Chiayi in Painting

Travel in Chiayi

"Self-Portrait", 1928
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In Tan Ting-pho's "Self-Portrait" (1928), he was 33 years-old. In his four years of studies in Japan, his painting techniques matured and two landscape paintings depicting his homeland were selected to enter the top art exhibition of Japan. After this self-portrait was completed, Tan's artistic career expanded to southern China and subsequently returned to Chiayi. Until February 28, 1947, the artist expressed his passion for the land through his oil paintings and created Chiayi Park on his canvas, until they reached every beautiful corner of Taiwan.

"Chiayi Park (1)", 1937
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"Chiayi Park (1)" was painted by the artist after he returned to Taiwan from Shanghai in 1937. The piece was originally named after the pond in the painting as "Biantian Pond". In the center of the pond, flame trees stand tall like umbrellas, enfolding the entire scene in the image. The curving and extending branches are as lively as moving limbs, expressing a flourishing vitality. It is originally a plant from the tropics, but instead of the crimson tropical vibrancy, neat patterns formed by lines in the Chinese ink painting style adorn the scene. Muscovy ducks, swans and red-crowned cranes symbolize different cultural elements, but they have been incorporated in a fantastical whimsy in a corner of the pond in  Chiayi park, to create the artist's ideal landscape.

"Chiayi Park (3)", 1939
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This panoramic view is a scene from a corner of Chiayi Park. The perspective extends from near to far but without much reduction of the details, almost as if it's the view of a curious child eager to explore every corner he can see. Within the landscaped garden, the meandering river and the roads are systematically interspersed to form a complex scenery together with the twisting tree branches. Forests and trees have always been a major secondary theme in the works of Tan Ting-pho. The wide array of vibrant plants in the painting are scenes only available in a modernized park, perhaps it was also a theme that the artist wished to express.

"Chiayi Park (4)", year unknown
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Tan Ting-pho created rough brush strokes in oil on the wooden board so that in between the branches and the greenery, the sudden glimpse of the red Torii Gate and Sacred Bridge can guide the viewer's line of sight to the other side of the pond. Wooden boards were one of the painting base materials often used by Tan. The artist enjoyed painting outdoors and emphasized that "research should be done first, then gain an understanding of the spirit of the era and the features of the locale of the painting site". Tan went to a corner of the park and took out a small wooden board from his painting kit. The artist's paintbrushes captured the natural scenery in front of his eyes and left behind a rare image of the Biantian Pond landscape.

"Chiayi Park Scenery", 1934
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Parents and children who came to the park would often stop in front of the railings and watch the monkeys play. In the Japanese colonial era, some sections of the park included animal pens to provide additional entertainment for the visitors. This type of animal exhibition can be seen as the forerunner of zoos in Taiwan. X ray investigations carried out in 2015 revealed another painting of a nude woman under the painting. Why was the park scenery used to replace a painting of a nude woman? Only the artist knows the answer.

"Chiayi Park Corner Scenery", 1934
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The lake, lawn, bushes, tree crowns, and the large area of greenery take up most of the painting. The harmonious landscape and colors attracted the attention of the artist. and he re-created the pond and forest in the park corner into a lovely symphony of art on the canvas. The artist had once said, "My studio is in nature." It was Tan's habit to move the easel to the outdoors, probably also to immerse and enjoy himself in the colorful and vibrant world of nature.

"Children's Amusement Park", 1946
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Even though only photos in black and white have survived, in the scene, the bygone days' amusement park arched entrance and ticket booth to the right, as well as visitors walking hand in hand can still be seen clearly. In Tan Ting-pho's works, the people are often shown in pairs of father and son or mother and son, expressing the artist's interest in parent-child themes. After the war, this painting was sold to the Minister of Education of that time at the first provincial exhibition. Its subsequent whereabouts are unknown. Perhaps this artwork is still hidden somewhere in Taiwan, waiting for the day of its re-discovery.

"Pygmy Water-Lily", year unknown
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This artwork differs from the other works centered around the theme of Chiayi Park. This painting on a wooden board depicts the lily leaves in the small pond, the ripples on the water, and the pile of rocks in the center of the pond. Under the water, a group of yellow-brown fish appear to be getting ready to swim away. At the beginning of the 20th century, the French artist Monet's skillful works depicting lilies had already become internationally renowned. Tan Ting-pho certainly had also come across his works during his studies overseas. When he carefully portrayed the play of light and shadows on the water, perhaps he also remembered the masterful techniques of Monet in his depiction of ponds.

"Chiayi Park - Path in front of the Shinto Shrine", year unknown
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The path to the entrance of the Shinto Shrine is straight and neat, while the leafy trees on either side of the path provide shade to the passers-by. The trees on the left-hand side of the path twist this way and that, but street lights and utility poles stand tall and straight among the trees. The stone lantern and the Torii Gate in the distance mark the way to the entrance of the Shinto Shrine. A little further in lies the boundary between profane and sacred. In this painting, Tan Ting-pho used simple lines to hint at the existence of the Shinto Shrine. But what he is actually trying to express is the co-existence of modern objects and traditional culture as a part of Taiwan's natural landscape.

Tropic of Cancer Post
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Towering over the West Coast Rail Line which runs north to south along Taiwan’s west coast, the commemorative obelisk symbolizes the glory of the Japanese Empire and bears inscriptions which condense the uniqueness of its southland territory of Taiwan into two columns of scientific description. It is precisely these numbers, or rather this latitude, 23°27’4” N, which has nurtured the diverse landscapes of Formosa. The lush mountain forests, deep blue waters, and open fields illuminated by the bright sun—all the myriad landscapes of this island lying along the Tropic of Cancer—are represented in exquisite color in Chen Cheng-po’s artwork.

Self Portrait (2)
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Chen Cheng-po beams with self-confidence; behind him, Chinese hibiscus flowers bloom in brilliant summer colors. Within the world of oil painting, the 35-year-old artist had found an ideal mode of self-expression.When Chen moved from Japan to Shanghai, his artistic career entered a new stage. In Shanghai, he found new subject matter for landscape paintings and absorbed the fundamental concepts and techniques of traditional Chinese painting. The confidence and anticipation he then felt for the future is perhaps visible in this self-portrait.

Tropic of Cancer Landmark
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While on summer vacation from his studies in Japan, Chen Cheng-po returned to Chiayi and visited the Tropic of Cancer monument just outside the city. The structure which he had depicted with watercolors a few years earlier had been torn down and a brand-new structure stood in its place. Chen decided to take on this new man-made marvel with a different medium: oil paint. Like David taking aim with his slingshot at Goliath, the artist peered up at the giant landmark and considered how best to use the paints in his paint box to subdue his adversary.

Accumulated Snow on Jade Mountain
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Patches of burnt copper earth, foothills cloaked in lush green foliage, high mountaintops etched with white jade, and a foreboding, deep-blue sky—these elements compose an ode to the natural world. Each layer of thick paint adds to the profound grandeur of forest and mountain, earth and sky.Swift, vigorous brushstrokes coat the canvas in mercurial colors. This painting does not recite a long, drawn-out tale, but rather a succinct, pithy poem whose verses exalt the splendor of Mount Jade. In the radiant white pinnacle rising into the heavens, we can almost visualize the very soul of this island.

Lumber Factory
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Railroad tracks, factory buildings, smokestacks, steel cables, colossal cement structures, and loudly whirring machinery—all of these modern marvels comprised Chiayi’s lumber factory, often referred to as “East Asia’s Finest.” By the early 1920s, Chiayi had grown into a thriving metropolis after substantial investment in its lumber industry. The central force behind this great transformation was none other than the lumber factory on the town’s northern outskirts.This watercolor painting bears witness to the tremendous changes which Chiayi underwent during Chen Cheng-po’s youth.

Sawmill
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Even though the vibrancy of the original oil painting is somewhat lost, a vivid and energetic scene emerges from this yellowed photograph. The pulleys on the crane spin swiftly round as workers use long poles to grapple with the unprocessed logs floating in the pond. Wartime had only just ended, but the sawmill is thriving and in full operation, with enormous logs piled high across the entire mill yard.This sawmill in Chiayi was a setting which Chen Cheng-po visited and painted at the beginning and end of his career as an artist. Studying these two works closely, can you perceive any differences?

Xihuifang
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In the shade cast by a grand leafy tree, pedestrians stroll past peddlers’ carts loaded with fruits and frozen treats, enticing them to enjoy some refreshment from the scorching heat of this tropical island. Three women wearing different kinds of cultural dress—kimono, cheongsam, and Western—walk quietly past one another in the city street. The most familiar silhouette in this locale, however, is that of the humble laborer, slightly stooped under the weight of his shoulder pole. Within this scene of a tranquil afternoon in front of Xihuifang lie hidden clues which reveal small tidbits about life at the time.

City God Festival in Lunar August
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Rollicking groups of performers parade into the center of the canvas, which has been transformed into a profusion of colors—red, yellow, orange, and green. Looking at the chaotic mingled shapes, we can almost feel the bustling of the crowd and hear the cacophony of percussion instruments and voices.In 1929, Chen Cheng-po left for Shanghai to teach art, but sometimes returned home for summer vacation, in which case he could experience the City God Inspection Tour that took place each year at the beginning of the eighth lunar month. To Chen, this grand ceremony was a symbol of his hometown and the local folk culture. It was also, of course, an excellent subject for his paintings.

City God Festival
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The crowd bursts into cheers as performers on stilts walk nimbly by. These spectators watch wide-eyed, not wanting to miss a single moment of the excitement. They lift their heads, gleefully watching the parade, but the painter lowers his own, gazing at his pencil as it flits across the paper.Sketchy pencil marks overlaid with simple watercolors reveal a glimpse of a temple festival. Sketchbook in hand, Chen Cheng-po joined the swelling crowds to take part in the 1933 City God Inspection Tour and created this rare pictorial record of his hometown’s traditional festivities.

Doing Washing
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Immersed in the task of handwashing laundry, women crouch over the edge of a riverbank, their reflections mirrored in the surface of the clear shallow water. Working next to each other, they share and exchange tidbits of local news and neighborhood gossip. Children who have come with their mothers wait along the water’s edge, ready to jump in and splash around.This painting rekindles fond memories of washing clothes by the riverside, memories which are shared by many in Taiwan’s elder generation. Looking at this painting, you can almost hear the women’s chatter and laughter mingled with the splashing of the water.

Mild Winter at Mt. Jade
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The white snow blanketing the high mountain peaks hints at the approach of winter, but Chiayi is still bathed in warm sunlight. Sunshine streaming in from behind the wall casts a long shadow across the courtyard, where two people enjoy the balmy weather, their faces baked red from the sun. An atmosphere of carefree relaxation characterizes this scene.Nearly all of Chen Cheng-po’s paintings of his hometown Chiayi radiate warmth. What colors and impressions come to mind when you think of your own hometown?

Looking towards Chiayi
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A profusion of green flows throughout this vast landscape; it crawls up tree trunks and curls into verdant, wing-like branches. Similar to notes in a musical suite, different layers of bright, lively yellow-greens and darker, more somber jade-greens are woven into a resplendent composition. In the distance, a large building is ornamented with flecks of glimmering blue-green, like a precious stone nestled in a jeweled setting.The sea of green extends out to the aquamarine sky, half-shrouded by white clouds at the horizon. Gazing out over his city, Chen Cheng-po poured his heartfelt love into this work, creating a beautiful, engaging landscape abundant in life and cheer.

Chiayi Countryside
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Infused with a quiet pastoral ambiance, this peaceful tableau in fact bustles with scenic details and bucolic vignettes. A woman in a farmyard, back turned to the viewer, serves as the focal point for the entire work. Surrounded by chickens, children, and clothing racks, she works diligently to complete her daily tasks. Beyond her rustic farmhouse stands a modernized cattle ranch and pasture for grazing. Triangular rooftops point upwards towards rolling hills and distant mountains, creating a sense of perpetual undulating movement. Towering above all, the magnificent Mount Jade rises prominently into view. What did this mountain, which appeared over and over again in Chen Cheng-po’s works, symbolize for the artist?

Mt. Jade from Afar
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As if freshly squeezed out of a paint tube, thick squiggles and glossy whorls of color animate the grassy slope and add a lively depth to the leafy thicket of trees behind. Frenetic brushstrokes flood the foreground with movement and vitality. Beyond the trees and green rolling hills, up where the hawks glide, a chain of mountains rises majestically in the distance. Painted in a flatter, smoother style, the brilliant snow-capped peaks of Mt. Jade evoke a sense of deep serenity.Looking eastward from the outskirts of Chiayi, Chen Cheng-po carefully arranged the vast expanse before his eyes—landscapes near and far—into a single exquisite composition.

Outside Chiayi Street (3)
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A shallow irrigation canal leads to a street, farther along and at the edge of which the upturned arc of a temple roof punctuates the sky. A year prior to the completion of this painting, Chen Cheng-po’s masterpiece depicting the same scene was selected for the Imperial Exhibition and introduced his hometown to Japanese art aficionados. In comparison with the earlier work, this painting reflects the influence of modernization, the landscape visibly more neat and orderly. Perhaps gazing at the streets of Chiayi from a distance, Chen chose once more to paint this scene in order to leave a record of the transformations underway in his beloved city.

Countryside
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A mother and daughter stroll hand in hand down a winding mountain path, but will soon disappear around a bend. Just ahead, an older man carrying a shoulder pole walks towards them with slow, measured steps. In the distance, parallel rows of crops and footpaths trace tidy lines up a broad hillside dotted with laborers at work. This painting evokes such a rosy pastoral serenity that you can almost imagine yourself walking down the path and enjoying the gentle breeze stirring in the treetops.

Chiayi Street Scene
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A modern office building rises above the city street, creating an interesting contrast with the surrounding wooden houses and traditional storefronts. Around the building, rays of light begin to softly illuminate the scene, paving the street with a warm, yellow glow. A tall tree in the foreground stretches open its branches to form a curtain of leafy shade, as if to offer passersby respite from the brilliant heat. If you try to imagine yourself walking down this Chiayi street, perhaps its warmth will envelop you, too.

Early Autumn
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Geometric contours intersect and overlap in this picturesque corner of town. An assortment of architectural structures— neighborhood temples with upswept roofs, wooden homes with pitched roofs, and quaint cottages with Western allure—complement one another, creating a pleasing cadence that flows throughout this peaceful tableau. The branches of a broad-leaved tree stretch powerfully upwards and outwards, encircling the rooftops with lush green vegetation. Although autumn has already begun to set in, this southern Taiwanese scene is still bursting with vitality. Gazing out past the balustrade—past the clothes hung out to dry on the wooden rack—can’t you feel the soothing tranquility of this little world?