C. L. Wysuph
J J Brookings Gallery, San Francisco
Katherine Chang Liu
As an artist, Katherine Chang Liu is an anomaly. Her graduate degree in science did not prepare her to become the artist she is. Yet some fortuitous confluence of art, science and socio-cultural maturation - the threads from which the fabric of her art are woven, the stuff of life which, though informed by reason, is by definition unreasoned - form the corpus of Liu's iconography. That is not to say that her art springs from some ethereal void. She has studied art formally and informally all of her life, leading to grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Virginia Commission of Arts and Humanities, to name only two of her long list of achievements. In addition, she has been a museum co-curator, lecturer and teacher of considerable international influence.
Katherine grew up in Taiwan in a more or less traditional Chinese family. But in the post-War period of her youth, tradition began to give way to "modernization," one consequence of which was to substitute the ball-point pen for the ancient calligraphic brush, the primary instrument of poetic and aesthetic expression in Chinese culture. lt is not surprising, therefore that words, printed and written, play a key role in her work. Usually fragmented and often partially obscured through diaphanous glazes - like ancient palimpsests - the words bear no literal reference to the work. Rather, they are suggestions of former thoughts, reflections on real or imagined experiences as implied by titles such as Field Notes, Earthly Pleasures or Book of Hours, in effect, fragments of life shaped into "a kind of urban landscape [drawn] from imaginations which oscillate in my visual mind."
But we should take care to distinguish fragments and oscillations from disorder. A few years ago, the noted curator, J.S.M. Willette, observed that Liu's painting/collages "have a component beyond expressionistic marking: they are resolutions of her Eastern heritage and Western training." And in that vein the critic Peter Frank wrote of such resolution as the transcendent "yin and yang" to which the Modernist collage aesthetic has pointed from the beginning. In recent thought, such potential for transcendence seems to be obscured by entropy, by a despairing sense of submission to chaos. But even chaos is a form of order. ..... However, it is not entropy, but pathos that underlies her aesthetic and finds expression in the inherent ambiguity of her abstract surfaces imbedded with partial words or phrases beckoning fulfillment - like poetry half-written, the last line too close to the poet to be revealed. Yet, one can read "between the lines," so to speak, to sense more than see, subtle revelations of her private poetry. She exposes her Book of Hours for all to read in the evocative movement of brush and line, disrupted by the diptych break but joined by a single vision.
Perhaps it is that candid autobiographical aspect of her work to which we are most attracted. After all, life and art are integral parts of the same process, especially when the art of one touches the life of others in ways common to their humanity. Such vulnerability is very compelling.
The ancient Tibetan Lama Sumpo Khempo wrote that "since art embodies the mind, body and spirit, it must in truth be understood to be the highest form of learning."
Katherine Chang Liu has learned well.