• In the heat of August, the sticky and filthy city air hung in a smog between the crowded skyscrapers of Taipei’s most upmarket district, and through the haze the evening sun bathed their glass walls in a blaze of color. Fu-sheng and I must have been overawed by this post-modernist Taipei street scene, and as there was no chance of hailing a taxi, we simply sat down on some stone steps by the side of Tunhua South Road. Oblivious to the stream of passers-by and the roar of the traffic, we began to talk and joke about everything under the sun.

     

    A Life Devoted to Art—A Sketch of Ku Fu-sheng by Pai Hsien-yung

     

  • An eternally innocent heart

    In the summer of 1993 I saw Ku Fu-sheng again in Taipei. He had come back from the USA to visit his family. Looking back, we hadn’t seen each other for at least five or six years since he left San Francisco for Portland. Though we both live in America, we don’t necessarily manage to get together very often—in fact, as we live quite some distance apart, we hardly see each other at all. But after all, Taipei is our old stamping ground, and as chance would have it we both flew back at the same time. We arranged to meet one afternoon at the Eslite bookstore for coffee, and when we came out we walked to the circle at the intersection of Tunhua South Road and Jen-ai Road. It was the Taipei evening rush hour, and a flood of people and vehicles gyrated around the circle like a carousel. In the heat of August, the sticky and filthy city air hung in a smog between the crowded skyscrapers of Taipei’s most upmarket district, and through the haze the evening sun bathed their glass walls in a blaze of color. Fu-sheng and I must have been overawed by this post-modernist Taipei street scene, and as there was no chance of hailing a taxi, we simply sat down on some stone steps by the side of Tunhua South Road. Oblivious to the stream of passers-by and the roar of the traffic, we began to talk and joke about everything under the sun. Fu-sheng is three years older than me, and was close to sixty, but as we chatted, all the ravages of the years fell away from his face, and the Ku Fu-sheng before my eyes was the same Ku Fu-sheng I had met more than thirty years before—a painter with an eternally innocent heart, who embraces art and throws himself into it unreservedly. Art is the whole of Ku Fu-sheng’s life. It fills his entire world, leaving no space in his heart for anything else. For over thirty years, no setback has ever caused Ku Fu-sheng to waver in the slightest in his passionate and persistent pursuit of art. Throughout his life, he has devoted himself to art completely.

    An eternally innocent heart In the summer of 1993 I saw Ku Fu-sheng again in Taipei. He had come back...

    In 1990s, Eslite Bookstore was located near Taipei Jen-ai Tunhua traffic circle.

  • Ku Fu-sheng’s “gray-green period”

    Ku Fu-sheng rarely opens his studio to others. In the early 1960s, when I had just got to know him, he took me to his first studio, in his home in Taipei’s Tai-an Street. A little building in a back courtyard was both Ku Fu-sheng’s bedroom and the place where he painted. It was the artist’s secret little world, in which he created a series of semi-abstract figure studies. I remember how that room was stacked full of pictures of all kinds of human figures in dark shades of gray-green, distorted in all sorts of ways. But the sum total of so many people was a single loneliness. That was Ku Fu-sheng’s “gray-green period”. Ku Fu-sheng’s paintings were all the projection of his inner world. He seemed to almost completely ignore the real world outside. So his human figures had no individual personalities, and were mostly headless or had diffuse faces. Ku Fu-sheng’s human figures more than anything represented a turbulence within him, and expressed an abstract idea—that man is born lonely: we come naked into the world and take nothing with us; human loneliness is universal. But that is not to say that in Ku Fu-sheng’s youth these ideas were necessarily clear to him, for at that time he was full of expectations of life. He told me he planned to leave home and go to Paris—to go far away to another world in pursuit of his art. The first year after I met him is a time I look back on fondly. I had just started Modern Literature magazine, and had just begun writing. I was as enthusiastic as he was about the ideal of pursuing art, and this created an affinity between us which has lasted to this day.

    Ku Fu-sheng’s “gray-green period” Ku Fu-sheng rarely opens his studio to others. In the early 1960s, when I had just...

    Fu-sheng KU's student ID during his time in Paris.

  • Collage study by Fu-sheng KU
  •  
    • 顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 紳士的世界 Gentleman's World, 1969
      顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 紳士的世界 Gentleman's World, 1969
      NT$ 728,000
    • 顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 童年 Children's Hour, 2010
      顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 童年 Children's Hour, 2010
      NT$ 420,000
    • 顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 洗衣天 Laundry Day, 1999
      顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 洗衣天 Laundry Day, 1999
      NT$ 220,000
    • 顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 貼身物 Skinny Skivvies, 2006
      顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 貼身物 Skinny Skivvies, 2006
      NT$ 220,000
  • Static gloom gives way to dynamic nervousness In 1964, I saw Ku Fu-sheng again in New York, where he had...

    Fu-sheng KU (left) and PAI Hsien-yung In New York 1960s.

    Static gloom gives way to dynamic nervousness

    In 1964, I saw Ku Fu-sheng again in New York, where he had moved from Paris. Once again, he took me to his studio. He was living on Manhattan, at Broadway and 99th, in an old apartment block five rooms wide. His landlord, Ralph, was an Englishman aged about sixty. When Ralph returned home from work he would play piano pieces from the Romantic period. Apparently, as a young man he had always wanted to be a professional musician. Ralph like East Asians, and was a very kind man. Ku Fu-sheng’s New York studio was also stacked full of his latest works. Ku Fu-sheng paints very quickly, and has been extraordinarily prolific in every period of his career. His paintings in this period were still mainly human figures—actually all his paintings were centered around people. But these human figures had cast off the stiffness and solemnity of his early years. They had begun to fly, and had become varied and expressive. The abstract or surrealist backgrounds of Ku Fu-sheng’s paintings made the world within them all the more broad and expansive. The people in his works tumbled, rushed, soared and whirled amid the primeval chaos of the beginning of the world, and their bodies often split from one into many, thus adding to the complexity and sense of fluidity of the images. Ku Fu-sheng’s paintings had gone from their early static gloom to a dynamic, fretful nervousness.

  • Collage study by Fu-sheng KU
    • 顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 慶賀 I Celebration I, 2011
      顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 慶賀 I Celebration I, 2011
      NT$ 1,144,000
    • 顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 玩球 Playing Ball, 2011
      顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 玩球 Playing Ball, 2011
      NT$ 1,276,000
    • 顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 喜悅 Feeling Good, 2012
      顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 喜悅 Feeling Good, 2012
      NT$ 560,000
    • 顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 起落 Up and Down, 1998
      顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 起落 Up and Down, 1998
      NT$ 480,000
  • Fantasies and dreams in flight In the summer of 1964 I attended a summer school at Columbia University in New...

    Fu-sheng KU (left) and PAI Hsien-yung, 1970s San Francisco

    Fantasies and dreams in flight

    In the summer of 1964 I attended a summer school at Columbia University in New York. Columbia is not far from where Fu-sheng lived, and after class I would go and see him. Sometimes we went to Central Park to stroll in the sunshine. He told me about his life in France, which was rather reminiscent of Puccini’s La Bohème. The setbacks of real life never made Fu-sheng waver in his faith in his own art. On the contrary, he became ever more resolute about the direction of the development of his artistic style.

     

    In the mid-1970s, Ku Fu-sheng moved to San Francisco on the US West Coast. I too moved to the West Coast to teach, so we again had the opportunity to meet. In San Francisco Fu-sheng rented a small two-story house in the southern part of the city, with a friend who ran a publishing company. That year I went to spend Christmas there. As soon as I entered the house I saw that the walls were all covered with Ku Fu-sheng’s paintings, mostly recent works. Fu-sheng couldn’t wait to take me upstairs to a little attic room, where he stored many of his paintings which were not yet framed. There were oil paintings, water colors and sketches, none of which I had seen before. There must have been several hundred of them, Fu-sheng excitedly showed me his pictures one by one, constantly asking if I liked them. I knew that Ku Fu-sheng didn’t show off his pictures lightly. I suppose he thought I understood something about his art, so he wanted to hear my opinion. I don’t claim to understand other people’s paintings, but where the paintings of a few good friends are concerned I do have a certain inkling. Because I understand the person, I can get close to their paintings.

  •  

    Fu-sheng KU's collage
    • 顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 高翔 Flight, 2004
      顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 高翔 Flight, 2004
      NT$ 215,000
    • 顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 世外桃源 Garden of Eden, 1996
      顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 世外桃源 Garden of Eden, 1996
      NT$ 200,000
    • 顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 等待天使 Waiting for Angels, 1998
      顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 等待天使 Waiting for Angels, 1998
      NT$ 350,000
    • 顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 春假聯歡 Spring Break, 1984
      顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 春假聯歡 Spring Break, 1984
      NT$ 286,000
  • I think Fu-sheng was taking a more and more tolerant attitude toward life, so that his vision was becoming broader, and there was room for compromise between man and nature and between man and self. In a picture of lilies, every flower bud contained a curled-up naked baby—this was a “hundred children” picture in which heaven and earth were at one. This change also brought humor into his art, and suddenly we saw, for instance, a pair of human legs sticking up from the center of a large cake.

     

    Ku Fu-sheng’s world has always been a surreal one, and he has always been breaking through the bounds of rationality, to make his fantasies and dreams fly wherever he pleases. That night I slept in that little attic room. Seeing those paintings with human figures flying through the heavens, a zebra standing in a bedroom or a great black donkey floating above a person’s head, I could not help gasping in admiration at artists’ power to recreate our visual world. 

     

    Back when Ku Fu-sheng and a group of up-and-coming young painters founded the Fifth Moon group, it had a profound influence on Taiwan’s modern art circles. Over more than thirty years, the artistic enthusiasm of this pioneer of Taiwanese modern art has not diminished in the slightest. Fu-sheng’s perseverance and courage as an artist are what I admire most about him. 

     

    A Life Devoted to Art—A Sketch of Ku Fu-sheng by Pai Hsien-yung 

    I think Fu-sheng was taking a more and more tolerant attitude toward life, so that his vision was becoming broader,...

    Fu-sheng KU (left) and PAI Hsien-yung, "Fu-sheng KU's solo exhibition" at ESLITE gallery 2012. Photography by LIN Hao

  • Fu-sheng KU's collage
    • 顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 微風 Breeze , 2001
      顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 微風 Breeze , 2001
      NT$ 693,000
    • 顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 起飛 Lifting off, 2012
      顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 起飛 Lifting off, 2012
      NT$ 1,100,000
    • 顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 香烤美腿 Roast Leg, 1994
      顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 香烤美腿 Roast Leg, 1994
      NT$ 480,000
    • 顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 彩雲 Pink Cloud, 1998
      顧福生 Fu-Sheng KU, 彩雲 Pink Cloud, 1998
      NT$ 880,000
  • Fu-sheng KU was born in Shanghai in 1935 and came to Taiwan when his father General KU Chu-tung brought the entire family over with the Nationalist Army in 1948. Like many other artists, KU took to drawing at a young age. When graduating from the Department of Fine Arts at Taiwan Normal University, he had already participated in the exhibitions of Fifth Moon Group, becoming one of the key figures promoting modern art in Taiwan. Kenneth Hsien-yung PAI, prominent writer and a close friend, remarks that art is a passionate and persistent pursuit for KU. “If everyone must choose a way of life, painting is my whole life—my thoughts are in my work, and so are my feelings and every detail of my existence.” KU faces his art with utmost honesty. Indifferent to trends in art, he prefers to indulge himself in the subconscious world between reality and fiction, allowing his fantasies and dreams to flow spontaneously. Naturally inspired by anything or any situation, his creations spring from his inner sense; time, place, material, color, and lines can all be used as vehicles for expression. KU readily twists his media in rich and diverse ways, gracing his works with whimsical and unconstrained fun and beauty.

     

    • 1935 Born in Shanghai, China
    • 1948 Moved to Taipei, Taiwan
    • 1958 BFA., Department of Fine Arts, National Taiwan Normal University, Taipei, Taiwan
    • 1958 Joined the Fifth Moon Group
    • 1961 Moved to Paris, France
    • 1962 Moved to New York, USA
    • 1963-67 Studied at Art Students League of New York, USA
    • 1968 Moved to Chicago, USA
    • 1971 Moved back to New York, USA
    • 1974 Moved to San Francisco, USA
    • 1990 Moved to Portland, USA
    • 2002 Moved to Chicago, USA
    • 2008 Moved to Rancho Cucamonga, California, USA
    • 2017 Passed away in Rancho Cucamonga, California, USA
  • Photography: XIAO Ron / Motion graphic: WANG Da-Wei

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