Born Changhua, Taiwan, 1978

To create Wildfire 40 (2008-11), Tzeng Yong-Ning periodically seized several red ballpoint pens in each hand and attacked a three-metre-long wall of white paper in a meticulous frenzy. After “painting” with ballpoints for several years, the artist had decided to turn their limitations of colour, line and nuance into a plus. His earlier, semi-abstract works centred on landscape and botanical forms; now he let go of representation entirely.  But the connection to nature remained: Wildfire’s blood-red screen of organically layered scribbles could as easily represent a tsunami or a field of tall grass as a burning forest.  Different as ballpoint pens may be from brushes, and as their dye-rich ink is from watery washes, Tzeng Yong-Ning’s scrawled zigzags still retain echoes of the peaks and valleys of Chinese landscape painting. Like traditional painters, he focuses on line, eschews shading, and uses emptiness as a key compositional element.  He also sees the artist’s spirit as integral to the work.  The old masters often incorporated calligraphy in their paintings (one Chinese word for painting also meant writing). Tzeng Yong-Ning’s works can be seen as exercises in “automatic writing”, done with the 20th century’s cheapest and most ubiquitous writing instrument.

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