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Looking On The Bright Side

A colorful approach to landscapes and portraiture defines the Taiwanese painter Lee Chin-chu

By Diana Freundi                             Nov. 7th, 2004

When the Taiwanese painter Lee Chin-Chu, fell ill nearly 10 years ago, her doctor told her she would have to spend more time at home. It was a major turning point for Lee, both in her work and in the way she viewed life.

"The first few years I didn't have the motivation to paint and when I did, I would use dark colors because I was depressed about being confined indoors," Lee said.

In the beginning, she continued painting landscape scenes from memory, as she had done for 30 years but eventually she began to peruse her more immediate environment.

Soon, both her work and outlook on life transformed, resulting in a large collection of bright paintings, which fill the walls of her current solo exhibition at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall (國父紀念館) in Taipei.

Her health has improved but nevertheless she continues to focus on subjects closer to home. "I like to paint beautiful things that are meaningful to me," she said, pointing to images of her daughter-in-law, pet dog and her best friend's cat, which can be seen in several of the works on display. Also included in her exhibit are earlier works that use less vibrant, but hardly the dark and morose colors Lee suggested.

Although her recent works use a multitude of colors she balances them without being overbearing. It is a quality her teacher Chang Yi-Hsiung (張義雄) praises her for. A renowned painter and respected instructor in Taiwan, he has long been a mentor for Lee, who said the two met at his solo exhibition in 1987.

Lee and Chang were finally introduced. Recognizing potential in the artist, Chang took her on as a student, although he had already retired.

A year later, Lee followed Chang to France, where she entered the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere for two years. Most of the works on display are a result of her studies from this period. French landscapes and themes derived from the work of famous Western painters, mainly Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh, are obvious in her paintings.

A few landscapes bear a striking resemblance to Van Gogh's Harvest, a painting of wheat fields from Arle in the south of France. Similarly, she uses bright red and orange tones to paint women, as did Gauguin in his paintings from Guadeloupe and Martinique. Looking closely at these works the impression is of imitation, rather than reinterpretation, of a famous artist.

Overall, her exhibition is colorful, bright and full of life, like the artist herself -- and this seems to be the common thread in her work.