Foreword || Colors of Ink || Main - Paths of Ink || Introduction
June12th to September 10th, 2002
THE COLORS OF INK by Jean-Paul Desroches
T'ang Haywen was born in 1927 to a wealthy family of Amoy, which is now Xiamen. Unfortunately, this harbor, rich in tropical scents and open to foreign countries, was soon to be wounded by war. From his childhood in China, T'ang always remembered his educated grandfather who had taught him the basics of calligraphy. At the age of 10, T'ang moved from his native land to Cholon and the Chinese community of Saigon. As an adult, since Vietnam was a French territory, he was allowed to finish his studies in Paris. This second migration provided T'ang with the opportunity to escape the pressures of his family. In fact, he had started a journey that was to continue for his entire life. During the 1950's, having a natural curiosity and an independent mind, he abandoned the conventional studies imposed by his family to join the cultural circles of the French capital. He visited art galleries, developed an interest in museums and started to paint. Very gifted, he was quickly noticed, particularly by Suzanne de Conninck who would exhibit some of his very first paintings in her gallery on the Rue de Seine. During the sixties, he progressively discarded his early masters like Gauguin, Cézanne and Matisse to rediscover his deepest oriental roots. He began to read regularly, books such as Recorded Remarks On Painting by Shitao, The Garden As Big As A Mustard Seed and the Daodejing; these were books that he kept at his bedside throughout his life. He returned to painting with ink, exploring its different possibilities. He did not give up color, but somehow mixed the Chinese tradition of the abstract wash with the more lyrical, luminous style of the west. He had definitely found his voice. From then on, his life and paintings melded together so that the latter developed into a kind of diary. T'ang painted five to six hours a day, seven days a week, and so left behind a vast body of work with an eminently recognizable, personal style. He was not, however, concerned with managing his work. He was a discreet man, never caught up in his own ego, unconcerned with the future of his paintings and even less with his eventual biographers. It would therefore be more relevant to examine the genesis of his creation: two forms of expression characterize his artistic maturity, the studies and the diptychs. The first, produced on a small scale, include gouaches or washes used as travel notes; they record fleeting impressions; fast sketches rather than faithful renderings. The artist journeys around the world and his gaze is filled with wonder, he feeds off it, and then feeds his creation. Breton skies heavy with clouds, Italian lakes subtly diaphanous, or Japanese dawns in mottled color: his brush was keen to transcribe the vital energy inherent to each place. A joyful elation, with occasional hints of nostalgia, filters through these small works made day after day. These images resemble quicksilver; they are dazzling but ephemeral. Each instant, no matter how sublime, is bound to sink into oblivion. Like a great fertile river, the immediacy of his brushstroke produces as many vivid and spontaneous open streams. He maintained this practice throughout his career, and it essentially enabled him to retain a living, concrete and expressive connection with the present. These sensory experiences, patiently gathered and tamed from the tip of his brush, developed into a 'compost', propitious for the emergence of his major works: the large diptychs. This supreme method became effective as soon as he had found a support to suit his creative demands. It was a rigid white or cream paper, a simple and traditional material, with a fibrous surface, reacting to the most delicate inflexions or the strongest accents. With its western dimensions, this space formed a dynamic frame for the artist. Born out of the juxtaposition of two sheets that the work combined as one, it was vast enough to enclose the world. From then on, T'ang came to master a tool that suited his binary Taoist vision. The tone was preferably serious, deep, sparse. The painter no longer was satisfied with embracing reality in order to transcribe it. He constructed a very personal metaphorical realm. This process, surging from the depths of his being, was embodied in poetic transpositions worthy of the greatest creators of the 20th century. However, due to his organic vision of the world, he set himself apart from his contemporaries by staying a calligrapher by instinct and a metaphysician by taste.