. Especially in his recent works, [his] paintings beat a rich rhythm. Complicated objects in the foreground with a plain background hold [and] organize the composition. Everyday dishware matching a variety of flavorful fresh crabs and seasonal Taiwanese fruit makes you feel the light yet rich “taste of homesickness.” While viewing Liang’s work, you will experience the tastes of sour, sweet, bitter, and spice—life’s visual feast.

This exhibition includes fourteen large oil paintings. [Where Liang] has illustrated pineapple with its sourness, guava with its sweetness, guava with its deep red color and temptation, oolong tea with its bitterness and scent, unripe peach, tea flower with its fragrance, peanut with its crispiness, and Lychee with its sweetness. The homesickness in Liang’s work expresses taste visually and looks to set down emotion, conveyed on the canvas.

At this moment I can’t help but think about a song, Home Forever Home, written by the Taiwanese songwriter Wang Ming Zhe and sung in the Taiwanese language. Below are the lyrics for the song.

Looking at the vast ocean,
My thought was with the far away home.
Like flying birds wandering for 30 years;
Never stop thinking [of] home.
When I smell the fragrance of flowers,
I feel the breeze of my peaceful home.
One or two java apple trees are blooming;
That’s the picture of my home.
I seem to see the bright moonlight and
rising sun in my beautiful home.
Three or four acres of rice bearing the grains;
That’s another picture of my home.
I hear the laughter nearby,
Yet in the dream is the home of my childhood.
Five or six dragonflies playing on the water;
That’s what I remember of my home.
Treading on the green meadow,
Hope is always with my home forever.
Home, every time I call you out in my heart,
You are my home, my forever home.

Realistic painting in Spain – vanished time
According to the artist’s statement, two artists influenced Liang while he studied in Spain. The artist, Antonio Lopez-Garcia (b.1936), is one of the most influential figurative painters among Spain’s “Three Contemporary Masters” of the 20th century. The other is Antoni Tàpies (1923–2012), a modern abstract master who leveraged up the meaning of abstraction. Tàpies was the leader of contemporary abstract painters.

Antonio Lopez said “We can not paint like Rembrandt anymore, because, we live in the 20th century. I do not draw anything like [they did] in the past and I do not work in any style like other painters who emphasize subjective content.

This is because I feel more and more, that I don’t quite know the world enough.
Reality is so complicated and so many mysterious things exist which are unseen or can’t be seen through. Sometimes I have had a feeling about something but could not hold on to it. However, visual objects can be captured, and when they become more realistic, they bring out more mystery. Somehow it expresses the immateriality of this reality.” Without any doubt, Lopez’s disciplined attitude toward creating art, by working on painting under natural light for a long period of time and the use of glaze to present the object’s texture to a degree of perfection, directly impacts Liang’s interests.

Often, the time Liang devotes to a single painting cannot be counted in months. He regularly works on the same spot again and again, refining and modifying until the object, the background and sideline reach a level of perfection. Then he re-enforces the subject and deepens the texture. It always takes him almost a year or two to complete a piece of work. The example of the Spanish painter Lopez is similar. In his yard, Lopez has enjoyed drawing a fruit tree for a long time. When a reporter asked him, “Can you finish the artwork before the fruit ripens and falls to the ground?” Lopez answered, “That’s not important! I live to accompany this fruit tree.” Liang’s biggest joy is to live with his work and watch new work grow stronger. This [habit] has also made his mind richer and more mature.

Many artists today are enthusiastically chasing after power and fortune. In such a context, ‘the pursuit of idiosyncratic and shocking work,’ Liang’s attitude toward how he holds himself, creating work with honesty and resolve, always moves me to a stunning, profound and speechless feeling.

Antoni Tàpies, who [also] influenced Liang, is an outstanding abstract artist and master of creating isolation and contrast effects by cold color tones: brown ocher, grey and black colors, etc…

Tàpies explained, “while painting, sometimes I’ll only use the color grey. Part of the reason for this is that I try to rethink the colors I’ve used in earlier work. In fact, the surroundings we live in—colorful advertising, signage—makes me want to search for a color that can express the inner world of our hearts and brighten our inner dreams in such a confusing environment. In my work I tend to look for joy by using the colors red and yellow; however, grey and brown seem to me to express the inner voice even better. [These colors] tightly connect to the philosophical world, Franciscan brown with thoughts and habits.

Tàpies described this [phenomenon] in the article Painting and Void.[1] “Void is the essential element in oriental art. From ‘calm’ to ‘white stroke’ or from the rule of ‘one stroke’ to ‘three hidden elements of ink’ or spreading ink, they all carry a complete tradition which emphasizes an ‘escape from the mind.’ Artists rely on truly embracing everything and seize the origin of things.”

In Tàpies’ work, we can easily see elements of oriental art: evocation, simplicity, spirit and composition. In some of his art, Tàpies even applies calligraphy directly to the image. With his art, Tàpies practices “creating things from nothing, seeing the virtual as real”— performing the spirits’, divine and inarticulate features — a part of oriental art. The idea of “solids expressed in emptiness, voids flowing among solids” penetrates into Liang’s work unconsciously.

Tàpies pointed out that it is the spirit in the art that is key. In addition to the representational and non-representational qualities shown in realistic painting, there is still huge room to work between virtual and real, tight and loose, hard and soft, gathered and scattered and rough and fine. Figurative painting does not stand in opposition to abstract art, and it still has broad space to develop.

Collapse and spiritual wandering
Liang’s work Red-and-White Striped Plastic Bag plays the leading role in this exhibition. It expresses transparent, fragile, fading, doubtful and fragmented emotion. This makes the whole series of work carry an uncertain affection for the ephemeral contrasted with the variety of fruit, which are ripe, colorful, plump, real, tempting and alive. The result of two types of objects conflicting with each other delivers an innovative idea and astonishing visual effect.

Oranges presents locally grown Taiwanese oranges; each orange is plump with a rich golden color. Some oranges are complete; some oranges are piled up and cut open. Liang’s astonishing skill captures the orange pulp in translucent and delicate golden color, placed outside the red-and-white stripes of a plastic bag. They look like golden orange mountains, carrying seductive signals.

You can see Liang’s clever consideration in the work Red Guava. The Guavas are bright red in color, wrapped with green Styrofoam and placed in a plastic bag. Without a doubt, this is a visual feast of colorful contrasts.

White Rose is a truly special work; here Liang took inspiration from his wife Wang Chien Bih, who often focuses on flower painting. Liang’s White Roses are slim and elegant, bundled inside a red plastic bag and displayed in front of morning light. It seems as if he is describing a story of opening a surprise, after purchasing the flowers from ChienKuo’s Sunday holiday flower market. The roses his wife paints are bolder and free with a hint of nuttiness in her touch. Liang and his wife Wang are both outstanding painters. Under the same roof, they learn from each other’s talent and rely on each other. Life [together] is a wonderful thing.

Lychee, again demonstrates Liang’s skill with a solid and precise realism: a bundle of Lychee with shiny green leaves, placed in a plastic bag. Complimenting the watery lychee meat, he has chosen a nearly obsessively clean grey as the background color.

Seafood Crabs are captured in this still life painting. These big orange-red hard shell crabs, with grey-white on the reverse side, appear hazily in a transparent white-plastic bag. Another crab is tide up with straw and placed in an antique bowl. Liang produces such a scene in the painting, which seems to tell you, “this will be a wonderful weekend night, eating fresh crabs from the market paired with good wine and vinegar.”

Another authentic Taiwanese object is in the work Diamond Pineapple. It shows two big “welcome fortunes” with a staggered placement on the table. (The name Pineapple in Taiwanese means welcome fortune.) Short thorns are on the pineapples’ tough green-yellow skin with sharp green leaves. You can sense that these two big pineapples have started to ripen and a fruity smell drifts out from the plastic bag.

Taiwanese Guava is another work depicting fruit with attractive color, smell and taste. The color tone and texture are presented perfectly in a cold light. The Turquoise incredibly matches real guava’s color and texture. They are stored in a red-and-white striped plastic bag on a patched porcelain plate. It looks like you can bite into the guava’s fresh sweetness in the clear but utterly moist tones.

Integration of conflicting languages
Stirred by Spanish realistic painting, Liang as a Taiwanese artist is always searching for spiritual sustenance between the cultures of Spain and Taiwan that he can rely on. In his remarkable recent work, he gradually confronts the contradictions inherent in the language of art—emotion, techniques and conceptual pursuits—and loosens his mind forming an integrated language and enabling even better work.

For example, Liang’s Persimmons on a Scale and Peanuts on a Scale emphasize the view, looking down on objects. The arrangement of fruit and the old iron scale is staggered in order. The powerful contrast is expressed between the peeling and rusty iron scale and full and delicate fruit. Truly Liang is not only an artist who discovers but also an innovator who produces magical and surprising ideas. He is like the ancient alchemist who possesses a mysterious way to organize objects.

Liang’s Persimmons on a Scale applies precise fine-strokes describing Taiwan’s abundantly grown, seasonal fruit during the fall—the persimmon. The image delivers an atmosphere of calm and strength. I cannot help but think of the poem “I like you calm, as if you were absent” from Pablo Neruda (1904–1973) Latin America’s greatest poet of the twentieth century. He won the Noble Prize in literature. The poem reads as follows:

I like you calm, as if you were absent,
and you hear me far-off, and my voice does not touch you.
It seems that your eyelids have taken to flying:
it seems that a kiss has sealed up your mouth.
Since all these things are filled with my spirit,
you come from things, filled with my spirit.
You appear as my soul, as the butterfly’s dreaming,
and you appear as Sadness’s word.
I like you calm, as if you were distant,
you are moaning, a butterfly’s cooing.
You hear me far-off, my voice does not reach you.
Let me be calmed, then, calmed by your silence.
Let me commune, then, commune with your silence,
clear as a light, and pure as a ring.
You are like night, calmed, constellated.
Your silence is star-like, as distant, as true.
I like you calm, as if you were absent:
distant and saddened, as if you were dead.
One word at that moment, a smile, is sufficient.
And I thrill, then, I thrill: that it cannot be so.

It’s not a plastic bag – subverting the understanding of the cheap and elegant.
The idea of Liang’s 2014 exhibition is inspired by English designer Anya Hindmarch, who launched an environmentally friendly canvas tote, “It’s not a plastic bag” in 2007, provoking numerous responses in the fashion industry.

She pointed out the ordinary household plastic bag can subvert its value and look more elegant after refinement with an artistic intervention. Liang’s 2014 exhibition not only extends [Hindmarch’s] idea by focusing on the subject of red-and-white striped plastic bags, but also strengthens the artistic effect, achieving a thirty-year milestone in Liang’s career. I sincerely congratulate him and show my admiration and thanks to his ongoing efforts that make our life more colorful, full of lovely, touching inspirations.

[1] Schimmel, Paul, Nicholas Cullinan, Astrid Handa-Gagnard, Shōichi Hirai, Sarah-Neel Smith, and Robert Storr. 2012. Destroy the picture: painting the void, 1949-1962.


2014 “This is not a plastic bag” solo exhibition, Art Taipei 2014, Taipei

2008 “Realistic Exploration” Liang Chin Chia Solo Exhibition, East Gallery, Taipei

2001 Chiang Chin Chia Solo Exhibition, East Gallery, Taipei

1995 Liang Chin Chia Solo Exhibition, East Gallery, Taipei


2014 “The Teacher Profession, Spring and Autumn”, Chen Ching Jung Eighty Painting Exhibition, The-Chun Art Gallery, Taiwan Normal University, Taipei

2014 Taiwan Interdisciplinary Society of Arts Exhibition, New Taipei Municipal Library Xintian Branch, New Taipei City

2012 Kuo Mu-Sheng Foundation Art Collections Exhibition, Kuo Mu-sheng Foundation

2011 Chen Ching Jung Cross-Century Teachers And Students Joint Exhibition, The-Chun Art Gallery, Taiwan Normal University, New Taipei City

2011 “Seeds of Painting” Guoming Fu Teachers And Students Joint Exhibition, Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, Taipei

2010 <Zi one hundred Yan> Cathay United Art Center, Taipei

2010 The 10th Anniversary Exhibition of Cathay United Art Center Taipei

2010 “The Classic Imaginary-Realism”, 11 Artists Oil Paintings Group Show, Julia Gallery, Taipei

2008 “Seasoned By Generations” Chi Mei Arts Award 20 Anniversaries, National Taiwan University of Arts

2007 “Fine Art Heroes” Taipei National University of the Arts Alumni Exhibition, Kuandu Museum, Taipei

2006 Taichung Seaport Art Exhibition “The Fifth National Large-sized Oil Painting Exhibition, Taichung City Seaport Art Center

2005 “The 2005 Kuandu Extravaganza- Exhibition of Modern Art”, Kuandu Museum, Taipei

2005 Taichung Seaport Art Exhibition “The Fourth National Large-sized Oil Painting Exhibition,” Taichung City Seaport Art Center

2004 “Intuitive And Echoed,” Reality And Mirage of Still Life Paintings, Galerie Pierre, Taichung

2002 “Taiwan Contemporary Arts Series II” Joint Exhibition in Hong-Gah Museum, Taipei

2001 CMA Awards Exhibition “The Joy of Growth,” Taipei Fine Arts Museum

1999 “Invitational Exhibition of Works on Paper”, Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei

1996 Taipei Art Fair International, Taipei World Trade Center