Born in Pingtung, Chen Zong Ho (1928-2005) was one of the first generation of painters in Taiwan to receive a local four-year university education in fine arts. He was also a member of the first session of students to graduate from the fine arts department of the National Taiwan Normal University and he ranked first in watercolor major. He was elected to exhibit his works in the Province Exhibition, Taiyang Exhibition and Teachers Exhibition. In addition, his paintings are collected by Taipei Fine Art Museum, Kaohsiung Art Museum, Taipei Mackay Hospital, Japan Marubeni Trading Company, and Tang Rong Iron Factory. While it was a fad that many watercolor painters of the same generation had abandoned watercolor painting for oil painting; Chen Zong Ho had persisted and thrived in watercolor painting for more than sixty years, the quality and quantity of his paintings, and the record of being selected since 1973 for eleven consecutive times by the prestigious Japan Watercolor Association to exhibit at Tokyo Metropolitan Museum proved that, he was an outstanding mid-generation watercolor artist of Taiwan in the 90’. Not only did he have tremendous painting skills, but also was talented at converting small local places into praise-worthy “magnificent scenes'' throughout his paintings.
Chen Zong Ho learned to paint by himself from the paintings and pictures of Lan Yin Ding (1903-1979) and Ishikawa Kinichiro (1871-1945, the first educator and promotor of western art in Taiwan) in his youth. When he was enrolled in the Fine Arts Department of National Taiwan Normal University, he was taught by Liao Chi Chun, Chang Yi Hsiung, and Ma Bai Shui. He learned the principle from Liao Chi Chun to create orderly theme out of chaos, applying brushworks freely until the effect he wanted were presented. He was deeply influenced by Liao Chi Chun in the style formation and color skills, and his sketch skill was mainly trained by Chang Yi Hsiung. After graduation, he joined Chang's 'the Ninth Watergate Painting Studio' to continue his learning, and ever sketched the first nude model in Taiwan. He would pick up the tree branches along the Tamsui riverside, burn them to make charcoal pens, and sell self-made toys on the street to raise money to buy drawing papers. He, as well as other artists in the studio, would work hard to fulfill their dreams of being inspiring artists, and they formed the renowned 'Riverside Painting Association'.
Chen Zong Ho worked as an art teacher in high schools all over Taiwan after he graduated, such as Pingtung Girl’s High School, Tainan Guanghua Girl’s High School, Tamsui Junior High School and Shilin High School of Commerce. His long stay at each location (at least one semester) let him have enough time to get close to the local scenery and people, enabled him to depict the landscape more deeply and vividly than other painters who could only stayed a short term for outdoor painting. He said 'Every moving was for painting more different beautiful scenery.' From Pingtung Coconut Grove, Tainan Old Street and Chiayi Farm of the south, to Yongrakucho, Danshui River and Keelung Harbor of the north, his paintings tell the stories of Taiwan's scenic progress over the years.
In addition to being a teacher, Chen Zong Ho had a side job of promoting Japan Pentel Art Supplies in building its market in Taiwan, and his clientele was the art teachers in Taiwan. Not only did he introduce new painting supplies by demonstration of concrete and abstract painting styles, but also provided the latest art information by regularly offering art magazines like Atelier, みずえ(Mizue), 美育文化 (Biiku Bunka) , 藝術新潮 (Geijutsu Shincho) , 兒童畫集(Children Painting Catalogue). Furthermore, he assisted Japanese artist painting exhibition and children painting competition in Taiwan conducted by Pentel art supplies company, he also created the opportunity for the art teachers to begin painting nude human body by taking Ryukyu painter and nude model to demonstrate in conservative Taiwan around the 70’s. Chen Zong Ho made his efforts in various aspect on irrigating fine art education of Taiwan, it's a wide range of affection to Taiwan fine art in early days.
It was nearly impossible for artists to travel allover Taiwan for painting routinely, due to the economy and transportation issue of the ordinary people at that time. However, Chen Zong Ho took the advantage of business trip, influenced art teachers and himself by deliver the latest fine art supplies and information, also depicted the Taiwan's scenic progress over the years.
Chen Zong Ho establish his own trading company later, wholesale business enable him to travel and paint at every corner of Taiwan, imported Japan stationary gave him the chance to see the latest wave of painting. He always tried new skill and concept in his painting that he learned in Japan, and shared them with Taiwan's art teachers. In those early days, when trying to learn about the latest artistic trends in Japan, the first-person people tended to mention would be Chen Zong Ho.
Chen Zong Ho’s early brushstrokes were light and bright, the features of Ishikawa’s and Lan Yin Ding’s can be seen in his paintings, all three of them had traveled extensively throughout Taiwan to depict the landscape in watercolor. In the 70’s, Chen Zong Ho accompanied Fuwa Akira, the famed Japanese watercolor painter, down to Pingtung and Qishan in southern Taiwan for his painting tour each year, therefore, Chen Zong Ho’s style of painting was somewhat influenced by Akira. In 1973, one of the judges of the Japan Watercolor Association released an article: ‘Every time I went with Chen Zong Ho to Tamsui for outdoor painting, he liked to depicted those amazing sites by using young people who hung out there as the background for his works, as well as to promote the tourism for locality, his enthusiasm of his hometown was really touching.’ Also said: ‘Japan has surpassed the United Kingdom to become the world’s largest watercolor exhibition country. 1/3 of the people who participated in this exhibition were failed, however, Chen Zong-Ho's transparent watercolor is a British-orthodox painting style rendered in contemporary sensibility with correct sketching basis, crisp and clear colors. His paintings were selected by most of the judges without any doubt, he's a prospective master of watercolor in the future.’ The record of Chen Zong Ho's being selected for eleven consecutive times proves the judge's statement.
Chen Zong Ho started to mix transparent with opaque watercolors in his paintings at his midlife, making his colors progressively stronger and thicker, with some of his watercolor works even looking more like oil paintings. Also, because of social drinking with art teachers and Japanese businessman, his paintings naturally presented a look of being drunk, free but not unorganized. His color rendering was as mellow as red wine, and his unruly brushwork seems to perform in a state of half drunk and half awake. The scenery of Taiwan depicted in Chen Zong Ho’s paintings is covered with romantic and intoxicating colors. Furthermore, he had tried a variety of painting supplies in his works, such as applying black ink, pastel, pencil, charcoal pen, and fine tip black signing pen in watercolor painting, using Chinese brush pen instead of watercolor brush pen, just like a clever old urchin playing creative games, but his paintings kept the same deep unchanged love of Taiwan’s landscape. This can be proved in the article of the judge of the Japan Watercolor Association (as mentioned in the front); in the postcards of Chen Zong Ho’s paintings of scenic spots and historical sites in Taiwan in the 70s (he introduced Taiwan’s sightseeing by attaching a railroad/highway map throughout Taiwan to show tourists where/how to go, by a short history and a famous produce on each postcard to show what to see/buy); in converting the messy villages and dilapidated alleys into praise-worthy “magnificent scenes'' throughout his paintings; in the depiction allover Taiwan of boats, harbors and ship recycling plants at seashore, of the farm and field at rural area, of the brick factories at suburban and the wood processing plants on mountain, of the construction sites, the traditional food markets and roadside food stalls in the cities. His strong emotion toward this land can be seen throughout his painting. Furthermore, he took photos with the peddlers when he went for outdoor painting, he would send the photos taken before to them whenever he visited again. His love toward the people on this land can be seen by his behavior.
Chen Zong Ho has studied history and literature by himself, and loves music, movies, singing and taking photos; the cultivation of multi-arts has long nurtured his inner creativity and show out on his drawing papers.
Chen Zong Ho was good at creating orderly themes out of chaos, applying short dash brushworks and rich colors, either smudge rendering or flat smearing, to depict the messiness and vitality of traditional food markets, ports and food stalls in alleys. His colors included light, heavy, mellow, and passionate, what he presented was not a fairyland, but a plain living environment of humble and hard-working people. He liked scenic spots and historical sites, but even more loved to depict the progress of villages and cities during Taiwan’s economic boom; a new developing city look, and an old drifting era look (declining rural area) were intertwined to appear in the same painting, giving a sigh on the rapid changes between destruction and reconstruction of landscape. From 1990 to 2001, Chen Zong Ho visited relatives in the United States, his paintings style became enthusiastic, lustrous, and colorful. His works during his later years was even more willful and unrestrained, however, the background of his orthodox art education eventually brought him back to the realism.
Most of the landscape paintings focus on the amazing scenery, while Chen Zong Ho preferred to depict the village of nowhere, delapidated alleys and the ordinary people’s street scenes, such as: Nanjing W. Road Taipei Circle (the background is "White Flower Oil" billboard), the ship recycling in Kaohsiung harbor, the traditional market next to Shinshin Department Store in Taipei, these are all no longer existed. Chen Zong Ho depicted every corner of Taiwan from the north to the south, old photos were exactly the same scene of some paintings are kept.
In 1970, all his paintings were destroyed in a fire, his remaining works are from 1970 to 2002 when he suffered from a stroke. About one thousand paintings created in 32 years were the witness of Chen Zong Ho’s ‘Life in Watercolor’. He experienced the constant changing of the various eras and their cultural conflicts , the reflection on his paintings were an unique personal styles that integrated multiple arts and cultures of Taiwan, Japan and the United States, with the nourishment inheritances of his predecessors, Chen Zong Ho left a stunning chapter for the development lineage of Taiwan watercolor paintings.
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