CHAN LIU MIAO
Chan’s creations in leather are treasured by art connoisseurs who consider the superb quality of his craftsmanship and the uniqueness to be unparalleled.
In 1986 Chan was declared a ” National Living Treasure” by the government of Taiwan and has presented his original sculptures as gifts to the heads of states of Japan, Belgium, South Africa, Panama, France, Poland, Guatemala and Argentina. A government sponsored, month-long, one-man show featuring fifty of Chan’s sculptures was held at the National Cultural Gallery in Taipei-an honor never before bestowed upon a single artist.
China was the first country to possess written records on the “art of leather making”. Appreciating the beauty of decorative art, the early artisans processed leather by carving patterns into it, staining it with wax-based colored pigments and inlaid it with precious stones and jade, thereby elevating leather art to prominence in the fine art field.
Today, Taiwan has produced a native son who is recognized as leather sculpture’s foremost exponent, Chan Liu Miao. Born in 1946 to a family of farmers, Chan graduated in 1971 from the national Taiwan Academy of Arts. Gifted and hardworking, young Chan eagerly explored a spectrum of arts: woodcarving, ceramics, painting and sculpture.
In 1980, Chan embarked on research into developing and refining leather sculpture. Five years of his continual trial and error eventually produced, in 1985, the first formal exhibition of his three dimensional leather sculpture, attracting the attention of the artistic community as well as government officials of Taiwan. Chan’s leather sculpture has now been acknowledged by the art world as being at the forefront of modern Taiwan’s exploratory contemporary art.
Chan’s sculpture conveys a sense of living intimacy that seems to pulse with bodily warmth and breath. The secret of course is Chan’s unique talent at working with leather. Preferring cowhide as his primary material for leather sculpture, Chan very carefully selects the hides, inspecting it for any flaws. This leather is used for the facial features, limbs, musculature and the trailing sleeves of gowns, due to its fine texture and pliability.
The preparation process kept a secret by Chan, but involves many steps to prepare the leather and includes steps to strengthen its durability and yet maintain its flexibility. Each piece is coated with a special formula to allow the sculpture to retain its sculptured shape.
The sculpture’s facial expression is the most difficult and challenging for it must be the heart and soul of the entire sculpted figure. So, beginning with the head, Chan works the leather by pulling, twisting, pressing, pinching, hammering, squeezing, shaving and piercing it in order to make the face, then every part of the body convincingly lifelike and natural in expression. After the shaping is completed Chan paints the leather with acid-based or oil-based dyes. Once completely dry, he sprays each work with transparent lacquer as a preservative. With this, another compellingly lifelike leather sculpture, radiating with its creator’s vision of life, is finally completed. He spends usually 12 hours a day in his studio working on several sculptures at one time, taking anywhere from three months to six months to complete depending on the complexity of his sculpture.