Painted worlds

The Art of Brian Chu and Shiao-Ping Wang

By Shayna V. McConville

Photo: Shiao-Ping Wang, “Waves,” acrylic on canvas

Painting has persevered as a dominant artistic medium for centuries. Artists continue to develop personal voices and innovative ideas within the established tradition, sustaining a practice that is a versatile vehicle for expression. Brian Chu and Shiao-Ping Wang moved from Taiwan to New York in the 1980s, and discovered painting while attending Queens College. Influenced by New York School painters, including their instructors Rosemarie Beck and Harold Bruder, Chu and Wang developed their own painting language: Chu’s paintings represent landscapes and observations; Wang creates abstract environments of colors, forms and patterns.

The artists, a married couple, found painting fulfilling as a life-long pursuit. “Painting showed me how to communicate with myself in a way that I had not known before,” said Wang, who has exhibited her work throughout the U.S. and is represented by galleries in both Boston and New Hampshire. “The engaging process of painting makes me go to the studio … [and] is about searching for meanings on many levels.”

Wang’s work depicts imaginary, abstract worlds of shapes and color. Originally a representational painter, Wang veered into abstraction to better describe her experience as an immigrant. Inspired by the “sense of being in-between things,” her paintings reference rhythms, geometric forms and organic lines.

“Hoping to not be ‘lost’ in the in-between states, I use knotting and weaving patterns to build pictorial connections,” Wang said. “In my work, I hope the viewer can experience a sense or a feeling (like a chanting sound or a wind blowing) in the combination of abstract shapes and colors. I aspire to give life to abstract forms, and make their forces and energies evident, i.e. independent of likeness or appearances.”

In the painting “Our Town,” a birds-eye view of city streets interlace with color blocks, pushed between the foreground and background by interlocking repetitive forms. “I use patterns to express connectedness, as individuals and communities,” she said. “I was curious if I could tell a story in abstraction.”

Opposite of abstraction, Chu paints the world as he observes it. He creates textured painting surfaces inspired by figures, still-life and landscapes.

“The paintings are about the process of forming visions,” said Chu. “I tend to find one area of interest – a shadow, a certain color or something that really touches me. I carefully preserve that sensation for as long as I can.” The exhibition, which primarily features Chu’s landscapes painted throughout New England and Western Europe, also includes figurative subjects and still lifes.

Chu’s painting “Hilton Park” is a tightly composed image of a roadway, bridge and highway overpass. With a palette of muted blues, grays, purples, greens and oranges, the composition’s perspective and geometric forms are almost whimsical through irregular lines, subtle yet playful transparencies in architectural elements and the painting’s textural surface.

“I hope a viewer can re-experience some of the interesting moments that happened as I juggled in the process of painting, between holding onto and letting go of the sensations of colors and light,” Chu said. “I love the dialogue going on between me and the painting being formed on canvas, the hands-on nature of painting, the problem solving in the process, the sensuality and the joy in the experience and the sense that I am in touch with meaning in this wonderful solitude.”

Organized by Glen Cebulash, department chair and professor in painting and drawing at Wright State University, the exhibition is a testament to exhibiting meaningful contemporary painting in Dayton. Cebulash, himself interested in the figurative wing of the New York School, has a legacy of bringing artists to the Stein Galleries that have a passion for painting.

“I am excited to have good painting – that becomes the bottom line,” Cebulash said. “I really admire Wang and Chu’s work. It’s always informative and exciting to have different artists’ approaches to painting. On the surface there are striking differences. Whether an artist is working representationally or abstractly, I think of painting as an imaginative activity, even if the artist is working directly from observation.”

Cebulash, who spent most of his career as a representational painter with his most recent work exploring abstraction, found organizing Chu and Wang’s contrasting styles of painting into one exhibition to be a fascinating new way to interpret the work. “In a pluralistic art world, you see a tremendous variety of media, processes – to see painting remains very exciting to me and I still find the central problem of painting, which is organizing this inert, colorful material onto a flat surface that is thought-provoking, compelling and imaginative. I find that to be endlessly fascinating.”

Chu and Wang, as artists and as a couple, continue to inspire each other’s development as painters. “Shiao-Ping and I have different strengths that bring different inspirations, and as a result each of us is shaped by an individual artistic journey,” Chu said. “Our shared history – in education and life – provides common ground for conversations that help us to grow continuously. Our partnership is a big asset and joy for our artistic development.”

Brian Chu and Shiao-Ping Wang’s paintings will be on view through March 1 at the Robert and Elaine Stein Galleries at Wright State University, 3640 Colonel Glenn Highway. For hours and more information, please call 937.775.2978 or visit wright.edu/artgalleries.

Shayna V. McConville is the Cultural Arts Manager for the City of Kettering. Visit her at Rosewood Arts Centre at 2655 Olson Drive or visit the website at rosewood.ketteringoh.org. She can be reached at ShaynaMcConville@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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