The Proud Wanderer and the Galloping Horse: An Essay on Dennis Hwang’s Paintings and His Career

 

            “My heart is like a wild horse which cannot put up with shackles, and often longing to run away, to find a new path…,” said Dennis Hwang.

            While Hwang is his mid-seventies, his appearance and frame of mind, as well as his works, do not reflect what our society would expect from someone at his age. After seeing the paintings and the sculptures of horses that he has created, an anecdote of Picasso comes to mind.

            Picasso was an urchin who did not grow old. A collector had once described that Picasso’s later works, which were not as calm and serene as Matisse’s in his later years, somehow appeared restless and disturbing. When Picasso heard about that, he frowned and candidly said: “It is because I am still young and have not started to paint the ‘aged pictures.’”

            Despite his age, Hwang still has a hard time believing he has turned seventy; he just feels so young. The characteristics present in his earlier works are still present today, as his art remains delicate, resplendent, grotesque, mysterious, neurotic, childlike, and irrational. Moreover, he insists that art reflects life and improves one’s perception of aesthetics. It can also create new visual experiences; it provides us with a moment of alleviation and of relaxation to our soul. Art is something that is felt. It can give us much more than just a temporary feeling of enjoyment; it can give us a substantial feeling of happiness.

            In the beginning of the year of the Horse, in 2014, Hwang put on a solo exhibition, which was entitled “Galloping Horse,” both in Shanghai and in Taipei. This was no coincidence; here is an explanation as to the origins of the title of this exhibition.

            Hwang’s studio is named “Cola,” referencing his love for the popular drink, and a desire for his studio to be a pleasant location for the creation of his art. In fact, the Mandarin translation of word “cola,” is that of a term that hold a similar meaning to the word “pleasing.” Also, Hwang has explained that the sound of the word is similar to that of the beat of a walking horse, i.e. clop, clop, clop… very dulcet with great imagination. That being said, this is not a one-year endeavour, painting horses is nothing new to this artist, who has previously described himself as a horse, which he believes is an animal who should be considered as a good friend to humanity.

            Hwang’s horses are primarily composed of lines: a few simple strokes depicting gallant stallions and graceful mares. He recently visited the National Palace Museum in Taipei. After seeing the marvellous calligraphic works written by Zhun Yunming (1460-1526), he has adopted the same technique this artist used to enhance the aroma of Chinese classicism in his works. However, he adds these bright and colourful strokes, which bring these horses back to the twenty-first century. He said: “Even though I have been living in New York for forty years, the Orient is where I grew up. It is through these landscapes that I am able to express my knowledge, ideals, and spirit in my works.”

            Recently, Hwang started to make sculptures of horses with childlike joys. He often pictures himself riding a variety of horses, smilingly and proudly wandering the world. Once painted, the male horses are even mightier, and the females, daintier. Then again, the artist makes use of familiar and contemporary visual interpretations in his work. One of the horses held a resemblance to “Captain America,” another one resembles “Superman.” Hwang interestingly attempts to invent a close connection between contemporary art and the figures found in American pop-culture. By doing so, he invites the viewers to come closer, giving them some insight in how he deals with the composition, the colors and the textures found in his works, as well as the message or dialogue he wishes to express.

            The idea of horses roving, unrestrained, all over the word seems natural, but in fact, it inevitably bears sentimental value to the artist. One may wonder where exactly Hwang is from; China, America or Taiwan? The proper answer ought to be that he is in fact a global citizen. Hwan was born in Amoy (lived in Shanghai at the age of four, and in Haimen when he was eight), growing up in Taiwain (having lived in the countryside, in Chiayi County and Eirakucho, in Taipei City), building his career in New York (traveling around other major cities around the world), and marrying a girl from Hangzhou. He now resides in Taipei and Hangzhou, where he continues to work hard making art and depicting his surroundings and the fields that he knows, and no longer being vagrant, going from place to place. Art is still his life!

 

Jean S.H. Liao