人間國寶 李梅樹

首頁 關於李畫伯 作品線上觀 清水祖師廟 相關聯報導
依年代分類 依出處分類 依作者分類
An Artist's legacy lights up an old town
Li Mei-shu's art,
unfinished temple reconstruction project left an indelible mark in Sanshia
Vito Lee|Taiwan News/Weekend∣January 25, 2002
  They take pleasure in observing nature and daily life, both indoors and out. People going about their daily affairs are their ultimate inspiration. They pursue the genuine spirit and not just physical truths, using a complicated palette of colors to portray images as close as possible to reality. In other words, the record life as art with as much objectivity as possible. To these artists, realism is way of lift.

  This school can be traced back to the days of French Gustave Courbet and Jean-Francois Millet. In the nineteenth century, Japanese artists such as Kuroda Seiki (黑田清輝) and Okada Saburo (岡田三郎) brought the art's influence to Japan, and, by opening the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, set the foundation for this kind of art in Japan.

  For Taiwanese who dreamt of becoming painters in the days of the Japanese occupation, Tokyo's School of Fine Arts was a goal almost beyond hope. Only a handful of extremely talented and wealthy students were admitted.

  These lucky once, including Li Mei-shu (李梅樹 1902-1983), Lee Shi-chao (李石樵 1908-), Lao Chih-chuan (廖繼春 1901-1976), Chen Cheng-po (陳澄波 1985-1947) and Chen Jhi-chi (陳植棋 1905-1931), eventually became the pioneers of modern painting in Taiwan. Their influence is still evident to this day.

  Among these Taiwanese masters, Li is arguably the most influential.

  Born to a rich family in Sanshia, Li had developed an early interest in painting. After graduating from Taipei Teacher's College, He soon became an elementary teacher and spent his free hours painting.

  Later, His family arranged his marriage for him and the obedient Li and no choice. Fortunately, being in the family's good graces paid off. In 1927, when he was selected to display his works in the 1st Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition, his family went all out to support him.

  His brother, Lio Chin-gan (劉清港), provided the financial support that made it possible for him to board the ship to Japan, with his brushes and a photo of Lio, which he kept with him for the rest of his life.

  In the early 30's, Li returned to Taiwan and gained fame in a very short time. His style was, through his Japanese teachers, influenced by realism, naturalism and impressionism.

  Since the Tokyo School of Fine Arts had a tradition of students' sketches to decide if they would be admitted, Li had a solid foundation on which to base his future works. And like many young painters, he created a number of still lifes, conversation pieces and self-portraits.

  Upon returning to Taiwan, he painted in his studio in Sanshia and almost exhausted himself painting night and day. By this time, he was already a regular participant in major exhibitions. In 1937, he was honored with the "Taiwan-Japan Culture Award" and in 1939, his Girl in The Red Dress was selected for the 3rd Japanese Cultural Exhibition.

  Li has a fondness for warm colors, particularly red, when presenting oriental women under the soft glow of a lamplight. Many figures in his painting have primitive or meek visages.

  Later, as World War II escalated, many artists were drafted to serve in the army. Li managed to survive the war but after that, he had few chances to participate in exhibitions in either Japan or Taiwan.

  During this stage in his art, his female figures were less somber. They had broader shoulders and vibrant faces. Changes in his life had a major impact on the way he looked at the world, and these mother-of-earth images were his praises to life.

  Coming from one of the wealthiest families in Sanhsai, Li became involved in local politics in the latter years of the Japanese occupation. Apart from his daily duties, Li found time to make sketches of the people around him.

  However, his pursuit of art also interested him in another prolonged task. "My father devoted most of the second half of his life to the reconstruction of the Sanhsai Tsushih Temple (三峽祖師廟), said his son Li Chin-kuan (李景光).

  Immigrants from China started to settle in Sanhsai late in the Ming Dynasty period. Most of them were from Anxi County, Fujian Province. They made Sanhsai one of the most prosperous towns in northern Taiwan and set the cultural background of the area.

  The Tsushih Temple has long been a community center for the people of Sanhsai. The temple was first built in 1769. It was rebuilt in 1833 after an earthquake struck the region months before. In 1895, when war broke out between China and Japan, and the Japanese destroyed the temple. It was again rebuilt in 1899.

  During World War II, Taiwan was still under Japanese occupation, and Sanhsai was one of the towns frequently hit by American bombers, and the temple was once again severely damaged. Soon after the Retrocession, local people invited artist Li Mei-shu, who also a political figure and a Sanhsai native, to take charge of refurbishing the dilapidated temple. In late 1947 Li formally took over as chief designer and planner for the third renovation of the temple.

  Li Mei-shu financed the project and recruited the best craftsmen he could find in Taiwan and also invited people from Fujian Province. Working side-by-side with craftsmen, his goal was to rebuild the temple with an emphasis on oriental aesthetics, making it a price of art and a legacy that will outlive his era.

  It was also during this time that he began to create bigger paintings. In the Gloaming (1948), with his daughters and niece as models, he captures, as a critic commented, the dry dusty air glowing red with the light from the setting sun. Li's demand for perfection made the reconstruction project of the Tsushih Temple extraordinarily time-consuming. When Li passed Away in 1983, his architectural masterpiece was still unfinished.

  Since then, the project has been tossed back and forth between authorities. Without its heavyweight leader, the project was called to halt by people who were and are still against it. Local laws also aggravate the situation.

  "Once these areas are tagged by government as, say, historical sites, it's against the law to further 'develop' them," explained Li Chin-kuan. "Besides, traditionally, Tsushih Temple is run by big families in Sanshia, so any temple project must be approved by all its board members, which makes it almost impossible to resume construction," he added.

  What's worse is that skilled craftsmen are disappearing. According to Li Chin-kuan, only a handful of the big team from his father's era are still alive. Some stayed at home, jobless, while others were forced to take jobs in other construction sites or become betel nut vendors.

  Local press would publicize the situation sporadically to get people's attention, says Li, but most of time, this sort of publicity doesn't last long.

  For the past few decades, economic development has been the focus in Taiwan and this overemphasis has taken its toll on some of Taiwan's cultural treasures. Now thank god, the government and private sectors are making and effort to thoroughly plan development without trampling over Taiwan's cultural heritage. However, it may not be enough to preserve old towns like Sanshia.

  Li Chin-kuan is currently running the Li Mei-shu Memorial Gallery in Sanshia. During my trip to the museum, he spent most of the time talking about his father's unfinished job and his devotion to his art.

  "My father never sold his paintings," recalled Li Chi-kuan. "But when he taught at school, he sold some of them to obtain money to aid his students."

  Most of Li Mei-shu's paintings are owned by his Memorial Gallery, though some have been acquired by the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. Only a few pieces are held by private collectors.

  The Memorial Gallery sits quietly in one of the low buildings in Sanshia, within a five-minute walk of Li Mei-shus's beloved Tsushih Temple. Sanshia's maze of old streets is also a mere five-minute walk from the museum.

  Tsushin Temple, the old streets and Li Mei-shu represent the memory of Sanshia's glory. All these sites are usually crowded on weekends. But couples, art lovers, and curious tourists of all ages can find a nostalgic retreat among all these lovely sites.

  Note: You are strongly suggested to take a bus, especially on the weekend, to Sanshia. Most tourist maps highlight these sites. A Website in Chinese, English and Japanese provided by the gallery would also help. Log on to: www.limeishu.org