From our archives, Compass Magazine, July 2000
Courtney Donovan Smith
In Makung I was fortunate to meet one of the most interesting and exciting sculptors in Taiwan, Penghu native Chen Fu Chi.
Visiting his workshop is a startling experience. His work has extreme range both technically and emotionally.
Some of his more famous works are the huge and humorous figures made of industrial scrap. Down near the docks in Makung several of these figures, in this case huge leaping basketball players. At his workshop are two interesting figures made in the same style, but in this case representing the fierce traditional guardians of the goddess Matsu. The effect is a striking mix of old and new, with the angular metal giving these traditional figures more immediacy.
Another series of works that seem popular are his ants made of stones and metal and mounted on wood, like his famous stream of ants climbing up a pole on Wang An. At his workshop are several less natural but humorous ant scenes featuring ants at a traditional wedding, carrying the bride and playing instruments.
Scattered around his shop are contorted faces in stone, with some of the most amazing expressions. Some are more abstract, some very vivid and real. The faces and figures range from warm to angry to anguished to erotic. Some feature faces melting into other faces, often flowing with the natural seam or shape of the stone.
A constant theme that appears is that he is completely unpredictable. Previously having worked as a fisherman, martial arts weapons instructor, oyster ‘farmer’, restaurant owner as well as working for the power company he adapts and uses whatever materials he finds in ways that seem completely unrelated from item to item. From chainsaw carved wooden totem pole-like statues to carefully polished and carved stone, from delicate wood carving to bolted and welded metal, from the traditional to the completely modern, there is no way to categorise or classify his ‘style’. Visiting his workshop is like visiting a random collection of sculpture from range of artists.
Scattered throughout his collection are real antiques, collected from around Penghu. Sometimes they are incorporated into his work, other times he leaves them standing on their own. Often, broken pieces of old buildings, ships and rice grinding stones are used as the base material for his sculptures, often adding an interesting new dimension once that is explained to this ignorant foreigner.
Personally, Mr. Chen has a striking personality. I was initially shocked to discover he only took up sculpture five years ago. His keen mind, interesting personal history and enthusiasm quickly convinced me this was perfectly natural and normal. He has that quality of making something difficult look easy. Also, be forewarned – he has a very sharp wit. Don’t let his serious looking demeanor fool you!
If you are an art collector or lover, be sure and include his workshop on your tour. Located on the outskirts of Makung, it is suggested you call ahead. He is located in Makung City, Shi Chuen Li No. 3-5 and can be reached at: (06) 921-2368. If you are an English speaker, ask for his charming daughter Billie (Chen Bi Li).
Some of his work is displayed around Taiwan, and in Taichung can currently be seen at No. 323-16 Wen Hsin S. 5th Rd.