Born in Guangdong province in 1926, Yeh Shih-Chiang studied at the Guangzhou College of Art, headed at that time by artist and revolutionary Gao Jianfu, who was a pioneer in the revitalization of the traditional ink painting language in the Republican era. At the age of 22, Yeh and his fellow students Yang Zhiguang and Jiang Jianfei were granted permission by Gao Jianfu to take leave from the Academy and set out on an adventure to travel on foot from Guangdong to the Dunhuang Caves, sketching along the way. With the spread of China’s Civil War, they were forced to abort their plans and redirected their route to Taiwan.
While Yang Zhiguang found a return passage home, where he eventually became a leading artist in China’s Socialist movement, Yeh did not have the necessary resources and remained in Taiwan. In his first few years there Yeh studied fine arts at the Taiwan Provincial Teachers’ College (now National Taiwan Normal University) in Taipei, where his talent and originality as a painter were immediately recognized. However, as time passed and the political rift between Taiwan and the PRC made return to his home impossible, Yeh grew increasingly reclusive and finally shunned official art circles to seclude himself in the countryside, where he lived a simple, ascetic life, practicing Zen Buddhism, teaching and painting. Every aspect of Yeh’s daily activities was informed by a conscious awareness of the ideal of inner cultivation shared by both the literati and Zen traditions.
In 1975 he learned to craft traditional guqin instruments, and began to practice this as his main art form. Gradually, inspired by the purity of his Zen practice and simple yet uncompromising way of life, he entered into a new creative period, creating a range of paintings and calligraphies marked by a pure fluidity of line and a dynamic inner power. He is especially admired for the spontaneous fluid energy of line and a visionary purity of composition. Yet he was not a participant in any local modern art movements, instead developing his artistic persona on his own ground and attracted many disciples. Yeh has a devoted following among collectors, artists and scholars in Taiwan and is regarded as a kind of sage among painters. Yet during his lifetime Yeh desisted from bringing his works into the larger public sphere and it was considered a privilege to be able to see his works in exhibition.