- Name: 袁旃
- Born: 1941
- Birthplace: Chongqing, Sichuan
- Did You Know That …?
- Yuan Jai reminisced that as a child, there weren't crayons or oil paints around the house to play with; there were only ink brushes, and her parents encouraged their children to learn calligraphy. Eventually, after she grew up, it became the basis of her art.
Yuan Jai is a renowned Taiwanese painter known for her large-format works using gouache on silk that bridges the gap between traditional Eastern paintings and avant-garde Western art.
Yuan was born in Chongqing and moved to Taiwan with her family at the age of six. Apart from being a soldier, Yuan's father was also a scholar, art collector, and calligrapher, so Yuan grew up immersed in Chinese calligraphy and paintings. She was the middle child, with an older brother and sister, and three younger sisters. Yuan claimed she had no talent for the arts as a young child. Nevertheless, she enrolled at the Department of Art at the National Taiwan Normal University, where she gained a solid foundation in classic Chinese painting skills.
She then went to Europe to continue her studies, first receiving a master's degree in archaeology and fine art history from the Université Catholique de Louvain, and then completing a doctoral degree on the preservation and conservation of cultural artifacts at the Institut Royal du Patrimoine Artistique (IRPA) in Brussels. During this period, she took in the classic paintings of Europe, learnt the painting techniques of different eras, and got to assist in the repair of famous European paintings stored in museums.
Yuan returned to Taiwan in 1969 and joined the Department of Antiquities of the National Palace Museum in Taipei. There she dedicated her next 30 years to the conservation of cultural relics in Taiwan, working among and with masterpieces of ancient and modern art.
In 1987, when Yuan was in her 40s, she once again picked up her paintbrush. Yuan's art bridges the gap between traditional Chinese paintings and Western art forms, incorporating the skills and concepts she has encountered and absorbed over the course of her productive life. Her ink landscapes are uniquely innocent and almost childlike at times, but imbued with innovation and sophistication.
Yuan's use of colors is unconventionally vibrant and bright. She has once said that heavy colors are the colors of this era, that bright neon lights and contrastingly colored signs on the streets and should also be seen in art. These factors are fully reflected in Yuan's paintings, giving rise to the contemporary nature of her works.
Her familiarity with traditional Chinese art and its lineage is reflected in her richly colored paintings on silk. She gradually developed her own distinct gongbi
(工筆) style — a type of meticulous, realist approach — as she started to work more frequently with silk, which allowed her to apply more layers of colors than paper. She considers the thicker layers and visible contours of gouache on silk as more representative of modern visual experiences and contemporary material culture.
"Longevity Triptych (山河並壽)," an earlier work of Yuan, adopts the form of a Chinese wall hanging set with a centerpiece and a couplet, and taps into the traditional practice of celebrating longevity with rich, auspicious imagery of peaches, peonies, and the scholar's stone. This particular work is an example of Yuan's exploration of Chinese visual culture by combining decorative arts and festive celebrations. It manifests her masterful skills and knowledge in revitalizing traditional customs and artistic genres with a modern twist.
Inspired by Asian landscape paintings, figurative paintings, and the heritage of folk culture, as well as Western artistic movements such as Art Nouveau, Cubism, and Surrealism, Yuan's works are both traditional yet unconventional, permeated with ancient and contemporary colors.
Her lively works explore the intersection of the splendid and the everyday, with an almost indescribable sense of directness and playfulness, projecting a sense of levity and happiness to its viewer. Yuan's works invite exhibition-goers to make their own interpretations and examine the symbolism of her incorporation of ancient relics.
From her early ink landscape series to her more recent gouache works, Yuan creates extraordinary landscapes by combining the imaginary with the realistic. Her works are both refined and glamorous, making her a modern Taiwanese pioneer in reviving traditional Chinese ink paintings.