Fine-art carving entails the creation of three-dimensional art objects. A carving's composition requires attention to layers and depth of field, and through a creation of fantastical scenes within reality, such art could be said to be a concentrated expression of the essence of life. It is in this area that sculptor Mary Leu works, producing finely detailed pieces that radiate an astonishing vitality.
Leu first got involved in sculpture in 1989, choosing the wood of the endemic littleleaf box as her medium for its resilience, density, and hardness, which enables her to create pieces as fine as cicada wings.
"Wood is fibrous, it has horizontal and vertical grain and a heart, so sometimes starting a cut can be difficult," she explained. "On top of that, the only thing you can do with the wood is subtract from it, which means there's no room for mistakes. It's a lot like life; you just have to take things one step at a time."
To create wooden sculptures that are unvarnished, unpainted, unmachined, yet still highlighting the natural texture of the wood, it take dozens upon dozens of days of meticulous work. Only with this level of focus and commitment can an artist produce truly breathtaking sculptures.
Such painstaking, high-quality works are essentially impossible to mass produce. So to preserve and share her artworks, Leu opened the Mary Leu Fine Art Carving Gallery in 2000 at Yilan's Sanxing District, with the support of her husband Chuang Han-chong. (In 2008, the gallery moved to its current location in Jiaoxi.)
To make a living, the couple has tried developing artistic products for daily life, retaining the textured and modern wood-carving methods, but expanding into glass, gold, and copper as well.
Perusing the pieces in the gallery, one can't help but be in awe at what is on show. Lifelike bamboo stems carved from boxwood, complete with nodes; fruits and vegetables with all the fine lines one would expect; and small insects that appear to be frolicking. At this museum, the natural world is on lifelike and vital display, momentarily blurring the line between real and imitation.
Particularly impressive are the carvings of fabrics. Not only do the canvas shoes, towels, gloves, and clothes carved from hard wood still capture the softness of their fabrics — one can even count the threads and stitches. In trying to create something that looks textured and soft, the sculptor cannot afford to make a single mistake. It is a painstaking and delicate process that demands almost superhuman patience.
"My works are all very grounded, because that simplicity is able to reach out to anyone, young or old, male or female, and when I see them become moved, I'm moved too. Keeping it simple is just the way to go," said Leu on the emotional focus of her fine-art carving.
How does she keep on creating? With drive and determination, was Leu's response. "Throughout my creative work, I'm always focused on the wood, on where to carve and where to adjust ... To keep making piece after piece, I need to do everything I can to move myself emotionally and to move others who see the pieces."
"Starting a gallery was about giving the public a way to enjoy the pieces, but before opening them up to the public, I needed them to move me, because only then will I know they can move others." It is this commitment and drive that has brought Leu the success she enjoys today.