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Compass Magazine, July 2002

Sculpting from the heart: An interview with Liu Mao-lung

Translated by Katy Huang

Artist Liu Mao-lung runs Hsin Diao Ju, which literally means "a place for sculpting from the heart". This compound, located next to a wide expanse of beach in Yuanli Town, Miaoli County, contains Mr. Liu's workshop and gallery as well as a memorial exhibition gallery to fellow sculptor Chen Jiung-hui. Both Liu's and Chen's works can be categorized as primitive wood sculpture. COMPASS Managing Editor Cheryl Robbins recently visited with Liu Mao-lung at Hsin Diao Ju. Following is an excerpt from that interview.

C: For those readers who may not be familiar with this art form, can you describe primitive wood sculpture?
L: This type of art is unique to Taiwan, meaning that it is not part of Chinese culture. It was developed first by the Aborigines. Some of the earliest Han Chinese immigrants also studied this form and modified it. In addition, in the earliest days of this art form, the wood that was used came from a tree endemic to Taiwan. Now, some 20 kinds of wood are used to develop sculptures. Another unique feature is that the cutting method varies from artist to artist. These rough cuts remain visible on the surface instead of being smoothed away by machine. In contrast to most mainstream wood sculptures, no artificial sealants are used. Instead, people are encouraged to rub and touch the sculptures to create a natural luster to the wood's surface.

C: When did you become interested in sculpture?

L: When I finished elementary school in 1967, I became an apprentice under a master sculptor who specialized in Buddhist wood carvings. My childhood friend, Chen Jiung-hui, became an apprentice for a primitive wood sculptor. He eventually moved to Yuanli and opened a workshop, where he mostly sculpted aboriginal totems and motifs. In 1990, he asked me to help him organize a large-scale exhibition of his works.

I agreed, but planned to return to creating religious sculptures once the exhibition finished. However, during preparations, Jiung-hui discovered that he was suffering from end-stage lung cancer and died soon after. I finished his uncompleted works and became more and more interested in this art form as a result.

C: How is a sculpture created?

L: First, you need to obtain the materials, the wood. Each finished piece starts out from a log that is three times its size. Then the bark and core have to be removed. Differences in color come from different types of wood which are sometimes combined into one piece. Variations in texture come about from differences in the type of blade, whether flat or curved.

C: Where does the inspiration for your sculptures come from?
L: I start with an aboriginal totem or motif, then add my own ideas and cultural connotations. I am not an Aborigine, but most descendants of the earliest Han Chinese immigrants, such as myself, have some Pingpu (plains Aborigines) blood. That is because most of the early immigrants were men who married Pingpu women, resulting in the assimilation of Pingpu tribes into mainstream society. I do believe that I am part Pingpu, and therefore have an intrinsic connection with aboriginal culture that helps me to come up with ideas. If I am having trouble deciding on a direction for a piece, I take a walk along the beach to clear my mind so that the ideas can flow more easily.

Hsin Diao Ju
64, Chu Shui Rd., Chu Shui Li, Yuan Li Town, Miaoli County
Tel: (037) 869-825
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