Painted Worlds: The Art of Brian Chu and Shiao-Ping Wang
Painting has persevered as a dominant artistic medium for centuries. Artists continue to develop personal voices and innovative ideas within the established tradition, sustaining a practice that is a versatile vehicle for expression. Brian Chu and Shiao-Ping Wang moved from Taiwan to New York in the 1980s, and discovered painting while attending Queens College. Influenced by New York School painters including their instructors Rosemarie Beck and Harold Bruder, Chu and Wang developed their own painting language: Chu’s paintings represent landscapes and observations; Wang creates abstract environments of colors, forms and patterns.
The artists, a married couple, found painting fulfilling as a life-long pursuit. “Painting showed me how to communicate with myself in a way that I had not known before,” said Wang, who has exhibited her work throughout the US and is represented by galleries in both Boston and New Hampshire. “The engaging process of painting makes me go to the studio….[and] is about searching for meanings on many levels.”
Wang’s work depicts imaginary, abstract worlds of shapes and color. Originally a representational painter, Wang veered into abstraction to better describe her experience as an immigrant.Inspired by the “sense of being in-between things,” her paintings reference rhythms, geometric forms and organic lines. “Hoping to not be ‘lost’ in the in-between states, I use knotting and weaving patterns to build pictorial connections,” wrote Wang. “In my work, I hope the viewer can experience a sense or a feeling (like a chanting sound or a wind blowing) in the combination of abstract shapes and colors. I aspire to give life to abstract forms, and make their forces and energies evident, i.e. independent of likeness or appearances.”
In the painting Our Town, a birds-eye view of city streets interlace with color blocks, pushed between the foreground and background by interlocking repetitive forms. “I use patterns to express connectedness, as individuals and communities,” she wrote. “I was curious if I could tell a story in abstraction.”
Opposite of abstraction, Chu paints the world as he observes it.He creates textured painting surfaces inspired by figures, still lives and landscapes. “The paintings are about the process of forming visions,” said Chu. “I tend to find one area of interest – a shadow, a certain color, or something that really touches me.I carefully preserve that sensation for as long as I can.” The exhibition, which primarily features Chu’s landscapes painted throughout New England and Western Europe, also includes figurative subjects and still lives.
Chu’s painting Hilton Park is a tightly composed image of a roadway, bridge and highway overpass. With a palette of muted blues, grays, purples, greens and oranges, the composition’s perspective and geometric forms are almost whimsical through irregular lines, subtle yet playful transparencies in architectural elements and the painting’s textural surface. “I hope a viewer can re-experience some of the interesting moments that happened as I juggled in the process of painting, between holding onto and letting go of the sensations of colors and light,” wrote Chu. “I love the dialogue going on between me and the painting being formed on canvas, the hands-on nature of painting, the problem solving in the process, the sensuality and the joy in the experience, and the sense that I am in touch with meaning in this wonderful solitude.”
Organized by Glen Cebulash, Department Chair and Professor in Painting and Drawing at Wright State University, the exhibition is a testament to exhibiting meaningful contemporary painting in Dayton. Cebulash, himself interested in the figurative wing of the New York School, has a legacy of bringing artists to the Stein Galleries that have a passion for painting. “I am excited to have good painting—that becomes the bottom line. I really admire Wang and Chu’s work,” said Cebulash. “It’s always informative and exciting to have different artists’ approaches to painting. On the surface there are striking differences. Whether an artist is working representationally or abstractly, I think of painting as an imaginative activity, even if the artist is working directly from observation.”
Cebulash, who spent most of his career as a representational painter with his most recent work exploring abstraction, found organizing Chu and Wang’s contrasting styles of painting into one exhibition to be a fascinating new way to interpret the work. “In a pluralistic art world, you see a tremendous variety of media, processes, to see painting—remains very exciting to me and I still find the central problem of painting, which is organizing this inert, colorful material onto a flat surface that is through provoking, compelling and imaginative. I find that to be endlessly fascinating,” said Cebulash.
Chu and Wang, as artists and as a couple, continue to inspire each other’s development as painters.“Shiao-Ping and I have different strengths that bring different inspirations, and as a result each of us is shaped by an individual artistic journey,” Chu wrote. “Our shared history–in education and life–provides common ground for conversations that help us to grow continuously. Our partnership is a big asset and joy for our artistic development.”
Brian Chu and Shiao-Ping Wang’s paintings will be on view from January 13 – March 1, 2015 at the Robert and Elaine Stein Galleries at Wright State University. Gallery hours and driving directions can be found at www.wright.edu/artgalleries.
This story was originally published on January 27, 2015 in the Dayton City Paper.