A fellow blogger Peter says that he likes Ju Ming's wood sculptures better than his metal creations, I thought I'd do a series of his sculptures in wood that I saw in Taiwan. Ju Ming's first started working on a new series of sculptures in wood 1980s when he began to explore themes which he thought closer to the life of ordinary people. He gave this group of works the collective title "Living World Series". In the earlier stages, he concentrated on traditional heroic figures whose images are firmly embedded in the minds of the man in the street in China under the title The Great Historical Figures including such historical figures as Huangti (黄帝), Confucius (孔子), Kwan Yu (關羽), Yu Fei (岳飛), Chu Yun (屈原), Koxinga (鄭成功), Li Po (李白),Hsuan Tsang (玄奘), Wu Chung (武松) Su Wu (蘇武), Chuko Liang (諸葛亮), Hua Mu Lan (花木蘭), the Goddess of Mercy (觀音),Chi Kung (濟公),Iron Crutch Li (鐵拐李) Lu Chih-Shen (魯智深). He said, "The great figures of the past are not entirely from real history, but from the soil. People of the old society, even those without education, were able to intuitively comprehend a great man's personality, ambition, and moral fortitude, and to assess these as the criteria of his behavior. However, recognition of such men by today's children, growing up in a modern society and fully educated in Chinese history, is not from the substance of daily living, but from textbooks. Our typical textbook examples of great men gradually become meaningless."
As he developed, his wood sculptures gradually became more modern, more minimalist, more abstract, simpler, with much fewer lines and he began to make figures about ordinary folks instead of larger than life heroic figures like Yu Fei, Lu Chih-Shen etc. He entitled the series "The World of the Mortal"s. He is reported to have said in an interview, "Since early childhood, I have been inclined to aspire after famous men of noble character. Although they are dead, their significance remains.The Great Historical Figures series is different from The World of Mortals, because the latter are of the common people. I carved them to express my respect for them...I do not like to repeat what I did. I like variations and trying different things.” In 2007, he created his third Living World Series in white with a hint of black, with rough textures and monotone colors. The great historical figures are more realistic though already simplified whereas the world of the mortal figures are even more impressionistic and simpler. He says: ""Some say carving the great historical figures is only walking an old road—retracing traditional Chinese subject matter. So what? I don't believe that a mere switch in subject matter signifies advancing. Nor do I believe that respect for tradition requires resistance to advances."
In the 1980's, he started his Living World Series. He said: "I let go of my sensibility and go with the natural flow of the wood. it is not until mid-way that I started examining my work and modifying the lines of the sculptures at hand. The relaxation makes me feel very happy when I create. I will keep making sculptures this way." In his wooden sculptures, he tries to show man struggling with the problems of ordinary daily existence or trapped by their life's situations. Through his sculptures, we get a glimpse of how he felt. His use of white and black is intended to emphasize and put into relief the structure and texture of of the wood grain. Then he switched to newly carved figures with colors, drawn from all walks of life. We also see samples of such newer figures at the museum. In whatever he does, he would create his own peculiar images of the figures, stressing the spirit and the inner character rather than realistic physical details of his figures through their faces which tie in with the shape of the wood, its grain and through their body postures.
His later works are characterized by a broad brush approach, using deep, straight, simple cuts but always with a natural flow, concentrating more on the front than on the back, the upper than the lower portions of the figures. We do not get full details of the hair, the eyes, the nose, the ears, the cheeks and the lips, just bare suggestions of them. Instead of hiding where his cuts are , he shows them clearly. There are lots of what traditional Chinese painters call "empty space" (留白) in his figures.
The following are some of his works I managed to photograph from his museum.
Working together (同心協力) 1996. Here we see all the lines converging towards the front, the
the bodies of both the ox and the man hugging very close to the ground, all bent to gain more
force by digging their feet into the ground to propel the heavy load forward through the force
of reacting against the ground. Note how he uses the natural grain of the wood and his simple cuts.
Is that an image of the artist's struggle to create?
This is one of the collages we find in the entrance hall to the museum
Here we find a row of ordinary people, with their back packs, their raincoats, their caps in brightly
colored clothes, all in simple primary colors and in different postures waiting to go into the main
exhibition hall. Even inside, he dotted various locations with his own sculptures as if they were
part of the working staff or spectators to create the impression that there is no boundary between
illusion and reality, between art and life, the artist and his spectators.
One figure standing listlessly, leaning against a pillar.
Another figure resting his arms upon a horizontal board and observing
the passing spectators. These figures are a repeat of the metal figures
sitting on the benches or lining the paths in the sculpture garden.
Some figures filling up the empty space between the entrance hall on the ground
floor and the attic on the first floor. These are figures suspended with real
ropes and metal rings in simple white and black and no other colors.
The shapes of the bodies fully reveal the tension of their muscles. Note the
simplified straight cuts.
This is a rough model Je Ming made when he planned for some of the buildings
This is one of the earlier Taichi figures he made in bronze developed in the 1970s which later
formed the important Tai Chi series which propelled Ju Ming to international fame.
Another miniature Tai Chi figure in wood. Note the simple cuts and the body posture and the
grain of the wood, the heavier color in the concave between the legs emphasizing the shadows
formed on the inside of the thighs and front.
Another miniature Tai Chi wood sculpture in a defence cum attack position. Here we find
the simplification of lines with the features of the figure's face reduced to just a few dots but
the spirit of Tai Chi is embodied in his body posture.
A group of figures in black and white dancing with joy.
A group of women. Note also the man in tie and suit jacket over his arm leaning against the pillar,
his face turned away from the row of women. Tired of seeing too many old gossiping women?
This one is entitled gossiping women (三姑六婆). The total number is eight. Should it be
entitled "Eight Gossiping Women" (八婆)? Colored but just in bright light blue, purple,
two shades of grey.
Another group of women in various postures.
Another small group of women in brightly colored clothes in various postures,
standing, sitting etc.
More women sitting alone or in pairs in various positions
Various women in standing and sitting positions. Note the simplicity of lines and bold primary
Children clamoring for attention from their mom or listening with rapt attention to her stories?
A child clinging to her mother?
A woman taking a break from housework?
Two men begging for favors from their master?
A group of children kneeling in greetings before their master?
An older man and two children greeting some one important?
A new series of African women, tall, slim and in various positions, all in bright primary colors and
with equal simplicity of lines.
This is an outdoor foretaste of his latest creation about man being imprisoned
within his own space. It is done in metal and is placed outside the
space before entering the sculpture garden.
Another view of the same encaged figure.
Three men caught within a cage. They are placed in a dark room with scant lighting. You
can see their battered will, their anguish, their impotence from their body postures alone. They
remind of characters in Kafka's novels.,
Two young people locked in mutual gazes?
A couple enclosed within the cage of marriage?