Tina Keng Gallery, a leading gallery dedicated to promoting works by Asian classical masters, is delighted to present Sanyu’s Hidden Blossoms: Through the Eyes of a Dandy, opening on March 24.
Comprising of around forty works of the Chinese modern master, this exhibition will focus on Sanyu’s work that were created between the 1930s and 1940s, with a selection of the last work of his. Formerly known as Lin & Keng Gallery, the Taipei-based Tina Keng Gallery was established in 1992 and began its long representation of the artist with Sanyu–Yun Gee Joint Exhibition: The Nostalgia of Two Wanderers in 1993, one year after opening. Solely curated by its founder, Tina Keng, the gallery subsequently held six other solo exhibitions of Sanyu over last 25 years in 1997, 1998, 2001, 2010, and 2013. Organised by young curator Hsu Fong-Ray, Sanyu’s Hidden Blossoms: Through the Eyes of a Dandy is the gallery’s latest undertaking to celebrate the legacy of Sanyu.
“I took my first visit to Paris about thirty years ago. This is when I first discovered Sanyu’s work, I was instantly taken by his hand and style. Through curating the past six exhibitions at our gallery, I have come to appreciate the interrelationship between Eastern and Western painting and concepts that are infused in his work. As one of the oldest members in the Taiwanese art community, we are dedicated to nurture and support the new generation of artistic and curatorial talents. For this exhibition, it is particularly exciting to work with the talented curator Hsu Fong-Ray, who has the ability to relate contemporary aesthetics in the work of Sanyu that transcend generations.” Tina Keng, founder of the gallery commented.
Sanyu’s Hidden Blossoms chronicles from the artist’s nascent beginnings at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, where he honed his painting skills, to the very last painting he produced before he passed away in 1966. Evoking the Parisian milieu where artistic greats gathered, the exhibition consists of precious works on paper that came into being at la Grande Chaumière, as well as a constellation of oil works between the 1930s and 1940s from what is known as the ‘Pink Period’, characterized by a palette of white, black, and pink. In addition to the sgraffito technique he used to outline his subject, this particular body of work attests to Sanyu's dexterous application of feibai, a drybrush technique in Chinese calligraphy that spares out the white ground in streaks, to create varying layers in the seemingly monotone background. Also on view is a series of drawings of the female nude that once struck famed Chinese poet Xu Zhimo as having “cosmic thighs,” and exquisite works loaned from the Fubon Art Foundation that make their appearance for the first time in fifteen years.
Sanyu moved to Paris in 1920s when France was regarded as the center of the Années folles (“crazy years” in French) — a period of liberation, creativity, and cultural flourishing in the years following the First World War. “The artists who drifted toward Paris at the turn of the 20th century immersed themselves in the crowd and led a modern life. They were the so-called “dandies” in this golden era, who much like a mirror, reflect the diversity of the times, the city, and the people. Spearheading Chinese modern art, these artists navigated the treacherous global currents in search of ways that linked tradition and modernity, with a keen self-awareness as they engaged in the practice of cultural interpretation. Standing at the forefront was Sanyu.” Hsu Fong-Ray, exhibition curator explained.
From Sanyu’s experimentation with techniques to his practice of artistic styles, we can ultimately see a cross-cultural vocabulary of aesthetics and the remnants of modern history in Sanyu’s work. As the artist once said, "The paintings of Europe can be described as an elaborate meal, consisting of barbecue, fried foods, and meat of all kinds. My work is akin to vegetables, fruit, or salad, which helps shape and change the way people appreciate paintings." Treading the line between Western modernity and cultural tradition, Sanyu bore witness to a burgeoning new era, and embodied the dandy aesthetics in a cross-cultural modern milieu. His artistic expression that amalgamates the disparate values and aesthetics of the East and the West underscores not only Sanyu’s inclusiveness, but also his compromise and reinvention in shaping his aesthetic vocabulary. There is a profound creative spirit in Sanyu's work, transcending cultural boundaries, elitism, and popular culture, allowing us a chance to grasp the poetics in aesthetics and history.
Born in Szechuan, China
Sanyu first attended the Shanghai Art Academy, and went to Japan in 1901. The following year, he went to France among China’s very first batch of oversea students under the sponsorship of the Chinese government. After he finished school, Sanyu remained in Paris, where he engaged in figure drawing at the Grande Chaumière. Beginning in 1925, Sanyu showed his work regularly at the Paris Salons and local galleries. In his early 30s, Sanyu garnered recognition for his copperplate prints in Les Poèmes de T’ao Ts’ien (or The Poems of T’ao Ts’ien), and gradually established his status among France’s major contemporary artists. His restrained approach to painting imbued with a rich Oriental flavor caught the attention of renowned Paris art collector Henri-Pierre Roché, and received praise from his contemporaries. Since he passed away in Paris in 1966, the National Museum of History in Taipei has held six retrospectives of Sanyu (respectively in 1978, 1984, 1990, 1995, 2001, and 2017). In 2004, the Guimet Museum of Asian Art in France held the exhibition Sanyu: L’écriture du corps: Language of the Body.
Marrying the qualities of Chinese literati painting and Western modern art, Sanyu developed a unique style of expression. In the days when he first arrived in Paris, Sanyu was intoxicated by the romantic milieu of the exotic city, which inspired his basic palette of pink, white, and black, lending his work a clean elegance rendered by joyous calligraphic lines. However, with the onset of World War II and the decline of his family’s financial fortunes, the levity evident in his earlier body of work disappeared. And although his characteristic aloofness remained, his work eventually took on a touch of gloom. Later, Sanyu found additional inspiration in lacquerware, injecting healthy doses of folk art into his work, where he teased out simple lines against dark backgrounds in bold compositions, featuring such themes as nudity, flowers, scenery, and animals. In his last years, impoverished and forlorn, the artist saw his nostalgia cascading into his paintings, where small, isolated creatures appear lost and lonely, and even the flowers in vases and pots seem wistfully frail.