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    Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco

Radiance of Life: Paintings of Chu Ko

The Chinese Culture Center is now presenting an exhibition of thirty paintings by famous poet, painter, and scholar Chu Ko. The exhibit runs until August 10 in the South Gallery.

Born Yuan Dexing in Hunan Province, Chu Ko chose his pen name while he was a young soldier stationed in Taiwan. Coming from what was once the ancient Kingdom of Chu, the loose translation of "Soldier from Chu¨ seemed appropriate. He learned Confucian classics as a youth growing up during a time of war, yet was influenced by western literature and Taoist books found in the ruins of an abandoned home.
Entering the Nationalist Army, Chu Ko soon found himself a young, penniless soldier in Taiwan. Every spare moment was spent reading, and he soon befriended other soldiers with similar interests. Their circle, representing a new approach to writing and art, often engaged in literary jousting with Taipei's conservative art world. As a poet and art critic, the Soldier from Chu published articles in magazines and newspapers that made him well known in the art world. After leaving the army in 1966, he lectured at Chinese Culture University - ironically enough, while attending college night classes to get a degree. In 1968, he withdrew into the National Palace Museum to study ancient bronzes, and extensively wrote articles on art in vernacular language so as to bring it closer to the general public.

Despite all his knowledge and writings about the subjects, Chu Ko tried his own hand at calligraphy and painting relatively late. His first experimentations with ink painting, silkscreen printing, and ceramic painting led to deeper exploration, with his first exhibition taking place in 1969. This exhibition would be the first of many, as his thematic approaches evolved and re-evolved.

His later works, created after the artist survived a bout with cancer, exhibit a love of life, with radiant, passionate colors. Chu Ko says that while his body may have weakened, his spirit emerged from painful cancer treatments even stronger. While his themes continue to develop, it is evident that the Soldier from Chu looks at the world through the eyes of a poet. His works diverge dramatically from traditional Chinese ink paintings, splashed with vibrant varieties of color. In the same vein, his calligraphy also takes on its own life; with deliberate ink drops and bleeding that have earned admiration from the avant-garde and outrage from the traditionalists. The spontaneity and joy of expression in his works have placed Chu Ko at the vanguard of the new literati movement.


1931 Yuan Te-hsing, a.k.a. Chu Ko, born in the village of Mi-lo in Hunan Province, China, on March 23.
1938 In the second year of the Japanese invasion of China, he began formal education in Chinese characters and calligraphy.
1941 Began study of Confucian classics, traditional painting and calligraphy. Later in his youth, writings of modern reformers and modern poets inspired his curiosity about the outside world.
1948 Enrolled in Mi-lo High School. Later in the year Chu Ko together with three friends enlisted in the army.
1949 During the civil war Chu Ko was first stationed in southern China and later transferred to Taiwan with the Nationalist army.
1950 As a young soldier Chu Ko read and wrote modern poetry intensively. He served as the chief editor of the army's literary weekly.
1957 Transferred to an army unit in Taipei. Joined the Modern Poetry Movement and became involved with literary circles in the capital. Their lifestyle earned them the nickname "the Bohemian coffee-house pack."
1962 Converted to Buddhism.
1966 Discharged from the army at the rank of sergeant. Published first poetry collection Unripe Fruit. Enrolled in extension courses at the National Art College, Taipei.
1967 Began teaching art and Chinese culture at College of Chinese Culture.
1968 Joined the Antiquities Department of the National Palace Museum, specializing in ancient bronze vessels. Published a collection of art reviews titled A Visual Life.
1969 Joint Exhibition with modernist painter Lee Shi-Chi in Taipei.
1970 Son, A-chi, born.
Solo Exhibition in Taipei.
Participated in a tour of the US in joint exhibitions of contemporary Chinese artists.
1973 Solo Exhibition at Contemporary Art Gallery, Seoul, Korea.
1974 Joint Exhibition of "Contemporary Chinese Painting," Ueno Art Gallery, Tokyo, Japan.
1975 Published The Cultural Monuments of China, a survey of Chinese art for the general public.
1979 Solo Exhibition at Printmakers' Gallery, Taipei.
1981 Diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer. Began cobalt-sixty radiation treatment in August.
Solo Exhibition, Printmakers' Gallery, Taipei.
1982 Visiting Lecturer of printmaking at Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Reunited with his mother in Hong Kong after thirty-four years.
1984 Published Strolling Mountains, a collection of poetry, paintings, and drawings.
Solo Exhibition at Art Center, Hong Kong.
1985 Solo Exhibition at Longmen Gallery, Taipei.
Published Firebird Reborn, a collection of essays describing his fight with cancer.
Taught in Art Department, Tung-hai University, Taichung.
In August Chu Ko was invited to participate in the Writer's Workshop at University of Iowa. He visited museums and met with art historians throughout the U.S.
1986 Published a collection of art reviews titled The Life of Beauty.
Joint Exhibition, Versailles, France.
The Second Sino-Korean Modern Painting Exchange Exhibition, Seoul, Korea.
"Contemporary Chinese Painting Exhibition," Taipei.
"Abstract Ink-Brush Painting Exhibition," Taipei Fine Arts Museum.
1987 Joint Exhibition, "7 Chinese Artists from Taiwan," Nederloo Museum, Brussels, Belgium.
Joint Exhibition, National History Museum, Taipei.
The Second Asian International Art Exhibition, Taipei.
Joint Exhibition, Dunhuang Art Gallery, Taipei.
1988 Represented Taiwan at Olympiad of Art, Seoul, Korea.
The Third Asian International Art Exhibition, Taipei.
"Contemporary Chinese Art Exhibition," Taipei.
Joint Exhibition of "Contemporary Chinese Ink Paintings," Paris and San Francisco.
1989 Solo Exhibition, Jacques Barrere, Art d'Extrême Orient, Paris.
The Fourth Asian International Art Exhibition, Taipei.
"Homage to Picasso," Taipei Fine Arts Museum.
1990 "Colors of Life," National Library, Paris.
Conseil Culturel de la Maison des Arts et Loisirs, Sochaux, France.
The Fifth Asian International Art Exhibition, Taipei.
1991 Joint Exhibition, Pristine Harmony Gallery, Taipei.
"A World of Feelings: A Retrospective Exhibition of the Art of Chu Ko," Taipei Fine Arts Museum.
1992 Represented Taiwan at Olympiad of Art, Barcelona, Spain.
Exhibition of "Contemporary Ink Paintings of Korea-China" (exhibition tours in Taiwan and Korea)
1993 Solo Exhibition, Das Ubersee-Museum, Bremen,Germany.
1994 Solo Exhibition, Korea.
1995 Solo Exhibition of "The Ceaselss Line," Hong Kong University.
1997 Solo Exhibition of "Contemplating Structure," Taipei Fine Arts Museum.
1998 Director, River-East Lion Museum, Taiwan.
1999 Exhibition of "Chu Ko's Ties of Affection," National Museum of History, Taipei.
Solo Exhibition, Art Center, Hong Kong.
Joint Exhibition of "Vision 2000-Chinesische Gemalde und Skulpturen der Gegenwart," Germany.
The First Puyo International Modern Sculpture Symposium, Korea.
2000 Joint Exhibition, Shanghai.
Joint Exhibition of "Ink Paintings of Three Asian Artists," Kyoto, Japan.
Salon de June, Paris
2001 Joint Exhibition of "Six Artists from Taiwan and China," Shanghai Modern Art Museum and Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.
2002 Solo Exhibition, Geneva, Switzerland.