“Art has become free. You can do it anywhere, with anything you find.”

Born Nantou, Taiwan, 1971

Chinese landscape painters of the past used soft brushes to apply ink to paper scrolls.  Chen Chun-Hao uses a nail gun to slam tiny “mosquito nails” into canvas-covered wooden boards.  With these most unlikely materials, he simultaneously reinvents a thousand-year-old style and reaffirms its inexhaustible vitality.  Chen Chun-Hao’s landscapes are copies of classic shanshui (mountain-water) paintings by such masters as the 11th-century Fan Kuan and Li Tang.  The pictures’ impact is multiplied by the contradictions they entail:  using steel pins and noisy machines to create works intended for tranquil contemplation; reducing lines to dots in a process that resembles digital pixellation; rendering two-dimensional paintings in three-dimensional bas-relief; copying pictures originally reserved for the emperor’s court with cheap, mass-produced tacks—750,000 of them in Imitating Travellers Among Mountains and Streams by Fan Kuan (2011); a million in Imitating Wind in Pines Among a Myriad Valleys by Li Tang (2012).  Copying has a respected place in Chinese art, but to qualify as an artwork, a copy must reflect profound understanding of the original and also add something new.  Chen Chun-Hao manages, by varying the size of the nails and the density and depth of their placement, to create the same effects of light, shadow and mist that classical landscape artists strove for.  The nail paintings take ferocious concentration to plan, he says, and up to ten hours a day of hard physical work.  But despite the firearm-like bangs of the nail gun, executing them is for him a kind of meditation.  He calls the practice “my kung fu” and adds, “When I started this, the nail gun was just a nail gun.  Now it’s turned into a brush.”


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