About LIN Hung-Hsin's Artworks


Simple Composition – Little Narratives of Basic Painting Course

by CHEN Kuang-Yi
Contemporary Art History PhD of Université Paris X Nanterre, Fine Arts Department Associate Professor/Dean of Fine Arts College of National Taiwan University of Arts

Simple Composition-2,65X53CM,oil on canvas,2021

Lin Hung-Hsin used to prefer depicting grand narratives composed of many figures, large in scale and complicated in composition, but after his solo exhibition Fragments in 2019, he turned to “little narratives” (petits récits), and has hardly painted figures since then. This does not mean that he has lost his ambition, nor does it mean that there has been disruption in his oeuvre. In fact, the main inspiration of his creation has always been the daily life at his fingertips. What is important is how to transform his daily thoughts into paintings through ingenious techniques. More than ten years ago, he had been working in the advertising design career for fifteen years, which was lucrative but easy to get lost; therefore, he decided to follow his intuition and resolutely changed the career path to become a full-time artist. In 2010, the series Flâneur gained him reputation and fame. The theme of Flâneur is based on Walter Benjamin's (1892-1940) work Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in The Era of High Capitalism, in which Benjamin wrote: The flâneur desperately resists the “frantic rhythm of material production,” but possesses a “fetish” that generates self-transference, because they are those who “has been left out of the crowd by Baudelaire, who sink into the same situation as the commodity.” The flâneur lived in the era of high capitalism, realizing that the way of living imposed on them by the production system has irreversibly commodified both themselves and their labor. And Lin Hung-Hsin, who obviously substituted himself into the role of the flâneur, has been indulging in spending time on painting. He exposes the capitalist world through painting, while trying to stay awake in the capitalist world by doing so. Hence, the subject of “fetish” replaced “figure” and naturally transformed into “still life” in line with the logic of being a flâneur. After becoming an artist, he has been teaching in school in recent years, gaining a new identity as an art teacher. Through connecting and reflecting on the circulation of different lessons, teaching and learning, teaching and creation, and teaching and life, he has been deeply inspired by this new lifestyle. In the past he simply had to think about how to paint, now he also has to think about how to teach painting. Moreover, how to contemplate what painting is and how to paint by teaching painting? Or, on the contrary, how to examine painting and teaching painting in terms of painting itself?

In fact, from his previous solo exhibition Fragments, we already saw how he used seemingly insignificant and even irrelevant fragments in his life, such as the moon, cornfield, coat, pigeon, chair, cat, naked woman, gift bags and so on to imply the indistinct connection between “symbols” and “objects.” The exhibition title “Fragments” not only hints at vacancies and fractures but also brews suspense and delays. This time, the exhibition Simple Composition expresses the challenges he faces in teaching and creating even more forcefully: how to explain what painting is in a simple way? First, the subject matter has to be very simple: using the paper that he could find at hand as a teacher, folding them into shapes like those demonstrated in origami books such as airplanes, or making landscape elements like mountains or rocks by kneading clay. Second, the content must be straightforward: an art teacher's “Basic Painting Course” is unusually presented to the audience. Finally, the form must not be complicated: these simple elements become several paintings of “simple composition” that use basic techniques like point, line, surface, shape, color, space, structure, dynamics, tension, texture, brushstrokes, and layers.

Simple Composition-15,53X45.5CM,oil on canvas,2021

However, the seemingly simple “simple composition” is not simple at all. These simple “still lifes” made by hand were photographed in the studio by the means of commercial photography, and the lighting and settings were deliberately used to simulate virtual images for shooting. After compositing, retouching, and reconstructing, the lines and color blocks floating in the virtual space were added in the picture, and finally the composed digital image was hand-painted on canvas or wood panels to create a painting. Needless to say, fine-tuning, modification and reconstruction were inevitable during the process of hand-painting. The artist humorously described the process of going back and forth between hand-painting and digital-painting as if being a kind of “cyborg.” This complex process of imitating the virtual with the real, and then restoring the virtual to reality completely subverts the principle of artistic reproduction. The artist first reproduced a sculpture in reality, then simulated the computer programming language via studio shooting to create a simulation of the fictional scene devised by the audience’s daily visual sensory experience, and finally digitally transformed the reproduction of the scene. Eventually, all the digital images that combined real reproduction and virtual transformation were represented in the paintings. The application of digital embroidery made the work a genuine entity. For the audience, Lin Hung-Hsin’s work thus becomes an endless trial of the senses and consciousness. What is virtual? What is real? When does the virtual end and the reality begin? When will the virtual begin again and the reality end? If they want to interpret the meaning of the painting, the audience will be involved in Baudrillard's speculation. What is the signified? What is the signifier? What is the relationship between the two? For example, is the plane in the work pointing to the real plane, the paper folding of the plane, the advertisement of the plane, or the painting of the plane? Or is it not a plane at all, just a vague symbol that exists only in visual experience, or is it just a composition of shapes and colors? There are also some pure hand-painted works such as Simple Composition XV. In this series of paintings, in addition to various spatial implications swinging between two and third dimensions, there are also some collages using physical tapes or digital embroidered strips, which are mistaken for color scheme charts or considered by the artist as “symbolic identity badges,” further increasing the level of confusion for the audience when distinguishing the virtual from the real.

It can only be said that Lin Hung-Hsin's paintings create a complex narrative with simple forms. He uses the usual narrative techniques to extract elements from daily life, and then processes them in a way of visual communication, so that the scenes he paints presents a dreamy and real “shifting (décaler)” effect, which sends a multitude of contested messages that vary from person to person. The shifting of the boundaries between digital images and physical paintings, and the confusion between advertising design and painting categories in the works probably offer the best standpoint and battlefield for thinking about the essence of painting and teaching painting today. The purpose of simplicity is definitely not to say less or not to say at all, but to be able to say more concisely, and to respond more precisely to contemporary issues that are not ever simple, such as how do we live and keep awake in a capitalist world that is going way beyond “high capitalism”? In the unavoidable digital age, how to distinguish real from simulacra? In the post-human generation created by high technology, how can artificial intelligence and machines replace human beings, and how can hand-drawn paintings resist the cannibalization of machine simulation? And eventually, how to obtain partial approval and brief agreement with little narratives after the collapse of “metanarratives”?

Poems for sages: Being accessed,45.5X38CM,Oil and acrylic and electric embroidery on canvas,2021
In 1979, the postmodernist scholar Jean-Francois Lyotard (1924-1998) published The Postmodern Condition, which defined the so-called “postmodernism” as the loss of faith in grand narratives (or metanarratives) with a high degree of universality and unity in cultural, religious, political and social structures. Lyotard believed that little narratives (or mirconarratives) in fragmented or disjointed texts will be an alternative to underpinning postmodern societies. Micronarratives are very different from metanarratives. Especially unlike the dominant scientific narratives, micronarratives are the new science of postmodernity, which only have partially determined truths. In literature, the notion of little narratives is well suited to elaborate the bizarre autobiography of Roland Barthes (1915-1980), published in 1975. In the book there is no chronological account of life from childhood, only an alphabetical sequence of a hundred fragmented stories drawn from the trivialities of life. For Barthes it seems to be the best tool for exposing himself in public. Fragments, however, are not synonymous with summaries or intermittent writing, and while any fragment is necessarily linked to a whole, in Barthes’ writing we don't know whether that whole exists or not. Fragments unrelated to timing seem to be transformed into a gesture of the author, a simulacrum (simulacre) produced by his creative will.

It was not until Pablo Picasso passed away in 1973 did people find out that he spent the last twenty years of his life deconstructing the grand narratives in the history of art, transforming the classic works such as The Luncheon on the Grass and Las Meninas into countless and ever-changing little narratives. He created the “Painting of Painting,” reconstructing the most classic paintings through principles of point, line, surface, shape, color, space, structure, dynamics, tension, texture, brushstroke, and layers. Through these works, Picasso demonstrated several of Picasso's painting lessons to the world. On the other hand, the artist Alberto Giacometti constantly studied portraiture in his later years. He repeatedly painted his friends, and refused to step out of the studio ever again. He revealed to the world how to use portraits to depict the living conditions of human beings after World War II. The paintings of both Picasso and Giacometti reveal a turn in history of art from great historical themes towards “anecdote.” As art sociologist Nathalie Heinich (1955- ) stated, anecdote can be a method because “in the norm and taken-for-granted continuity that is neither engaging nor framing a story, any anecdotes reveal a moment that stands out. To be relevant to anecdotes, one has to deviate from the normality of the world, limit their expectations, and embrace the unintentional surprises in life, even on a rather small scale.” In other words, the anecdote points to the exception, which is not representative (représentatif) but symptomatic (symptomatique). However, the anecdote does not fall outside of life, instead, it signifies a chance to tell a story in life. The idea of the exhibition Simple Composition comes from Lin Hung-Hsin’s monotonous daily life. In the exhibition, he not only demonstrates his painting course but also expresses his willingness to constantly stay out of the grand narratives. Taking life as the battlefield, using fragments as self-narratives, and anecdotes as methods, he has established numerous little narratives about how he teaches painting, so as to provide a response to “what is painting,” a basic question in a basic painting course, in a complex and diverse contemporary situation.