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Painter | Kuo Tong-jong

  • Date:2023-04-14
Painter | Kuo Tong-jong

Chinese Name: 郭東榮
Born: 1927
Died: January 9, 2022
Place of Birth: Chiayi City (Southern Taiwan)
Did You Know?
In order to express the spirit of the times and innovation, veteran painter Kuo Tong-jong constantly strived to remain flexible and free from being mired in tradition, insisting that "art should conform to the expression of the spirit of the times." He portrayed the society we live in with sincerity, and hoped to convey truth, goodness, and beauty to the viewer through his paintings.

Kuo Tong-jong was born in Chiayi City in 1927. His father made a living by making mannequins for clothing displays. He gained his early understanding of the application of color simply by being a keen observer. In fifth grade, his art teacher Kanichi Anzai (安西勘市) encouraged his budding skills, teaching him basic techniques such as sketching, watercolor portraiture, and still life. He won the first prize in the school-wide painting competition, and with that, his dream of becoming a painter took root.

In 1950, he entered the Art Department of Taiwan Provincial Normal University (now National Taiwan Normal University), where he studied under Liao Chi-chun (廖繼春) and Li Shih-chiao (李石樵). During college, his work captured the attention of Liao, who invited him to join Yunhe Studio (雲和畫室) as a teaching assistant. In his spare time, he went to Li Shih-chiao’s studio to improve his sketching skills and lay a stronger foundation. He graduated first in his class in 1955, and in 1956 he co-founded the Fifth Moon Group (五月畫會) with fellow alumni of the Normal University.

The Fifth Moon Group was one of the earliest painting groups in Taiwan to accept the ideas of Western abstract painting. It could be said to be on the cutting-edge of modern abstract painting in Taiwan, driving the innovation and development of the entire Taiwanese painting world. In 1957, Kuo Tong-jong and the members of the Fifth Moon Group held their first art exhibition, with the bold, modern art works of the members becoming a hot topic of discussion. In November of the same year, the first exhibition of the Oriental Art Association was also held. The avant-garde painting styles on show drove the modern painting movement in the Taiwanese painting scene from the 1950s to the 1960s.

In 1962, Kuo went to Japan to further his studies, obtaining a master’s degree from the Institute of Western Art History of Waseda University in Japan and another from the Institute of Oil Painting Techniques and Materials of Tokyo University of the Arts. When he lived in Japan, Kuo learned to excel at drawing from life, and his painting technique became freer and more unrestrained. He believed that the value of a painting lay in its substantive connotations, rather than following abstract or figurative classifications of form, so those who work in the arts should be willing to experiment in various ways.

With his outstanding artistic performance, Kuo Tong-jong continued to thrive in the art circles of both Taiwan and Japan. After returning to Taiwan, he taught at the National Academy of Arts (now National Taiwan University of Arts), National Taiwan Normal University, Chiayi University, and other schools, and his works won the Taipei Municipal Fine Arts Award and places in the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts Collection. He made substantial contributions to the art scene in Taiwan in terms of both creation and education, and was an important driver of the development of modern art in Taiwan.

Kuo's works won numerous major awards in Taiwan and Japan. For example, he won the Taiyang Award at the Taiyang Art Exhibition in 1955 with "NTNU Costume Party (師大化妝舞會)," and "Challenging Apollo 11 (向阿波羅11號挑戰) in 1973" and "Childhood Desires (小孩子的慾望)" in 1985 were recognized at the Nipputen Art Institute Exhibition Awards. He is also one of the few Taiwanese painters selected into the Who’s Who of Japanese Painting.

Kuo once said that "beauty is the ability to express one's inner feelings" and "painting style develops from nature." He never pandered to the needs of the world, insisting that his paintings could only ever be in his own style. His works covered a variety of themes, and his forms of expression roamed between concrete, abstract, semi-abstract, reality, and fantasy; he used various media, such as oils, acrylic, and paint to create various vivid visual effects.

Kuo excelled at recording and expressing what he saw and heard in his daily life, along with his concern for society, on the canvas. The themes of his paintings were closely linked with current events, from international news including the US Apollo 11 moon landing in 1973, the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle in 1986, and political and social issues in Taiwan, such as new urban constructions and presidential elections. All of these provided inspiration for and became the object of his creations.

Since 2009, inspired by the changes in the natural environment, culture, and politics, he took to expressing this ever-changing world in an abstract form on the canvas, using naturalistic random lines and bright colors to interweave scenes full of playfulness in what would become the interesting and imaginative "World Change" series. Never one to be satisfied with sitting on his laurels, throughout his life, Kuo used his paintings to convey his concern for the global situation and transform lasting truth, goodness, and beauty with art.