Radiance of Life: Paintings of Chu Ko

Chu Ko

June 20 – August 10, 2002

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.