Wu Hao is gone. Tong Fang Painting Association just lost another one of its eight steeds. So suddenly he left us, so gracious and uninhibited as he always was.
After the exhibition “Blooming” at Metaphysical Art Gallery in 2010, Wu said, with such confidence, that in his next event he would move his composition outdoors. This was no doubt an enormous challenge for Wu, whose painting is composed of multi-view flat space; but it was an exciting challenge. Sadly, fate has written a script unexpected for Wu and all of us, where no one saw the last twist coming. It’s a farewell too soon, and we are left with Wu’s art to wonder in our mind.
Never Say Goodbye revisits 22 pieces of Wu’s works, including his prints and oil paintings of 1975-2011 with varied subjects; along with Wu's unfinished artwork, "Ginger Lily", allowing us to look back into the splendid, extravagant East in his art. Wu Hao went through decades of search and growth in his painting career: exploration in hardship and self-realization in the 1950s; the search for modernity in tradition, with his colleagues at Tong Fang Painting Association, in the 1960s; a turn, in the 1970s, to wood engraving prints reflecting unsophisticated tastes of the popular art; and, by the 1980s, yet another turn to colorful, spectacular oil painting. No matter how the time changes, Wu Hao’s art was always ahead of his time, with his particular structure, style, shape and form. A stark contrast to the conservative and naïve time as well as the trend from then Japan, Wu transformed popular symbols and images into modern structures and styles, expressing his tender yet wild, unrestrained qualities.
Inspired by “the East, Self, and the Sense of Time” proposed by painter and educator Li Chung-Sheng, Wu Hao not only extended his vision but also found a unique self. Restricted by his military career, Wu was not able to study abroad; as he often fantasized this path, it didn’t stop him from adapting the structure of one-point perspective from the West to create the multiple perspectives in the planar fashion of the East. Like his Yangliuqing New Year engravings, one sees sophisticated black lines like iron threads, flower blossom in the hometown in Nanking, and mother’s embroidery. All the yearnings across time and space as well as the bittersweet experiences in real life made the unique visual vocabulary of the East in Wu Hao’s art, which also reflected his tough yet at times tender heart. He was convinced that one is happy only when finding oneself, and he wanted his audience to be happy with the pleasure he was so fascinated in. And the rich, extravagant colors and layers of his bring to mind painter Pierre Bonnard’s gardens of the French south, where the colors are mesmerizingly psychedelic yet so poetic. Bonnard, claimed to be “the most thoroughly idiosyncratic of all the great twentieth-century painters,” flatten the domains of visual presentation and interpretation, making ideas and memories as if they are crushed sequences in time. In the same way, Wu disregards the boundaries of time and space, as he compresses thematic characters within the same space yet creates the visual effect of multiple perspectives. Characters and flowers are forever congealed in the moment of their most fabulous youth; Wu plays with the compressed, magical space so well that he wonderfully preserves time eternally fresh. On his flat surface where spaces appear to intersect, forces and beauty of various spaces burst and spark.
Layers upon layers of complex lines; rich, extravagant colors reflecting solemnity and vicissitudes in life; all are portrayed in their unique aura in Wu’s wood engravings. Illegal constructions, old houses, the countryside, reed, sunset in the backstreet, even popular artists; in the midst of those well layered, densely interwoven lines, they are filled with simple yet lush life. The houses and walls seemingly in disarray have their own order like the bushes and flowers, as we see the black lines cut and poise one another on canvas; the distorted flowers, like the smile in the dream, blossom with traces of time into marvelous yet melancholic landscapes. Oil painting or engraving, Wu would employ fine lines to draw or carve the shape of the petals; the trajectories of the leaves look as if arranged in perfect order, but the shades of their color distinguish one from another and present an uneven beauty. On the immersion gold vase, roses of various colors are in a conversation with the persimmons, apples and pears scattered on the brocade tablecloth; the colors are talking and so are the intertwined leaf stalks. Upon the dreamy, lavish yet translucent colors in the background, the excess of the flowers, characters and colors against one another presents the overload of everything. And the beauty of such suffocation is an accomplishment in the aesthetics of lavishness; it’s even an aggressive invitation for appreciation in parts, and it is in this incomplete appreciation that gives a happiness and joy one simply can’t suppress.
Wu Hao’s trajectory of painting is echoes the history of evolvement of life in Taiwan; one reads his works and feels that he’s always been walking in the springs and summers of life. Under her paintbrush, the girl never turns old, and the colorful and lush flowers never fade. His paintings are pauses in wonderful memories and delightful youth, with a peaceful yet wild gesture. Sometimes insights and meanings may shift with time, but the purity in his art remains the same: firm yet tender, joyful, pleasant, charming, and gorgeous. Even at times of desperation, with imperfect and olden themes, Wu managed to find prosperity and hope. This comes from his personality and unique qualities underneath; like a nomad wandering far, in wilderness, Wu would create a world to his comfort with hope and generosity. Other than talent, Wu must have burning passions in his heart, and he would insist to make his fiery sincerity motivate the nature in the flowers, fruits, people and animals. His works bear gaudy seduction, conflicting comforts, delicacy hidden in wildness, and ineptness in his peculiar aura. All looks complex but is actually simple and innocent. Just like him. Wu, a true unrestrained man, splashes all the tenderness and romanticism, subtlety and acceptance, onto the canvas.
Yet, all life comes to an end after all. But just one more look. The intangible affections in Wu Hao’s splendid yet realistic scenes seem so close to us yet not so real; but then again, they are such natural existence. Every painting is such a piece of beautiful memory and sigh in life! Just like our memory of him, always carved in our heart. Never say goodbye.