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Luo Jianwu (b. 1944)

“Han Dynasty Cypress” 2003-2011

Horizontal scroll, framed
ink on paper
30.5 x 127.0 cm. (12 x 50 in.)

“Pure and odd, old and strange.”
“This cypress of the Han is two thousand years old, while the Republic is only one hundred years old. I took up my brush on this painting at age sixty (sui, i.e. in 2003) and completed in at sixty-eight (sui, i.e. in 2011.) Luo Jianwu. Before my eyes what was pure has withered away.”

Artist’s seals:
Jianwu; Holuo (“The River Luo”)

(see write up below)

Overlapping trees create a pictorial recession from foreground on the right to the background on the left. The gnarled and twisting trees are viewed from a close vantage point such that the upper and lower portions of most trees are cut off, leaving our minds and imaginations to complete the entire form. Since the scene is quite contained, with the rather shallow recession blocked by trees and mist, our eyes focus on the trees themselves, the textures of the bark, the convoluted forms, and the dense inter-weaving of trunks and branches. The result is an almost visceral realization of the basic nature of these ancient cypress trees.

Luo Jianwu was born in Taiwan in 1944 and studied Western styles of painting and drawing at the Guoli Yichuan, “National Art Institute,” and some of those procedures and attitudes may lie at the foundation of his earlier work, such as his “Pine Trees” of 1997-2001, which in retrospect is striking for its verisimilitude.1 Somewhat later Luo’s style became more abstract, and more fanciful, as he created images that lacked a fixed orientation and could be turned at will, encouraging viewers to respond with intuitive emotion rather than analytical thought.2

His latest work in some ways marks a return to his earlier approach, with the trees rendered in exquisite detail, but the composition prevents us from seeing the painting simply as a picture and insists that we respond to its formal values as well. The success of this synthesis bodes extremely well for the future efforts of Luo Jianwu as he continues to develop his personal, most praiseworthy style of painting.


1. See Luo Jianwu: “Pine Trees” 1997-2001, Kaikodo Journal XXI, 2001, cat. 10.

2. See Luo Jianwu: “Rock like a Cloud” 2006-10, Kaikodo Journal XXVII, 2011, cat. 46.

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