Hsiao Chin, 1935–2023
By Xiyun Wu
Modernist painter Hsiao Chin died on June 30 at the age of 88. As one of the pioneering artists and a cofounder of significant modernist movements in Taiwan and Europe, Hsiao's works explored Asian philosophies while embracing forms of Western postwar avant-garde practices, which bridged the cultural connection and exchange between the East and West.
Born in a cultured family in 1935 in Shanghai, Hsiao moved to Taiwan with his uncle in 1949 at the establishment of the People's Republic of China. His education at the arts department of Taiwan Provincial Taipei Normal School (now renamed as National Taipei University of Education) set the foundation for his practices under the tutelage of renowned printmaker Chou Ying, painter Chu Teh-Chun, and Li Chun-shan. In 1955, he co-founded with seven other artists the Ton Fan Art Group, the first postwar modern art group in Taiwan that attempted to break free from realism and searched for modern expression of Eastern spirituality. By then, Hsiao started his journey to experiment with different visual styles and embark on cross-cultural dialogues.
In 1956, Hsio started traveling to America and Europe, first arriving in Madrid before settling in Milan, where he lived for half a century. There, inspired by the artistic forms of the avant-garde movement in Western Europe, Hsiao’s paintings beseech a spiritual harmony and balance guided by Asian philosophies like Zen and Taoism, and explore between “the void and the solid, strength and weakness.” Five years later, Hsiao co-founded Punto Movement with Italian artist Antonio Calderara and Japanese sculptor Azuma Kenjiro in Milan in 1961, promoting Eastern philosophy of “calm contemplation” and emphasizing their beliefs of art creation as “the finite of infinity” and “the reality of being” through 13 exhibitions across Europe and Asia from 1962 to 1966.
One of his most well-known series at the time, Universal Energy, echoes such beliefs in his continual exploration in “origins” and “universe,” which are usually represented by an endless circle of primordial chaos in classical Chinese philosophy. Comprising circular and square shapes of heaven and earth, Universal Energy explores the idea of birth and destruction through his vibrant brushstrokes, interweaving the cosmos with human life.
Hsiao gradually developed a distinct style of abstraction that attempts to push through the limits of physical space. His series of paintings and serigraphs titled Hard Edge, created in the late 1960s after moving to New York, play with the geometric composition, with an attempt to reflect on the Eastern spiritual values. Then in the 1990s, after losing his daughter Samantha, he started the Eternal Garden series, which delves into the state of meditation, also through exploring the composition of abstract colorful batches.
Hsiao repeatedly emphasized that the “grand energy of the universe”—both internally and externally from the harmonious relationship between humanity and nature—gave birth to his creations. He considered it as “the spiritual power that enables the persistence and coexistence of all lives, objects, cultures and religions with or without a tangible form.” In the 2000s, Hsiao revisited this cosmic theme in his Universal Energy series with new material experimentation in mosaic glass, reconfiguring the canvas to a three-dimensional surface. Through his mature yet diverse forms and highly saturated colors, he shifted from his earlier exploration of void and solidity to a more tangible manifestation of the intangible driving forces of the universe through more filling compositions. Like the title of his 2020 monograph, In My Beginning is My End (2020), Hsiao drew a clumsy full circle throughout his artistic career.
His works have been collected by institutions around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, M+ Museum in Hong Kong, Musée Guimet in Paris, National Galerie in Rome, and Long Museum in Shanghai.
The artist established his own Hsiao Chin Art Foundation in Kaohsiung in 2014, which overlooks his major body of works as well as copyrights and estates. According to the Foundation, they will not issue an obituary or set up a funeral, based on the artist’s final wishes. Instead, a memorial ceremony is scheduled to take place on July 8.
Xiyun Wu is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.