Hock-Aun Teh - A Few Words
Dragon Studio Taiping, Malaysia 2016
Art is the honest expression of the energy and emotion of those who create it. Art is about our passion for life. And the art we produce should challenge the viewer's imagination and intellect; moreover, it should affect or change the way the viewer sees the world, otherwise what is the point of creating it?
After the Cultural Revolution in 1976, a great number of Chinese artists were desperately looking for a new identity, It was inevitable that they would seek this identity somewhere outside of China, within whose confines they had been restricted for so many years.
When China opened its doors to the world, it was flooded with a torrent of images and literature about art in the West. As may be easily imag-ined, this western art had a huge and lasting impact on them, and as a result, adopting a western style quickly superseded their original idea of creating something new for the New China. In their over-zealousness, they seized indiscriminately on whatever they saw that was new to them, and thus, without their even understanding much about its philosophy or culture, foreign art has been their springboard ever since. Sadly, for many of those desperate artists, the only way they think they can create something new is by directly emulating a western style. And at some point, the path of adapting and evolving has gradually become one of imitation. Many of them have still lost their way to this day.
Whilst being fully aware of what all those other Chinese artists did and continue to do, I have taken a different approach from theirs. If, as we have always boasted, we have a glorious history of over 5000 years of civilization and culture, then there must surely be an unlimited treasure trove of elements, concepts, and sources of inspiration for me to seek out, discover and investigate. It has taken me more than 30 years to comprehensively study, research and experiment, travelling between China and Europe, in order to explore this uncharted territory. I am happy with the art I create, although I keep exploring and expanding its boundaries.
I wanted to return to China, my motherland, to create art and to show my own people that it is possible to make something new and challenging without its having to be Western. Only we, as Chinese artists, can fully understand what it is that we in particular possess. However, we must not allow ourselves to develop tunnel-vision; because art is about both the artist himself and the wider world he lives in, we also need to study with an open mind how Western art was created. Ironically, while many of our own Chinese artists choose to abandon the values and essence of our own traditional art, and look to the West for their inspira-tion, it is the discovery of these very same qualities of Oriental art which has inspired many artists in the West.
I think I am in a unique position, having been born in the East, and later coming to live in the West. This has provided me with wider and freer horizons and experiences which have enabled me to discover, explore and tap into the power and essences of both cultures.
My art is about my energy, and my emotional response both to the changes of Nature, and to any human gathering which involves intense emotions, such as weddings and other celebrations, since these are ceremonial and full of colour and sound.
My work contains four different cultural elements:
1. My sense of colour, which is bright and strong, and is unmistakably tropical.
2. The calligraphic effect, which is Chinese.
3. The materials, which are Western.
4. My techniques, which are unique and personal to myself.
When art reaches its absolute form, it has no physical aspect. What you see, or should try to grasp when viewing an artist's work, is the purest and freest expression of his inner world: his most deeply-felt thoughts, emotions, energy, and artistic philosophy. It follows, therefore, that when you try instead to seek an explanation of the work's contents, you fail to experience what it was actually intended to give you, namely the spirit of the art. Anything which can be explained is not art, but science; as the Dao Di Jin says, 'If dao can be explained, it is not eternal dao'.
Emotions and thoughts have no form, but an artist can express them by using shapes, colour and lines, in the same way that we express anger or happiness by our body movements, posture, and facial expressions. Lines give direction and movement in my work. Lines are my spirit and energy. Colour reveals the fundamental soul in my work. Colour is my force and power.
Abstract art is not a mere matter of dabbing a few patches of colour and lines on to a canvas to fill it up and make it look decorative; if so, it is very superficial and can no longer call itself 'art'. Moreover, this type of painting cannot evolve any further to keep up with our ever-changing world, in the way that real art has continued to do since it was first created by prehistoric man. My art is meant to be seen and felt, to activate your imagination, and to present you with an intellectual challenge. You may see some forms or shapes in my work which appear to be narrative, and while these were incidental on my part, it is inevitable that you will interpret them in a way that is highly personal to you. Since we have been brought up to see or recognize things in a certain way, our first instinct is to respond to the forms which we have been conditioned to see. Although my art begins as a conversation with myself, I want other people to see it, and enjoy it, and be as inspired as I am by what I've seen and felt. Of course people are free to explore my paintings from the bases of their own experiences — they can approach it in no other way — but I hope they will feel something of the excitement I have felt.
I have always been fascinated by the astounding power of changes in Nature. The natural world is so magical and awe-inspiring that I prefer not to be limited by any scientific explanation for its phenomena and science, in any case, can never explain everything. I love the mystery of the universe. I love dreaming. I hope I never lose my ability to be enchanted by Nature in a spontaneous and childlike way.
Having studied in depth the roots of our own Chinese culture and art, I have been greatly captivated and inspired by the energy and movement of Mad Grass Calligraphy. As I was born and brought up in Malaysia, I lived beside the rainforest, which was a haven for all types of insects, animals and vegetation. I was especially intrigued by the roots of the plants and trees, which either plunged down into the rich soil or twisted upward and hung from the branches. They fired my imagination. My fascination with them has gradually developed into an affinity with the dynamic movements of roots - the ever-changing way their massive and powerful living forms twist, bend, arch, and penetrate their surroundings. My passion for both the movements of the roots and the energy of Mad Grass Calligraphy eventually led me to develop my art in a direc-tion which incorporated them both, and so I have named it Mad Roots.
The Chinese character for 'Mad' is composed from the characters for 'Animal' and 'King'; it is the combination of the strength of animals and the power of a king which creates the Mad. The root is the most dynamic living force in Nature, able to penetrate rock and support enormous weights, and when it is united with the strength of an animal and the power of a king; it becomes a phenomenal and unstoppable force. And thus, symbolically, my art not only upholds the value of our traditional arts and culture, but in response to all the challenges of our modern world, it expands, and bears new fruits which could potentially nourish the whole of China, if not all mankind.
Tradition is like a plot of fertile land which allows us to absorb all its goodness, and encourages us to grow and bear new fruits. Now, I divide my time between the West and the East, and am inspired by both, but I remain in my roots a Chinese artist, and the work I create is inspired totally by the unlimited resources of our own culture.
Very occasionally, we may have a brief and one-off encounter with someone who is a complete stranger to us, but whose thoughts or words can change our life or our viewpoint in a dramatic and entirely positive way. I hope my work will provide a similar experience for all who see it.