Preface (1996)

An outsider can hardly look at the drawings of Sun-chang Lo without being reminded of the turn of the century and of the linearly expressive portraits of the Austrian, Egon Schiele, or of the watercolors of the Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Mackintosh is particularly pertinent comparison, above all for the drawings of wild flowers that he made during his vacation at Walberswick in 1915 or his last paintings in the south of France wherein rock formations, tiled roofs, the sea and the land are all fused into a complex geological formation on the verge of pure abstraction.

A similar drive seems to run through the drawings of Sun-chang Lo and to be situated at a comparable interface between culture and nature or at that threshold where the random growth of technology begins to assume the disturbing character of being a new nature. This suite of drawings passes from nature herself - bamboo groves and thorn bushes - to the rooftop industrial detritus of Hong Kong, in a continuous movement and with a similar vital rhythm passing through the sinews of everything. What is common between these varied subjects, not only thematically, but also structurally, is this pulsating rhythm that is the substance so to speak of the artist’s line and the touchstone of his sensibility.

Certainly, urban chaos is the underlying thematic of many of these drawings as Professor Pao-teh Han insists in his introduction, but there is also a nervous rhythm that shines through the chaos and transcends its melancholia. This pervasive beat not only suffuses the surface of every drawing, but also passes from one drawing to the next as the plates are viewed in sequence. The rhythm changes, quickening as the aerials cluster together, slackening as they pull apart and diminish, the lines becoming sparse and more decisive, the whiteness of the sheet invading the ground against the etched delicacy of the figure. There comes a point where the successive drawings seem to come alive before one’s eyes, where one drawing changes into the next, so much so that one begins to wonder whether the appropriate metaphor with which to access the work would be cinematic rather than musical.

While one may evoke the cult of Zen in approaching this vision, it can also be seen as a living collage that erupts spontaneously on the face of the world; covering its surface with signs of life at many different levels; the rivets of a tin roof, a kid’s bike, flower pots, power boxes, grilles, underpants, blinds, barbed wire, air-conditioners, bricks, neon tubes, lamp posts, corrugated iron, telephone wires, cables, a wheel barrow, a spade, a hydrant, glass cylinders, bamboo, brooms, bedsteads, fences, coiled rope, drainpipes, steps and terraces.

This calligraphic art is surely as much Japanese as it is Chinese or rather, as Pao-teh Han implies, it is a Chinese vision that has been profoundly touched by Japanese culture or more perhaps by the vestiges of a lost Chinese world that, however transformed, is still to be found more readily in the labyrinthic, multi-layered world of Japan than in the harsh landscape of the rapidly modernizing Chinese continent.

Ironically enough, despite the TV aerials, these images seem to focus upon a phase of modernization that is coming to a close, for this is the shanty-town roofscape of a desiccated modernity, that everywhere surrounds the late capitalist city irrespective of whether this be Shanghai, Jakarta or Hong Kong, where Sun-chang Lo happens to reside. Given his nomadic background, it is hard to imagine a more fitting place for an island architect/artist as he suspends himself at a still point somewhere between Taiwan, Manhattan, Honshu and Hong Kong. It is this predicament perhaps, more than anything else, that these drawings convey - that is to say, the bird’s-eye view of an Archimedean observer before the images of a floating world; the Ukio-ye of Hong Kong in a calm moment of before the storm.

Kenneth Frampton
Ware Professor of Architecture
Columbia University