Born in Pingtung, Chen Zong Ho (1928-2005) was one of the first generation of painters in Taiwan to receive a local university education in fine art. He was also a member of the first session of students to graduate from the fine art department of the National Taiwan Normal University and he ranked first in watercolor major. His works were exhibited in the Province Exhibition, Taiyang Exhibition and Teachers Exhibition. In addition, his paintings are collected by Taipei Fine Art Museum, Kaohsiung Art Museum.
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 since 1973 the record or being selected for eleven consecutive times by the prestigious Japan Watercolor Association to exhibit at Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum proved that, he was an outstanding mid-generation watercolor artist of Taiwan in the 90’s. 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 of Lan Yin Ding (1903-1979) and the painting pictures of 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 time I moved, it was for painting more different 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. His clientele was the art teachers, not only did he introduce Pentel art supplies to them, but also regularly provided them the latest art magazines like Atelier, みずえ(Mizue), 美育文化 (Biiku Bunka) , 藝術新潮 (Geijutsu Shincho) and 兒童畫集(Children Painting Catalogue). Furthermore, he assisted art events held by Pentel art supplies company in Taiwan, like Japanese artists exhibition and children painting competition. Chen Zong Ho was responsible for taking Japanese painters to demonstrate painting skill and Pentel products at schools in Taiwan, one Okinawa painter always took a nude model with him to demonstrate, it made the art teachers to feel free to paint nude model in conservative old days of Taiwan. Chen Zong Ho made his efforts in various aspects on irrigating fine art of Taiwan, the impact was wide in early days.
It was barely possible 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, delivered the latest fine art magazines and supplies, influenced art teachers and himself, 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, business trip to Japan 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 paintings are impressionism, his 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 Society 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 country for watercolor paintings exhibition. 1/3 of the participators were failed this time, 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.
Chen Zong Ho had tried a variety of painting tools 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, painting watercolor on canvas, just like a clever old urchin playing creative games. No matter how he played, his paintings kept the same deep love of Taiwan’s landscape. This can be seen in many ways: in the article of the judge of the Japan Watercolor Society (as mentioned in the last 2 paragraphs); in converting the messy villages and dirty alleys into praise-worthy “magnificent scenes'' throughout his paintings; in Chen Zong Ho’s painting postcards of Taiwan in the 70's, he led tourists to Taiwan’s scenic spots by attaching a railroad/highway map throughout Taiwan, to show tourists where and how to go. Also added a short introduction of local history and a famous produce on the back of each postcard to show what to see and buy.
Most of the landscape paintings focus on the amazing scenery, while Chen Zong Ho also preferred to depict the messy village of nowhere, dilapidated alleys and the ordinary people’s living space. Despite those common themes, his sight also laid at scenes like: ship recycling at seashore, brick factory at suburban, wood processing plants on mountain, construction sites, traditional food markets, food stalls in alleys and so on. He depicted every corner of Taiwan from the north to the south, some old photos,of those scenes, the same as paintings, are still kept.
His strong emotion toward this land can be seen throughout his paintings, and his love toward the people on this land can also be seen by his behavior to them. He took photos with the peddlers when he went for outdoor painting, he would give the photos took last time to them as a gift whenever he visited again.
Chen Zong Ho liked to read history and literature, he also loved music, movies, singing and taking photos; the cultivation of multi-arts has nurtured his inner creativity for his lifetime and showed 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 busy streets. 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 of Taiwan. He liked scenic spots and historical sites, but loved even more to depict the changes 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 1989 to 2001, Chen Zong Ho visited relatives in the United States, his paintings style became more and more enthusiastic, lustrous, and colorful, the fauvism can be seen in his paintings. His works during his later years was even more willful and unrestrained, however, the background of his orthodox art education eventually kept him not far away from realism.
All his paintings were destroyed in a fire of teachers' dorm, his remaining works are from 1970 to 2002 as he suffered from a serious 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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