文 / 賴伊欣
至於畫中的人物形象，包括梵谷（Vincent van Gogh）、弘一大師、聖嚴法師和歐巴馬（Barack Obama）等，皆是引領沈昌明生命思考有所體悟的對象，而人像一旁所出現的插圖符號，如聖嚴法師所主張的樹葬、歐巴馬的桂冠等，則是他針對畫中人物的角色有所思考後，所轉化的圖像表現。在人像、字句與插畫的多方結合中，沈昌明在畫中建構了一個觀看人物、體悟心經字句和符號想像的空間透過圖、字和符號的呈現，企圖引領觀者來回推測和想像，進而產生自我當下的解讀與辯證。站在創作者的角度，在提供視覺意象的同時，這種觀看的經驗與畫作在社會、文化中所可能被解讀的多層涵義，與創作本身擁有相同重要的地位。
Life is made up of a chronological sequence of encounters and changes that deepen one’s understanding and experience of life at different stages and form a link among an artist’s life history, the culture(s) s/he has been exposed to, and the essence of aesthetics. A car accident that occurred many years ago left artist Chang-Ming Shen deeply stricken by grief at the death of his son. At those mournful moments, Shen chose to transcribe the ‘Heart Sutra’ and dedicate merits to his beloved son. Shen’s repeated transcription not only released his great sorrow but also inspired different feelings, prompting him to create special painting vocabulary through a fusion of the Eastern and Western elements.
Symbolic Correspondence and Rhythm
Shen first transcribed the Heart Sutra on rice paper and then gradually had his realization of life and painting experience embodied on canvas. Shen is not the only artist that has applied the concept of the Heart Sutra, whether in terms of its texts or denotations, to art creations. Yet, his repeated transcription made him see life in a different light and ‘inspired’ him to explore a new dimension of creation and develop new painting energy through the dialectic between art and his ego. The ‘Heart Sutra Fugue’ series, commenced in 2005, is the embodiment of Shen’s cumulative thoughts and knowledge of the Heart Sutra. The overlap among the transcribed texts from the Heart Sutra, which had popped up spontaneously in his mind, turns the texts into symbols engaging in dialogue/antiphonal singing on canvas. All the artworks of the series, each with its distinctive rhythm, are also singing in perfect harmony, which creates a contrasting style and provides a new annotated version of the ‘Heart Sutra’ in art form.
As Shen mentioned, the religious sentences popped up in his mind one after another often too rapidly for him to finish whichever he was transcribing, thus resulting in the overlap among the sentences. Such overlap forms a new text structure, produces a rhythm through the changes of writing direction and color, creates an extensible space, and achieves a new visual effect. These rhythmic and symbolic texts have advanced beyond their original meanings, transcended the denotations and thoughts of the Heart Sutra, and produced a melody around the lines and strokes of the characters just as a ‘fugue’ in classical music, which features a theme or a short melody being developed and extended while accompanied simultaneously by another theme. The polyphonic texture in the composition sees the correspondence and overlap among different themes or voices, which leads to a new counterpoint and music style.
The Interrelationship between Yin and Yang as well as the Reciprocity between Blankness and Fullness in Eastern Aesthetics
Unlike the ‘Heart Sutra Fugue’ series, whose symbolic rhythm and dialogue derive from the artist’ own reflection on his inner self and understanding of the Heart Sutra, the ‘Portrait’ series features the application of the Heart Sutra to portrait painting, at which he has long excelled. The overlap of the Heart Sutra texts on canvas contributes to special texture in painting. The degree of the textual overlap affects the thickness of the texture and creates a special shadow effect as a result of the refraction of light. As Shen pointed out, “The interrelationship between Yin and Yang as well as the reciprocity between blankness and fullness is highly characteristic of the Eastern aesthetics in Chinese Zen Buddhism. It’s like the use of montage in film editing. When the Eastern Yin-Yang concept overlaps with the Western techniques, a brand-new image arises from such fusion.” The seal characters in the paintings are in intaglio. Bearing in mind that seal script, which retains the pictographic flavor of the Chinese culture, can never be replaced by modern artistic calligraphy in terms of aesthetics of lines, Shen combined the Eastern script writing with the Western techniques for portrait painting, with an attempt to make viewers observe the paintings from different perspectives, interact with the blankness and fullness of the figures and texts in the paintings, or even form a reciprocal relationship with the paintings, which further helps construct the time and space between the paintings and real objects.
The figures portrayed in Shen’s paintings, including Vincent van Gogh, Master Hong-Yi, Master Sheng-Yen, and Barack Obama, are those who have inspired Shen to give some serious thought to life, while the accompanying illustrations, such as the green burial promoted by Master Sheng-Yen and the laurel wreath on Obama’s head, are the graphic representations of Shen’s thoughts on the portrayed figures. Through the combination of portraits, texts, and illustrations, Shen has constructed in his paintings a space, where viewers can observe the figures, contemplate the Heart Sutra texts, and stretch their imagination by taking in the images, texts, and symbols in the paintings, and attempted to lead the viewers to alter constantly their perceptions and imaginations about the paintings and further debate with themselves over their own interpretation of the paintings. As far as an artist is concerned, whether the visual image of his/her artwork may involve viewers in spontaneous observation and elicit multiple interpretations from viewers within a specific social and cultural context is just as significant as the creation itself.
The Vocabulary of Creation Attributed to a Deep Realization of Life
All things in the universe exist in a Ying-Yang or positive-negative relationship with one another, constantly seek to live in harmony, and continuously proceed toward a balance. Careful observation of and critical thinking about Shen’s every series of artworks should reveal the correspondence and harmonization in life. Shen’s ‘Mountain‧Stone’ and ‘Beyond the Form’ series, created in recent years, shows his attempt to seek randomly the posture and appearance of concreteness in abstraction, which seems to follow the ‘Buddhist principle of interdependent causation’: “Everything arises from causes and conditions; everything ceases due to causes and conditions.” By splattering paints on canvas in a casual way, he produced an image repeatedly and then rearranged it holistically. The process of seeking a balance at random also meant Shen’s practices of Buddhist principles. Originally engaging in concrete transcription of the Heart Sutra texts, Shen came to show his response to and concern for people and culture in contemporary society and further produced abstract paintings at random. The ‘Heart Sutra’ has not only motivated Shen to carry out religious transcription and inspired him to ruminate over the texts but also made him internalize the Buddhist principles and seek the organism and harmony among everything in the universe through time and space.
Painting is a race in which the painter competes with himself only. During the past thirty-odd years, Chang-Ming Shen did not give any solo exhibition but played such multiple roles as an artist, collector, and gallery owner, which enabled him to have more encounters and interaction with and give more thought to persons, events, and things than other artists. In his opinion, artists may end up following suit unless they can reflect on their experience, achieve a deep realization of their life, and build up their own vocabulary of creation. In the past decade, Shen devoted himself to religious transcription and painting. While trying to forget worldly concerns by living an ascetic life, he came up with new painting vocabulary through tests of endurance. He has created new vocabulary for expressing his strength and vitality through the combination of the Eastern aesthetic culture and the Western oil painting techniques.
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