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The Glittering Beauty of Glue-Colour Paintings

Taiwanese artist Huang Hung-chi infuses Western realism techniques with Eastern aesthetics in his glue-colour paintings.

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“The last thing my teacher ever said to me was, ‘You must paint with your full heart. That’s the basic respect you should have for every viewer of your work.”
—Huang Hung-chi, master of glue-colour bird paintings

A unique and complex art form dating back many centuries, distemper painting is an art form that creates decorative images with glue-based paints. Typically made with ingredients derived from animals or vegetables, the glue acts as a water-soluble binder that sticks to powdered mineral pigments. The result is a beautiful, translucent paint that glides easily over a surface and leaves a rich finish, offering a more intense colouration than watercolours.

Distemper painting stems from the classic heavy-colour (zhongcai) style of painting popular in ancient China. These artworks were characterized by a fine, precise definition and the layering of pigmented hues, resulting in vivid impressions. Having risen to prominence in the Tang Dynasty, the practice of zhongcai waned in China during the centuries that followed the Song Dynasty, over 300 years later.

Despite this shift, the art form survived. After transitioning to Japan, where it was adopted and developed, zhongcai finally found its way to Taiwan, where it flourished into a unique style of glue-colour painting.

The term ‘glue-colour painting’ was coined in the 1970s by the late Taiwanese artist Lin Chih-chu. Widely regarded as the nation’s founding father of distemper painting, his use of the medium fostered the rise of an influential and culturally significant art form in the nation.

Taiwanese glue-colour painting combines the tranquil essence of Eastern art’s harmonious aesthetics with Western realism techniques, such as the play of light and shadow. Unlike free-flowing ink paintings, glue-colour artworks are meticulously crafted with exquisite details and lifelike effects, while the lightweight texture of the paint differs from the thicker, denser effects produced by oil painting.

In Huang’s painting Macaques with Full Harvest, delicate brushstrokes depict the soft fur of the macaque monkeys.

Lessons from a master

Before master painter Lin Chih-chu formally accepted Huang Hung-chi as his student, Huang had to agree to three strict conditions. First, he was not allowed to participate in any painting associations while Lin was still alive. He couldn’t enter any art competitions and was also forbidden to host exhibitions showing his work. While these rules may seem somewhat austere, their aim was to have Huang dedicate himself solely to his art and his art alone.

“My teacher wanted to cultivate me as a professional painter. He said that if I were to participate in a competition, who would dare not give me an award as Lin Chih-chu’s student? So, what would be the point of winning that award?” Huang says. “Moreover, glue-colour painting requires a very quiet and anchored heart. I wouldn’t be able to achieve excellence if I was focusing my attention on society and fame.”

Lin’s methods worked. Now a successful artist in his own right, Huang has been creating glue-colour paintings for over 20 years. When asked which of his artworks he holds most dear, he says, “Blue-Bellied Pheasant, which was recognized by my teacher after nearly 10 years of practicing.”

Blue-Bellied Pheasant, Huang Hung-chi’s most memorable painting, was the first work approved by his teacher, Chih-chu.

Huang’s Blue-Bellied Pheasant looks as striking and impressive today as it did when it was first painted. The work depicts a pheasant with splendid sapphire-hued plumage poised under a fruit tree laden with peaches, its leafy branches appearing to sway in the breeze.

Order the Magnifissance print edition to read the full story.

This story is from Magnifissance Issue 119

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