Comic book artist HOM told us how it all began.
It was her first visit to the Yang San-lang Museum in New Taipei City to do background research. As she perused the works of the Taiwanese master of oil painting, she began to observe the details in his handling of color and light, in the thickness of the paint on the canvas. She began wondering about the course of his creative life. Like Yang San-lang, HOM was also an artist interested in capturing youthful vigor and personal belief on canvas. Like him, she had experienced periods of disillusionment, but resolutely refused to put down her brush. Before leaving the museum, her eyes fell on a quotation from Yang San-lang: “In my next life I will still want to paint.” HOM was shaken. “That was the moment the distance between us closed,” she said.
HOM was already the recipient of two Golden Comic awards: Best Youth Comic for Magical Moment: The Actor in 2019, and Best Overall for Big City, Little Things in 2020. She had always worked on contemporary stories with characters roughly her own age. Priceless, a collaboration with the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, was her first undertaking involving historical subject matter, her first book done in color from cover to cover (176 pages), and her first time coping with the pressures of publishing serially online.
Illustrating the Life of a Painter: A New and Intriguing Challenge
Was HOM worried at all about this project? “Not at all. I thought it was interesting! It was a huge challenge for me, something completely new. Telling a historical story, talking about painting. I’d never done anything like it.” A comic book artist illustrating the life of a master of oil paints – the concept alone was enough to intrigue HOM. “Throughout the process I was thinking about how best to express another artist’s ideas on painting, as well as the process of his growth. Even though I’m a painter myself, there were still bound to be many differences between us.”
HOM studied fine arts at university, though she is the first to admit her main concern at the time was passing exams, so she didn’t learn anything about Yang San-lang beyond what was required. On her first visit to the Yang San-lang Museum, when she saw the tools of his trade, including those he used on his trip to France, an idea popped into her head. She would trace his artistic development step by step, from his youth, when he first began painting, on until he became one of Taiwan’s greatest oil painters.
Like a pair of eyes tailing the artist, HOM slowly charted the course of his growth, the changes in his personal vision. “The process of creation allowed my understanding of him to deepen over the course of the project.” It also brought about an artistic breakthrough of her own; in tribute to Yang, she began to utilize changes in light and shadow in her work. “From his paintings I learned he was always chasing the light. Most of the time he was outdoors, painting from life. He enjoyed the way light played across objects. He belonged to the plein air school.”
Understand the Story of the Land Where You Grow, and Keep Painting
Of course, there were also struggles. HOM recalled that she had developed tendinopathy while working on Big City, Little Things Vol. 4 and 5. Her hands hurt every time she lifted them to her keyboard. “Though I was recovering, my hands hurt all the time, even when I wasn’t working. The doctor told me I had to stop, but I felt there was more I wanted to draw! I was hurting in body and spirit. Creative work is so interesting to me, I feel there will always be things I want to draw. I’m past the point of thinking about whether people will like what I do. I’m happy as long as I can keep creating.”
I asked if there was anything she wanted to tell her readers. She answered, “I hope everyone will get to know Taiwan’s artists, and understand the evolution of the fine arts in Taiwan, the history of their development, and the general environment of artistic production. The years of Japanese colonial rule saw vigorous growth in art. In fact, art was flourishing worldwide. Taiwan was absorbing many influences from Japan at the time, so naturally the arts tended towards the official schools of Japanese aesthetics. But there were also artists like Yang San-lang and Tan Teng-pho who leaned more towards Western art.
“This is similar to Taiwan’s current situation with regards to comic book art. Japan was a big influence at first, but more recently there are new influences from Europe, North America, and Korea. The problem is how to blend all of these forces together in a way that strengthens the artistic landscape of Taiwan. For the time being there is no solution. This is the common problem that all Taiwanese artists are grappling with. But whatever, we’ll just keep drawing. So what I’d really like to tell my readers is to go out and feel the pulse of Taiwanese art. Try to understand the entire context of it. This is the land where we grew up. We need to have our own understanding of this place where we were born and continue to grow.”
As an artist herself, and as someone who has adapted the life of Yang San-lang to the comic book medium, I wondered if there were times when HOM felt quite close to the master? HOM answered by going back to the beginning of the project. “It was my first visit to the Yang San-lang Museum. I had already toured all of the exhibits, and just as I was about to leave, I saw this quotation: ‘In my next life I will still want to paint.’ It made total sense to me. Because he loved painting so much there was no room for doubt. He was so incredibly prolific. There’s really no room for doubt. When I saw those words, that was the moment the distance between us closed.”