To some degree, abstract art can be called the most important breakthrough and representation of 20th century modern art. The meaning of the term “abstract” is in relation to the term “concrete”. There were already some elements of abstract styles in Western art tradition, such as “morphing”, a trait that appeared as early as the Baroque era in the 17th century with El Greco’s elongated human forms. But it took until the beginning of the 20th century for Picasso’s proto-Cubist piece “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (1907) to mark the beginning of Western art’s entry into a modern abstract style. Later, Kandinsky created the first pure abstract painting, plunging the various art circles into turbulent times and establishing the direction of modern art philosophy. Thus diversified abstract art styles became the most distinguishing feature of post-20th century art.
From the perspective of the direction aesthetics took during the development of fine art – from complicated to simple, from depicting every detail to only expressing the spirit – aesthetics will naturally tend toward an abstract presentation. For example, Chinese calligraphy has seal script, clerical script, and regular script as formalized styles, evolving into the bold display of semi-cursive and cursive scripts. And the meticulous realistic brushwork of the Tang and Song dynasties developed into the more modern ink freehand painting (“abstracting thoughts”) of the Ming and Qing dynasties. To the West, both the cursive and freehand painting scripts are strongly abstract stylistically. However, even though they are very abstract they are not in the style of Western abstract art. This is because in Chinese painting and calligraphy, concrete and abstract are often two sides of the same coin – in the space of “Between Similar and dissimilar” – and is not classified into different extremes of style like in Western art. Thus, according to the aesthetics of Chinese art, not having developed a pure abstract art style like in the West is the result of the differing world views of the cultures, passed down through different traditions.
The fact that numerous artists in current Chinese art circles devote themselves to abstract art is an influence from modern Western art trends, though this has resulted in some outstanding pieces of work. But due to misunderstandings of the cultural background, some artists don’t fully grasp the underlying structure of Western abstract art, and are mostly trying to imitate the effects of the shapes. This can easily lead to presentations devoid of content or depth, and this situation can also be frequently encountered in current Western art circles. The emergence of Western abstract art had to grow via certain necessary developments. First of these was the “morphing” of external visual imagery, such as distorted models or subjective colors. After that was the omission or simplification of real scenes or visible phenomena, which then developed into the deconstruction of figures or symbolism. In addition, there is the intuitive perception confronted with the external world, by the free reflections of the subconscious mind. And through a process of repeated refinement and testing, this gradually develops a presentation of abstract art full of varied styles.
Shaw-Hwei Dong has dedicated herself to abstract art for many years, but her reason for pursuing this style is not for achieving new breakthroughs or innovations, but to temper, practice with, and study its shapes and designs. For this, she has accumulated a large number of manuscripts and notes on abstract paintings, including abstractes, and watercolor and oil paintings. Visible from these pieces was the abstract style of painters taking form, like an overview of the development of concrete to abstract art. At the beginning, as a carry-over from the painting style of the Courtyard series, she started experimenting with other types of deformation techniques. Even though these had a trend leaning toward abstraction, the various imagery in the paintings still originated from the surrounding miscellany in the courtyard. After a further step of refinement, the development of a process of removal by omission and simplification on the shapes can be seen. Finally, this breaks down in the symbolism, or the compositional elements of dots, lines, and surfaces in abstract art, which is the emergence of pure abstraction.
In summary, Shaw-Hwei Dong’s abstract creations are built upon her astute observations of the external imagery of her surroundings and life experiences. While the canvas contains the elemental shapes of abstract art, in the realm of vague similarity, one can see flowers and trees growing in the courtyard, fences and potted plants, the play of the weather, and the atmosphere created by the interplay of light and darkness. On the one hand, these abstract paintings embody the artist’s deep emotions of life with an old courtyard. On the other, they display the rational analysis of the artist during her process of deconstructing forms and shapes. This opened up the generation of her personal abstract style. Dong’s abstract paintings have been heavily influenced by principles in modern Western art, but the intentions of her emotional connections are closely linked to the cultural traditions of the pastoral hermitism of Chinese literati. Hence the artist constantly devoting herself to the aesthetic of “quiet observation” and the echoes of this style appearing in the details have become another important appearance of the system behind her artistic creations.
Courtyard Image 54 × 38 ㎝ Ink & Watercolor on Paper 2006
Morphing Series 27 × 39 cm Ink & Watercolor on Paper 2008
Courtyard Imagery 54 × 38 ㎝ Ink & Watercolor on Paper 2006