Hsiao Chin: Transcultural Encounters

The past few weeks were particularly hectic. I sat my exams and received the results. Moreover, I spent a week in London to attend a short course at Christie’s Education, where I learned about the processes of the art market and the lesser known services available in the sector. Now I am enjoying some freedom before starting an internship at an auction house in Milan, which will keep me occupied until the start of my third and last year as an undergraduate student. As I am waiting, I would like to resume my activity on the blog with a post about an interesting abstract artist, the Chinese painter Hsiao Chin (1935-2000).
Hsiao Chin

Hsiao Chin

Chin was born in continental China and studied at the Taiwan National Norman University in Taipei. In fact, he graduated in 1955, the same year as the first Taiwanese crisis when the Communist government of Beijing was trying to regain control of the island. However, Chin moved promptly away from Asia as he received a scholarship from the Spanish government in 1956 to complete his education in Europe. In less than twenty-five years of life, he had already gained an international perspective, which helped him develop a delicate artistic sensibility.

Hsiao Chin

Hsiao Chin

While in China, Chin became a member of the To-Fan group, whose members were also know as the “Eight Bandits” as a consequence of their dismissal of traditional artistic norms. In the early-twentieth century, traditional Chinese art was still heavily attached to the past and incorporated Western influence through the mediation of nineteenth-century academic painting. The members of To-Fan did not question tradition altogether, as some of the European avant-grades did. Rather, they attempted to blend the visual features of Chinese painting with the innovations of contemporary Western abstraction.

Hsiao Chin, Movement of Light

Movement of Light – Hsiao Chin – 1963

When considering the oeuvre of an artist, it is often tempting to reduce his creations to a sum of his relations and connections within the art world. While this is always valid, what has been said about the To-Fan group casts some light on the works by Chin. Let’s consider the painting Movement of Light (1963). The work is abstract and based on curvilinear forms: the sphere at the bottom and the fluid lines of colour at the top. Wide portions of the support are left free and the whiteness of the canvas highlights the acrylic colours. Overall, the image maintains a strong effect of bi-dimensionality that is typical of traditional Chinese painting. In order to create complex visual effects, the painter also adds layers of other colours through small dabs of blue which cover the different areas of the picture. The use of linear elements allows Chin to maintain a sense of visual structure and order which is alien to American Abstract Expressionism, while the curvilinear forms are distant from European Concrete Art. Therefore, he creates an independent synthesis of the various influences which characterise abstract art in the mid-twentieth century.

The Origin of Chi-2 - Hsiao Chin - 1963

The Origin of Chi-2 – Hsiao Chin – 1963

Chin’s oeuvre is a peculiar example of the encounter between two distant cultures. As a Chinese painter learning and working in Europe, he managed to gather different influences through his international sensibility. The final product incorporates the main features of abstract art, reinterpreting it through pictorial elements of traditional Chinese paintings, such as the flatness of the paint layers. The result is not a form of appropriation, rather a successful combination of different visual cultures.

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Alessandro M. Rubin Written by:

Cambridge History of Art alumnus. Passionate early-modernist, curious about contemporary art and aesthetic theory.

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