Taiwanese Scrivener-Turned-Artist Clashes Western and Eastern Cultures

Taiwanese Scrivener-Turned-Artist Clashes Western and Eastern Cultures

What you need to know

The highly distinguishable artist has never received any professional training, but his works are in the possession of people like Luc Besson.

A portrait of Michael Jackson clad in traditional Hakka-style floral fabrics took the streets of Taipei by storm last year to commemorate the King of Pop’s birthday.

Behind the piece, which contrasted western and eastern culture, is emerging artist Joe Anderson (周學), who is now exhibiting at the Taiwan National Treasure Art Museum in Hualien and has works collected by well-known people such as French director Luc Besson.

But this highly original artist didn’t start out as a painter.

From full-time scrivener to emerging amateur artist

Seventeen years ago, Anderson was a scrivener looking for a way to release his stress and escape his busy work life. At the age of 30, Anderson started taking lessons at a studio and hasn’t stopped painting ever since.

The artist told The News Lens International that he didn’t specifically choose oil painting, but that this is what most studios teach.

“I personally like oil paints better though,” he says. “The colors and brush strokes come out more.”

Anderson says he is also good at pencil drawings and Chinese ink painting, but the black and white colors don’t stand out enough for him.

Intense colors aren’t the only signature of the painter’s works.

“I’m Taiwanese, and for me the best things are always those that have strong conflicts,” he says. “For example, there is a contrasting beauty that comes out of combining tacky things with high fashion, so I aim to integrate Eastern and Western beauty to show the rest of the world Taiwanese culture.”

The artist is still focusing on Hakka floral fabric, but has also taken an interest in depicting Aboriginal culture.

“I have found that there are a lot of bright colors in the aboriginal tribes, and many foreigners are unfamiliar with their culture,” he says.

Being an amateur artist for over a decade, Joe Anderson has been changing the way he paints while keeping, if not enhancing, the contrasts in his works.

He says he leaves out a lot of details in his paintings now because he has come to believe that creations are more about capturing the essence and spirit of his subjects.

“I want my audience to be captured by my work immediately, but discover it’s really very roughly done when they take a closer look,” he says. “I have found that this creates a strong tension and I’m currently working in this direction.”

And indeed the artist has caught the eye of many people, including French director Luc Besson.

Joe Anderson says Besson was in Taiwan filming and one of the actors asked him to paint something for the director as a gift.

“There wasn’t anything specifically special about Besson himself, but his wife’s dark skin caught my attention,” he says.

He then drew a portrait of Besson’s wife in a Taiwanese chipao made out of Hakka floral fabric. And the result was striking. The director and his wife loved the painting and took it back to France.

“But it wasn’t anything special to me. He’s an artist and so am I. It made me happy to give them something that delighted them,” he says.

Oil paintings, music, and Harleys

Painting isn’t the only form of art the artist plays around with when he isn’t busy at his full-time scrivener job.

Joe Anderson says he has recently grown very interested in playing and making music. He says he is thinking about recording a song about the recent scandal surrounding the Taiwan military's abusing a dog to death.

“I was thinking about how the dog might have been gentle, but started having thoughts of revenge after being abused,” he says.

The artist says he might work with a calmer melody at the beginning of the song, and turn to heavy metal to represent the sharp contrast of the dog’s state of mind.

He says this is a way for him to let out his emotions regarding the event, but the song is still in the planning stages and Joe Anderson doesn’t have any plans to share it with the public just yet.

The tough artist also has a love for riding Harleys. He often bikes around the northeastern coast of the country.

“Riding is actually pretty loud, but it helps me let out some stress,” he says.

Photo Credit:周學 Joe Anderson 創作藝術家 Facebook page
Joe Anderson (周學) at the installing of his exhibition at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in 2012.

Going with the flow

When talking about plans for future paintings or his artist life, Joe Anderson says he doesn’t have any.

“Art is art. I don’t look for financial benefits as an artist. But this is because I have a steady income working as a scrivener and don’t bear the pressure most full-time artists have,” he says.

The artist says even exhibitions aren’t anything special to him. Museums and galleries have asked him to put on seven to eight exhibitions over the years, but to Joe Anderson they are only a way of showing people his art. Joe Anderson says he can’t control what the audience thinks of his work, and hasn’t specifically done a piece for any show.

“I just go with the flow,” he says. “I always try to develop my inspirations to their fullest. All artists have wild imaginations and it’s impossible for them to work to a schedule or plan, but I will never stop drawing.”

Joe Anderson’s exhibition at the Taiwan National Treasure Art Museum runs until July 31.

First Editor: J. Michael Cole
Second Editor: Edward White