“To me my work is a product … I try to balance my life, to be a good artist and at the same time to be a good businessman.”

Born Taipei, Taiwan, 1976

Su Meng-Hung, also known as Sam, is fascinated by contradictions—of oriental and occidental, classical and contemporary, high art and kitsch. In his work, he consciously fuses these opposites to generate aesthetic energy and illuminate his besetting themes of desire and death. Album of Immortal Blossoms in an Everlasting Spring by Giuseppe Castiglione (2002) was inspired by the works of an Italian Jesuit missionary who became a painter and architect at the court of the Qing emperor Qianlong (1735-96). Combining European and Chinese techniques, Castiglione, under the Chinese name Lang Shining, pioneered a style later popularised in Europe as Chinoiserie. Su Meng-Hung transforms elements from Castiglione’s Album of Immortal Blossoms into a giant painting that explodes with colour and life. The work “works” on multiple levels: a child of cultural globalisation salutes one of its earliest exponents; paintings made for an emperor become a greeting-card design that anyone can enjoy; flowers that in China symbolise wealth, good fortune and longevity are shoehorned into a universal symbol of death. The skull in turn fuses 17th- and 18th-century vanitas paintings and contemporary high-kitsch works like Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skulls. Unlike classical European artists, for whom death’s heads were reminders of life’s transience and the vanity of desire, Su Meng-Hung says classical Chinese artists were so averse to images of death that they even avoided painting shadows. Contrarian that he is, “I tried to put these things together—the very beautiful Chinese painting and the skull.”

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