Hsiao Chin was an important post-war cultural emissary between the East and the West. In the iron curtain era of the 1960s, the state of global affairs cast a long, dark shadow. Whether it was the East’s struggle under martial law or the West’s nuclear crisis, the world was engulfed in the smell of gunpowder. At the time, Hsiao was confronted by the Western art world’s dominance on artistic discourse, his own home country too far away to provide any solace. His ultimate accomplishment in bringing forth the prodigious Movimento Punto is a testament to his solitary ambition, as well as the support of a group of international peers. In the mighty and volatile currents of history, this was the artist’s brilliant counterattack. Between 1963 and 1964, Hsiao curated two large-scale shows, the second and third Punto Exhibitions in Barcelona and Albissola. Soon after, he unveiled the Dancing Light (La danza di luce) series. In a short 12 months, Hsiao had unleashed a surge of ingenuity and passion, giving birth to the invaluable masterpieces contained in this series, which were revealed at the Punto exhibitions - the most impeccable achievement of the artist’s work during the 60s, or even across his entire artistic career. In June of 2017, an expert at Sotheby’s paid a special visit to Hsiao’s studio for an interview. When the artist, now in his twilight years, spoke of the Dancing Lights series, a gleam entered his eye as he passionately expressed:
“Dancing Lights was the most powerful manifestation of my vigour and energy in the 1960s, a convergence of my experience and my philosophy of life. During the entire process, I was at once creating and experiencing epiphanies, which ultimately sublimated me to another realm.”
Movimento Punto derives its name from the ‘point’. From a philosophical perspective, this ‘punto’ or ‘point’ is the origin of all things, as well as the end of all things, encompassing all things in between. From an artistic perspective, the ‘punto’ flows into the ‘line,’ which expands into the ‘surface’, layers of which become ‘form’. Dancing Lights is the very coming together and manifestation of philosophy and art. The entire series is created upon No. 80 (110 x 140cm) or No. 50 (90 x 110cm) canvases, the only exception being the very lot on offer at Sotheby’s Evening Sale, Dancing Lights 17 (Lot 1004), which the artist created upon a No. 100 canvas (130 x 160cm), an achievement that crowns the entire series. The composition expresses an unrestrained energy both horizontally and vertically, yet does not lose its internal laws, and is suffused to the brim with spiritual imagery. A paragon of Movimento Punto, the piece utilizes Hsiao’s classic composition of ‘the sky vs. the land beneath it’, splitting the canvas into a top and a bottom. The bottom is treated to evoke a sense of void with the technique of liu bai, or ‘leaving blank’. An azure circle suspends amid the space, as though rising proudly toward the resplendent purple background, which appears as the vast cosmos, bewitching strokes of red galloping at the speed of light, like the pulsing of energy that created all living things. Between the intertwining lines, rich spatterings of colour resemble starry constellations, or the sparks of embers, the infinite boundlessness of living things, containing the artist’s epiphanies regarding the state of the universe.
Although it appears in the form of modern abstractionism, Dancing Lights 17 contains elements from both the Eastern and Western classical spirits. In Chinese philosophy, the ‘circle’ also represents the ‘mysterious’ or the ‘black’, pointing to the original state of the universe. For centuries, scholars of taiji have treated the circle as a taiji symbol, and since the Han dynasty, the four mythical creatures in Chinese cosmology (the Azure Dragon, the White Tiger, the Vermillion Bird, the Black Turtle) have been pictured along a circular symbol. In the composition of the Dancing Lights series, a circular or square patch of colour in the lower canvas of every piece invokes the ancient Chinese idea of the ‘domed heavens and square earth’, while the calligraphic lines cruising along the top portion of the canvas can be interpreted as the trigram symbols evolved from taiji, surging forth into myriad colourful spatters. Hsiao’s early paintings already revealed a preference for striking colour, and by the 60s, with the appearance of acrylics, the artist became further devoted to using the new medium in his creations, bestowing Chinese philosophy with a gorgeous and fresh post-war appearance.
While paying homage to his Eastern ancestry, Hsiao also absorbed much of the rich Western influence of his surroundings. Viewing Dancing Lights 17 from a Western perspective, one enjoys an entirely different set of pleasures. As an abstract painting, the piece exhibits the characteristics of the Movimento Punto that served as a correction to the sentimentality pervasive in abstract art of the late 1950s. At the same time that the painting displays its free expressiveness, its splashes of colour, it also strictly adheres to an internal law, the calligraphic brushstrokes demonstrating the subjective emotion of abstract expressionism, while the distinct, hard-edged rendering of colour blocks echo the rationalism of geometric abstractionism. Needless to say, Hsiao’s long stay in Milan allowed him to draw from the local cultural resources. Beginning with the art of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance, Italy was for 2,000 years the engine of Western civilization. Comparing Dancing Lights 17 with the Italian mythological frescoes, one can see the grand, romantic yijing expressed by both, their juxtaposition creating a rich and profound cultural intersection.
The Dancing Lights series are an invaluable series in Hsiao’s oeuvre. All of the series’ paintings have been kept in private collections for the last few decades. In April of 2017, Dancing Lights 16 was the first in the series to be offered at Sotheby’s evening sale in Hong Kong, its price of HK$2,500,000, setting a new world record for the artist. Today, the marvellous and even larger Dancing Lights 17 ceremoniously takes the stage as the legend continues to be written, much to the delight of all.
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