Theater of Commotion and Desire-The Secret Made Visible: Solo Exhibition of Kuo Wei-Kuo

4 October - 11 November 2008

In the statement for my 2005 solo exhibition, Diagram of Commotion and DesireTowards a Bright Start From the Deep Forest,I discussed my feelings of being both a director and actor working on scores of scripts, playing displaced characters in chaotic, ambiguous theatrical paintings. I had fallen into a labyrinth of endless self-examination. On this mysterious stage, I disguised myself as self-mocking, sometimes evil, sometimes good, charactersthat were no longer satisfied with hiding in the real world. Since the work created serious anxiety-a feeling of slowly plunging into a deep abyss-I wanted to finish the work for this exhibition as quickly as possible and escape this torturous vision,and find a way out of this deep forest.


At the end of the year, I received the Liao Chi-Chun Oil Painting Award, and so was honored with a solo exhibition at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. The exhibition was to open in July of 2006, so I had about half a year to prepare for the show. Accordingly I set a goal for myself: I wanted to exhibit at least four works that were somewhat different from the themes in Diagram of Commotion and DesireTowards a Bright Start From the Deep Forest. Paintings like The Confessions of a Purple-Red Pig,Astroboy's ExpiationFarewell to the Angel Playing with Waterand Mr. Ken's Desperate Actwere all works where I actively pursued some new ideas. Also, they all had the same distinguishing feature; they extended narratives in previously completed works in the form of prequels or sequels.


For example, the narrative in The Confessions of a Purple-Red Pigextends my previous painting I Am Flying in the Sky where I painted the purple-red pig wearing a Kuo Wei-Kuo mask. In the more recent work I painted a scene in a gallery depicting myself, a life-size purple-red pig and the reporter Li Wei-Jingstanding in front of several of my paintings, including I Am Flying in the Sky. The purple-red pig is showing some pictures and documents as evidence to Li Wei-Jingand explaining how I misrepresented him in my previous work. In another work, Astroboy's Expiation,I tell a touching tale of redemption and love involving Astroboy (his original name was Tobio), his biological father (Dr.Boynton) and adoptive father (Dr.Elefun) who saved him and gave him a new chance in life. In this work I express my feelings for my father, who passed away many years ago, and the many happy times we shared together. Likewise, Mr. Ken's Desperate Actis a continuation of my previous painting Mr. Ken Is Not Home,mixing references to female characters from animated cartoons with the male struggle against desire and authority in Greek myths. This work in some way reveals anxiety I was experiencing during my middle age about growing older while confronting my ideals and regrets. 


These paintings have a project quality which blends themes from art history, my previous work, allegories, myths, consumerism and even gender identity. Although they are constructed on a foundation of traditional, representational painting techniques, they emphasize contemporary themes with intellectual or ambiguous metaphors that produce interesting paradoxes and ambivalent displacements in these mixed theatrical paintings. The previous paintings fromDiagram of Revelation and Desirevary substantially form these new ones in that they were explorations of my individual, inner consciousness, where I utilized disguises to present a more realistic portrait of my true self. Accordingly, the atmosphere in those older works was more serene and restrained, bringing an ambiguous bantering quality to the self portraits. In the beginning,I wanted to create illusionary, dreamlike personal fables with the Diagram of Commotion and Desireseries, allowing the content and elements construct multiple directions and possibilities. I believe these earlier works did indeed have an enlightening influence on later paintings, specifically Yellow Submarine,Under a Coconut Palm,Purple-Red Piggy's Last Nightand Rose, Rose! I Love You,which all came into being based on the previous series. 


At the same time, I made some significant progress in my oil painting techniques. This was related to my residency at the Vermont Studio Center in 2001, and a trip to the New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I could closely inspect oil paintings by great western masters such as Rembrandt, Velázquez and Ingres in person. When I saw the thick layers of oil paint, warm, rich colors and impressive exposition of emotion in the actual works of these great masters, my esteem was heightened so much that I shed a tear. Even today the deep impressions these works gave me remain fresh in my mind. Seeing these paintings in person answered some questions I that I had wondered about for several years and thus confirmed my understanding, or revealed my misapprehension of classical oil painting techniques. Although I only saw them for a short time, these paintings left me with distinct and deep impressions. Works from 2007 including Purple-Red Piggy's Last NightMy Little Bird of YouthHorrified Knight with a Black Umbrellaand A Drifting Man's Sky of Desireare a record of what I learned about technique through this experience, and the confidence I found to say goodbye to older styles.


These two important factors that I explained above allowed me to let loose in my technique in the paintings that followed, which lead to the non-narrative aspect and the significance of the pictorial composition to take on more possibilities. A creative life is substantial and satisfying and I was very happy this year to complete A Suffering Swan's TearsShh... Don't Tell Little Dress I'm Leaving!Purple-Red Body's EmbraceDrifting Red RoseandThe Ko-Ro Horse and I Confused.This reminded me of the time after I finished making work for my 2005 solo exhibition, Diagram of Commotion and Desire; I was writing the artist statement and discussing some obvious changes thatI anticipated would come along laterin my work. Comparing this position and statement with my current situation is somewhat embarrassing, and makes me feel conflicted and foolish. I think that what I have been reading, thinking about and experiencing over the last three years has gradually changed from what I anticipated in the beginning, and the final outcome of the self conflict and dialog in this kind of creative enthusiasm has naturally changed in style. I naturally became unaccustomed to the heartless struggles with absolutes, rules and programs of modernism. Perhaps this is the point where I parted ways with academic art. 

Being perceptive is a necessary part of making art, and perception often stems from intuition. Intuition is actually concealed in the artist's genuine philosophy of art. These elements contain a little less of the after-the-fact, authoritative framework of academic theories. We have already suffered too long under the stern teachings of modernism, and in the course of history the idea that painting is about to die or is already dead has been suggested many times, even though history has shown that painting never dies and lies in an artist's genuine imagery. We have been quietly liberated in the dazzling excitement of post-modernism, and artists, one after another, have shocked the world and offended good taste with their blindingly beautiful end-of-the-century artworks. There are also those who believe that the history of academic art has already reached the end of the road. The hegemony of modernism that existed before the 80s has been completely destroyed and we are heading toward the end of art. According to artists, this is a glorious era since we have cast off all taboos and fetters, but also we are cast adrift in an empty and cynical age. 


Although it was tiring to stand for such long periods of time in order to make the paintings for this exhibition, the spirit of this body of work is energetic, confident and upbeat! Alone in my studio, I focused all of my energy on each of the fictional scenes I constructed in my paintings. Immersed in this creative environment and abandoned to my moods and whims, new inspirations appeared in my mind like a chain reaction. Work that provided ideas and inspirations for the next group of paintings includes, Man of Desire's DomainThe Confessions Under the White Dress and the Holy SpringMr. Desperado's Fancy Car of Leather Shoe,The Carp Knows My HeartAccompanied By the Carp with a Camellia All Along and Swing of the Flower of Youth.In reality, I made these paintings for myself and those who admire and identify with my work. I painted these scenes and roles to satisfy desires that can't be met in the real world, and so they are fantasies that ameliorate wounds with desire, as well as a secret gardenwhere we can escape from reality and reveal our true identities. I used Diagram of Commotion and Desireto construct an imaginary theatrical space where I could allow my invariably corrupted flesh the right to speak out. I used this image of myself and placed it in a theatrical environment so that it could be in a dialog with my real self image, and also comfort people in their sorrowful fate and lonely existence. These paintings also can be called


I once felt my 1996 solo exhibition at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum Scenery of Desire in the Darkwas unsuccessful. This problem has resurfaced in my mind several times in the last few years. Did I deem those works of 1996 failures because of my drive to change and challenge what I am working on at the given time, or did it come from my subconsciously rebellious nature? I think if I didn't go through this stage of thinking in my work, which included the paintings You and I in the World of LoveInvading the Peach Blossom Landand Wondering Desire in the Staring Night, to accumulate ideas and prepare for the next group of work, then perhaps I would have been unable to transition to the next series Diagram of Commotion and Desire. Even in my 1993 work EscapeTaiwan Island and Taiwan's Annals:NO.1 – NO. 4, which were from the series Luminescence and Tension, and were before Scenery of Desire in the Dark,I could already anticipate a spiritual quality similar to Diagram of Commotion and Desire,such as strange clouds, solitary subjects and metaphorical images. So I don't think either of these works, my 1993 Luminescence and Tensionor my 1996 Scenery of Desire in the Darkshould be thought of as good or bad, but rather they represent a stage I had to go through and challenges. 


However, I think that the significance and ideas in my work over the last few decades has been consistent and unchanging throughout! The important thing is that it carries traces of my spirit and my observations of Taiwanese society. With the sincere expression of the images in these works, the only real change is the forms, language and media that I use to express myself, and along with the atmosphere of the times, the expectation of when and how the work willchange. There will be a faint outline or direction in my mind, but I still need to move forward step by step, exploring, verifying and practicing, so that the transformations appear naturally from my past work. I still believe that, and I am not sure who said this, “character decides fate.” So I believe the style of my work throughout my career has revealed the many facets of myself. When I face my work now I am certain of what my artistic style is, what I think I can do, and what I am good at. I know I will be doomed to failure if I strive for what I don't like, and so the most important thing is to work with happiness and satisfaction.