Excerpts from Opposition and Interfusion: The Art of J.C. Kuo, Chia Chi Jason Wang
Employing multiple layers of contrasts—traditional/modern, male/female, East/West, representational/abstract—Kuo shaped imagery of interfusion, opposition and even conflict. And this visual vocabulary laid the conceptual foundation for his subsequent art. Another intrinsic core value in Kuo’s paintings was that his creative concern always focused on folk life and folk culture. He consistently drew the material for his images from popular culture or various subcultures. Even though he adopted cultural forms or symbols from the traditions of art history that were suitable for his use, his subject matter still principally reflected the lives, customs and religious faith of ordinary people. He also incorporated the concepts of American Pop art, inserting an abundance of images that reflected contemporary consumer culture. For example, many of the women in his paintings were images of female models often seen in fashion magazines. Especially beginning in the 1990s, he began to use collage to transplant a wide variety of readymades. The sources of this material were products reflecting real life and consumer culture.
These images and symbols not only referenced the material needs, hopes and pursuits of the times, but also implied and conveyed many historical memories. For example, stickers from stationery stores, which Kuo began using at least by 2002, have remained a major element in his artworks to this day. Highly popular with the young generation, stickers have decorative, entertaining and aesthetic functions. Among the panoply of images he has incorporated into his collages, many seem related to the culture of comic books and animation prevalent in America and Japan, while others seem to have been developed to activate children’s learning abilities. In any case, these stickers correspond to life and material culture in a certain era, a time period, or even a generation. Different trends lead to different consumption habits, which are eventually written into the young generation’s memories of growing up, then build up and take shape as their common cultural experience.
Beginning in 2010, the English words “SINCE WHEN?” began to appear in Kuo’s pictures in full capital letters. Numerous commonly seen images representing the three religions of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism were continually lined up side by side in his works—Confucius, Mencius, the Taoist immortal Nezha, Buddhist saints, bodhisattvas, the Reclining Buddha, and the Buddhist murals from the caves of Dunhuang. He also continued to inlay his pictures with large quantities of stickers, fake jewels and other readymades, reflecting contemporary material life. Through these riotous forms and complex sculptings, elaborate yet exquisite, Kuo once again created statements that were conceptually paradoxical.
The juxtaposition and compression of multiple contrasting visual images and cultural symbols in the same picture is the most striking feature of J.C. Kuo’s paintings. On his canvasses, seemingly disjointed, even contradictory, conflicting visual elements converge, making the viewer feel such powerful tension that the eye cannot absorb it all. Completely unafraid of creating a sense of visual cacophony, Kuo boldly uses vibrant, lavish, kaleidoscopic forms. Mixing realistic and expressionist styles, he employs copious collages of readymade objects to fortify the three-dimensional texture of his paintings. As if transformed into a high-decibel sound, Kuo’s paintings make the mind resonate to the point of shattering, constantly impacting the viewer’s perception and thoughts.