from the heart: An interview with Liu Mao-lung
by Katy Huang
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.
When did you become interested in sculpture?
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.
How is a sculpture created?
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.
64, Chu Shui Rd., Chu Shui Li, Yuan Li Town, Miaoli
Tel: (037) 869-825