The trade routes that linked distant civilizations along the silk road were paved in peril. Only caravans of enterprising merchants, soldiers, and bandits were brave enough to travel the sprawling deserts and grasslands between Europe and Asia, discovering cities such as Samarkand, Xi’an, and Kashgar, whose vowel-rich titles rise and fall in sharp syllables like the spires of their towers. Yet, it wasn’t only merchants and conquering armies who found providence within the walls of these fortified cities—but also ideas, philosophies, and art.
Korean-born painter Chae Tongyull understands this history well. He has spent his whole adult life tracing the footsteps of nomadic people throughout Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, carving out trails in some of the most remote and dangerous areas of the world. Yet, unlike the ancient marauders and merchants of old, Chae’s pursuit is not for fortune or gold, it’s for artistic inspiration. At each new juncture on his voyage—a thatched hut deep in the Yucatan jungle, a cheap church-loft in the most dangerous neighborhood of 1980s New York, a makeshift shelter at the highest peaks of the windy Himalayas—he maintains an eye not for detail, but for humanity, attempting not just to observe, but to embed himself in the local community. However, if one wishes to fully scale the breadth of humanity’s most beautiful peaks, one is also duty-bound to descend into the shadows of her deepest and darkest valleys.
韩国画家 Chae Tongyull 深谙这段历史。他成年后一直周游亚洲、欧洲和中东，追寻游牧民族的足迹，探索世界各地一些最偏远和最危险的地区。然而，与古代的劫掠者和商人不同，Chae 要寻找的不是财富或黄金，而是艺术灵感。在每一站旅途中，无论是在尤卡坦半岛丛林深处的茅草屋，1980 年代纽约最危险街区的廉价教堂阁楼，或是喜马拉雅山最高峰寒风呼啸的临时庇护所，他所关注的并非周围的环境，而是当地的人们。他不只是想在一旁观察，还试图融入当地社区。然而，如果一个人想要充分领略人性之美的高峰，势必也要经历至深至暗的人性深渊。
Trial by Fire
Chae—whose given name is Choi—was born in the midst of the Korean War in 1950, a descendant of political nobility dating back over three to six generations. As such, great things were expected of him from a young age, and at age 17, he volunteered for the war in Vietnam with ambitions to eventually become an ambassador. It was here that Chae’s boyhood romantic notions of war shattered, forcing him to confront the dark duality, and grim reality, of what it means to be human. “I saw civilians getting killed, I saw everything,” he says. “And at the same time you are learning that you, yourself, are also capable of doing bad. We each have the ability to do really great things, and really horrible things, but you have everything in yourself at once, you are capable of both. I learned that early on.” This experience would awaken within Chae the artist he was destined to become, and forge his brushstrokes with the visceral, nearly primal, energy, one that’s most noticeable in his Slaughter series of the 1980s, which depicts body parts strewn across his canvas.
Chae 姓崔，出生于 1950 年朝鲜战争期间，家族上三至六个世代都是政治贵族。因此，他从小就被寄予厚望，17 岁时，他志愿参加了越南战争，并立志成为一名外交大使。也正是在这里，Chae 少年时期对战争的浪漫幻想彻底破灭，他不得不面对黑暗的两面性和残酷的现实，思考人性的意义。他说：“我看到平民被杀害，这让我看清了一切。这时候你会发现，原来自己也有拥有作恶的能力。我们每个人既有能力去做伟大的善举，也有能力做出可怕的恶行，这是每个人同时拥有的能力。我很早就意识到了这一点。”这一经历唤醒了 Chae 内心对于艺术创作的渴望，这股发自内心、近乎原始的能量成就了他独特的笔触风格，这一点在他 1980 年代创作的《Slaughter》系列中尤为明显，该系列画作中人们的躯体器官散落在画布四周。
In Search of New Lands
Following the war, Chae moved to the United States where, as an exchange student, he found an interest in literature The rambling, chaotic prose of James Joyce and the Imagist poetry of Ezra Pound comforted him, giving Chae inspiration for his own creative journey. However, his disdain for the rigid structure of the classroom eventually led him to drop out. He spent the next few years bouncing from city to city across America, working various odd jobs. He became a bartender in New York, a bouncer in Miami, and even a karate instructor before eventually settling in New Orleans. It was there, in an atmosphere humid with Jazz and sticky with syncopated rhythms, that Chae’s bohemian heart found its artistic beat. He met his wife and fellow artist, LD Lawrence, and even started an art movement dubbed “The Idists.” New Orleans became a fresh schoolyard for the young artist, a place where he could discover his voice and flesh out his newfound interest in painting.
战后，Chae 作为交换学生移居美国，并对文学产生了浓烈的兴趣。他从詹姆斯·乔伊斯（James Joyce）散漫的意识流散文和埃兹拉·庞德（Ezra Pound）的意象派诗歌中寻求安慰，而他们关于生命不朽的自我怀疑又启发了 Chae 的创作灵感。由于不认同学校僵化的结构，他最终选择了退学。在接下来的几年里，他穿梭于美国各个城市，打着各种各样的零工。他在纽约当过酒保，在迈阿密当过门卫，甚至还曾经当过空手道教练，直到最终定居新奥尔良。在这个充满爵士乐和切分节奏的城市里，Chae 自由自在的波西米亚灵魂终于找到了契合的艺术节拍，他还在这里结识了自己的妻子和艺术家好友 LD Lawrence，甚至发起了一场名为“The Idists”的艺术运动。新奥尔良成了这位年轻艺术家的新战场和游乐园，让他找到了表达自己的方式，也激发了他对绘画的新兴趣。
From Goya to Picasso, Chae’s color palette draws from the sensibilities of European fine art while his brash brushstrokes harken back to early elements of Eastern calligraphy, particularly the work of eccentric eighteenth-century Chinese artist Pa-Ta-Shan-Jen. With each new place he visits, each new book he reads, and each new idea he encounters, disparate symbols are introduced, transformed, and incorporated into his work.
“Many of the early Renaissance paintings come from Persian paintings, which in turn were influenced by the Mongols,” he says. “They came and ruled over the Arabic countries, bringing all these Chinese painters and their distinct styles. So in a way, my works travel down from the Himalayas and into the tradition of the Renaissance. Although they may look like Western paintings, they are actually steeped in the silk-road painting tradition.” Just as Chae continuously travelled and gained new experiences, these recurring motifs would interweave and refine themselves into a distinctive style that eventually earned him a reputation in New York City’s booming art market.
从戈雅到毕加索，Chae 从欧洲绘画艺术的感性中汲取绘画色彩灵感；而他肆意而为的笔触则源于早期的东方书法，特别是 18 世纪中国艺术家八大山人的作品。他所造访的每一个新地方，阅读的每一本新书，遇到的每一个新想法，都会被他转化成不同的符号，融入到作品之中。
他说：“许多文艺复兴早期的绘画来自波斯画，而波斯画又受到蒙古人的影响。他们征服和统治了阿拉伯国家，带来了中国画家的作品和截然不同的绘画风格。因此，从某种程度上来说，我的作品也是从喜马拉雅山一路来到文艺复兴的中心。虽然它们看起来像欧美绘画，但实际上却植根于丝绸之路的绘画传统。”之后 Chae 继续四处周游，获取新的经历，这些反复出现的主题元素相互交织，形成他独特的风格，并最终让他在纽约蓬勃发展的艺术市场上赢得了一席之地。
Quest for Glory
Following New Orleans, Chae and his wife roadtripped across North America in their van through much of the 1970s, a longing for freedom leading them from the steamy jungles of Yucatan to the sunny beaches of Baja and back again. Since they never kept a permanent residence, tracing their exact route is impossible except through the annotations and stylistic tendencies of Chae’s work, whose written records of dates and locations on the back of canvas lend a treasure-map-like quality to tracking their journey. As time went on, their van filled with paintings, until eventually they began to look for a place to unload them. After the owner of a bookstore in Mexico City suggested the East Village, they knew what they had to do. Chae recounts this experience fondly. “My wife and I looked at each other and said, ‘Jesus Christ, all the way down in Mexico City they know about the East Village! We better go check it out.” So they packed their van headed to New York City, nearly 2,600 miles away.
The glittering skyscrapers of New York in the 1980s were symbols of immeasurable wealth, but the cracked sidewalks and graffiti-littered streets below revealed the grim reality of life lived within the city’s shadows. It was a place populated by drug pushers, prowled by crooks, and forcibly occupied by young artists looking for their big break. Chae had found his home. “At that time, I moved into the most dangerous area in New York. It was a Jewish synagogue surrounded by so many burnt out buildings.” Chae recalls. But as a war veteran, he was accustomed to living in less-than-hospitable environments. He claims, “Still though, even though the windows were all broken and the winter was so cold, I had the mezzanine all to myself. It was a good place to start painting after Mexico.”
离开新奥尔良之后，Chae 和妻子在 1970 年代开着面包车横穿北美。带着对自由的渴望，他们从尤卡坦半岛的热气腾腾的丛林，来到下加州阳光明媚的海滩。由于他们从来没有固定的住处，要追踪他们的确切路线只能通过 Chae 作品的注解和风格变化。Chae 在画布背面标注了日期和地点，通过画作的注释来回顾这趟旅程，感觉就像在翻阅藏宝图一样。随着时间推移，车里逐渐塞满了他的画作，最后他们不得不想办法找一个地方卸下这些画作。墨西哥城一家书店的老板建议他们去纽约东村后，这让他们灵光一闪。回想当时，Chae 说：“我和妻子相视一眼，我们想，就连墨西哥城这里人们竟然也认识东村，那我们肯定得去看一看了。”于是他们收拾行装，又开着面包车奔赴 2600 英里以外的纽约。
在 1980 年代的纽约，璀璨闪耀的摩天大楼是财富的象征，而底下残旧的人行道和布满涂鸦的街道却揭示着城市暗处的残酷现实。这里鱼龙混杂，有毒品贩子和骗子，也有穷困潦倒的年轻艺术家。Chae 选择在这里落脚。“当时，我住在纽约最危险的地区。那是一个犹太会堂，周围有许多被烧毁的建筑。”Chae 回忆道。但作为一名退伍军人，他习惯了在恶劣的环境中生活。他说：“虽然窗户都破了，冬天的时候还非常冷，但我毕竟可以独占整个夹层，对于刚从墨西哥回来的我而言，那里是一个开始绘画的好地方。”
During this time, Chae thrived as an artist. He shared his flat with graffiti sensation Futura, rubbed elbows with Andy Warhol, exchanged words with Jean-Michel Basquiat once or twice at punk-rock concerts, and exhibited his work alongside urban artists Crash and Daze—whom he still talks to today, nearly 40 years later. Yet, despite these connections, his work was largely separate from the greater youth movement taking place within the East Village. Instead of re-appropriating pop imagery or making grandiose critiques about contemporary consumer culture like that of his peers, he found inspiration from an entirely different source: the Middle Ages.
Chae’s breakout exhibition in 1986, Medieval Tales, was a love letter to the lore of centuries past and a test of his artistic ability to convey his passion for literature on canvas. Harnessing his brush like a sword and referencing everything from Arthurian legends to the writings of magical realists Italo Calvino and Anthony Burgess, Chae had emerged as a direct contender against the “edgy” art styles that had become trendy in the East Village of the 1980s. Like characters in a play, the subjects of this series—kings, queens, jesters, knights—seem to appear as apparitions amidst a shifting background that is intentionally flattened in the style of the Middle Ages. By ignoring the conventions of perspective and emphasis on realism that developed during the Renaissance, Chae succeeds in creating a tension that magnifies the subject of his work and casts the canvas as an isolated realm where science and reason have not yet solidified. The theatrically rendered protagonists that inhabit this world are not “real” in the physical sense, nor do they pretend to be. They are steeped in symbolism, existing only through our collective folklore, imagination, and artistic interpretations. Although separated by time and distance, Medieval Tales succeeded in bringing the fantasy of these far-away places and to life, and through the use of exaggeration, Chae leaves the mystery of these magical worlds intact, urging his audience to dive a little deeper, and travel a little farther, to find their own truths in his art.
在这段时间里，Chae 的艺术创作突飞猛进。他与涂鸦大师 Futura 同住一套公寓，结识安迪·沃霍尔（Andy Warhol），还在朋克摇滚音乐会上与让-米歇尔·巴斯奎特（Jean-Michel Basquiat）交流过一两次，并与城市艺术家 Crash 和 Daze 一起举办展览，直到 40年后的今天，他仍然与这两位艺术家保持联络。尽管如此，他的作品在很大程度上却独立于纽约东村的主流青年运动之外。他没有像同龄艺术家那样，着眼于重新演绎流行文化意象，或是对当代的消费文化进行冠冕堂皇的批评，而是从截然不同的领域中汲取灵感：中世纪。
1986 年，Chae 举办展览《Medieval Tales》（中世纪的故事），并因此一举成名。这个展览的作品展示了他对数百年前的古老传说的热爱，也考验了他通过画布表达文学主题的艺术能力。Chae 把画笔化成利剑，借鉴各种文学源泉，包括亚瑟王传说，以及魔幻现实主义作家伊塔洛·卡尔维诺和安东尼·伯吉斯（Anthony Burgess）的作品，抗衡 1980 年代纽约东村流行的前卫艺术风格。该系列作品里的人物如同戏剧角色一样，有国王、皇后、小丑、骑士，背景则被刻意平面化，充满中世纪风格，而这些人物角色看上去就像是在一个不断变化的背景中出现的幻影。Chae 无视文艺复兴时期所强调的透视法和写实风格，成功地营造出一种张力，放大作品中的人物对象，在画布上创造一个科学和理性尚未成熟的孤立世界。在这个世界里，这些充满戏剧性的角色毫无物理意义上的真实性，也未曾试图假装如此。它们充满象征意义，仅存在于集体的民间传说、想象和艺术诠释中。《Medieval Tales》生动地演绎出这些来自遥远国度的幻想，融合不同时空的元素，并通过夸张的手法，完整地呈现一个个神奇世界，激发观众的好奇心，去了解更多，探索得更深远，并在他的作品中寻找真相。
A Hero’s Homecoming, and Farewell
Following the success of Medieval Tales, Chae returned home to Korea after nearly 15 years There, his works were bought up by museums and collectors across the country, which gave him sufficient means to embark on new adventures—such as raising his infant daughter, Isolde. Yet, it wasn’t long before he was back on the road again. This time though, at nearly 50 years old, he was ready to embark on his lifelong dream to hike through the Himalayas and down the silk road, a journey that has always held a profound influence on his imagination and art.
These travels have culminated in the series Himalaya, Silk Road, and Interior Still Life, in which Chae’s art style began to noticeably soften, even as his resolve to travel to greater heights, both physically and artistically, began to harden. His skills haven’t decreased with age in the least bit; they’ve only become more focused as he’s gotten older. Whether its in a damp cave below a Hindu temple or at heights of over 4000 meters high in the Himalayas, at each new destination along the silk road—Urumqi, Zanskar, Kanchenjunga—Chae chose to stay for two to three months at a time to live among the locals and paint. “My wife jokes that I’m an extreme plein-air painter,” he laughs. “But I do it to try and capture real life and feel how those people live. I want to become the same as them, without me being an outsider.”
继《Medieval Tales》取得成功后，Chae 在离开韩国 15 年后第一次回到了家乡。他的作品深受韩国的博物馆和收藏家的追捧，这给了他足够的经济支持，去开始新的人生旅程，比如抚养他的女儿 Isolde。然而，没过多久，他又重新出发了。而这一次，在将近 50 岁的时候，他准备要去实现自己毕生的梦想——徒步穿越喜马拉雅山，探行丝绸之路。一直以来，这趟旅程对他的创意想象与艺术创作都有着深远的影响。
他以这趟旅程为灵感，创作了《Himalaya》（《喜马拉雅山》）、《Silk Road》（《丝绸之路》）和《Interior Still Life》（《室内静物》）系列作品。虽然 Chae 的艺术风格明显变得更柔和，但也更加坚定要去攀登更高的山峰，达至更高的艺术创作高度。他的创作技巧并未因年龄增长而下降，反而变得更加专注。无论是在印度寺庙下的潮湿山洞里，或是在喜马拉雅山 4000 多米的高处，在丝绸之路上的每一个新的目的地——乌鲁木齐、赞斯卡尔、干城章加峰，Chae 都选择停留两到三个月，融入当地人的生活中去作画。“我妻子开玩笑说我是一个极端的‘露天派’画家。但我只是想捕捉真实的生活，感受当地人的生活。我想成为和他们一样的人，而不是一个局外人。”他笑着说道。
Communion with Nature
Being exposed to the harsh elements of Mother Nature led Chae to reevaluate our relationship with the natural world. “A lot of people think of nature as nice and pleasant, especially the Chinese traditional way of thinking, but nature is very rough,” Chae says. “Nature is heartless. It doesn’t care what we think.”
Even so, the landscapes within his Himalaya and Silk Road series are picturesque portraits of the scenery he’s come across, the lines and contours of the earth treated with the same Fauvist fervor of a nude female painting, sensuous and warm, but ultimately out of reach. In this regard, the accented peaks and valleys we observe are actually a reflection of our own rosy-eyed romanticism regarding our environment, a notion further enhanced by the vibrant flowers found in the corner of his frames that evoke the tradition of still-life paintings in Europe.
身处大自然的严酷环境中，Chae 重新审视了人类与自然界的关系。“很多人认为大自然是美好、愉快的，在中国人的传统观念里尤其如此。但其实真实的大自然是残酷无情的。”Chae 说道。
Yet, ironically, our view is often blocked by the near spotlight intensity of Chae’s female subjects, who emerge, porcelain-white and statue-like, as out-of-place characters in his outdoor settings. Modeled off a sculpture of the Hindu goddess Parvati that he encountered while exploring Delhi, these women are naked and exposed to the elements, yet unaffected by their circumstances, indifferent to the male gaze. In fact, Chae claims, “The male gaze is not there at all, maybe not even invited.”
For centuries, the Western tradition of female nudes, landscapes, and still-lifes were treated as subjects of adoration to be conquered by artists and consumed by critics, but by literally turning their backs on us to enjoy the natural scenery on their own terms, Chae’s nude portraits subvert the male gaze and reinforce the indifference of Mother Nature toward humanity. In this regard, perhaps the flowers in the corner of his frames can be viewed more as tributes to her power rather than gifts to win her heart.
然而，具有讽刺意味的是，观众的视线常常被 Chae 描绘的女性人物所吸引，这些女性人物有着雪白如瓷的肌肤，像雕像一样脱颖而出，与周围的户外环境显得格格不入。这些女性角色是他根据自己在德里时遇到的印度教女神帕尔瓦蒂雕塑为原型创作的，她们赤裸着身体，暴露在大自然中，却全然不受环境的影响，也对男性的凝视无动于衷，事实上，Chae 表示：“男性的凝视根本就不存在，也不受欢迎。”
多个世纪以来，西方传统的女性裸像、风景画和静物画被视为供人欣赏的艺术主题，由艺术家诠释，供批评家审判。但是，在 Chae 的裸体肖像画中，这些女性角色转过身去欣赏自然风景，以此颠覆男性凝视，也进一步突显大自然对人类的冷酷无情。从这方面来说，也许画面角落里的花朵更应被看作是对“她力量”的致敬，而不是赢得她芳心的礼物。
Opening New Routes
In his later travels, Chae transformed the impulsive brushstrokes of his early years into something approaching an elegant fugue. The inclusion of flowers, nudity, and landscapes in his art was an intentional pivot, one that allowed him to frame the focus of his art within the basic pillars of Western composition while acknowledging the inspiration and lineage of landscape painting’s evolution in an Eastern, traditional sense along the silk road. “I really grew up in between two cultures.” Chae says. “I studied Eastern literature when I was young, and then lived in America, and now I’m trying to reconnect with the East again.”
Now, at 70 years old, Chae is well-versed and well-travelled, but far from weary. He is the CEO of his own art agency, and like any experienced merchant, uses the countless points of contacts he’s accumulated across the globe to organize exhibitions for old friends throughout Asia. For the 17 year boy who once harbored ambitions of becoming an ambassador, Chae seems to have succeeded. “Now in many ways, all these artists from New York, their dealers, their galleries, regard me as their ambassador to Asia,” he says. “And I take it seriously.” Likewise, as a veteran in more ways than one, Chae is confident that his latest ventures in China will be successful in not only opening up new markets, but exposing a wider audience to fresh artistic ideas. “I want to put myself in the middle, as a sort of conduit. That’s what the silk road was all about. From Asia all the way to Rome and back, and witnessing how all the art had influenced and changed the globe.
在他后来的旅行中，Chae 早年的即兴笔触，转变成近乎雅致的描画。他在作品中融入花卉、裸体和风景是一个刻意而为的支点，以便他在西式构图中突显作品的主角，同时呈现出他在丝绸之路中所汲取的东方传统山水画的灵感和血统。“我是在这两种文化中长大的。年轻的时候，我学习了东方文学，然后在美国生活，现在，我正试图重新与东方联系起来。” Chae 说道。
如今，时年 70 岁的 Chae 学识渊博，周游列国，但他从未松懈倦怠。他在自己开办的艺术经纪公司担任 CEO，和经验丰富的商人一样，利用自己在世界各地的人脉，为亚洲各地的艺术家友人举办展览。对于在 17 岁时曾经梦想成为外交大使的 Chae 来说，他似乎已经成功了。他说：“现在，来自纽约的艺术家、经销商和画廊都把我当作他们面向亚洲的大使，这是我非常认真对待的工作。”同样，凭借在多个领域积累的丰富经验，Chae 相信自己最近进军中国的投资不仅能成功开拓新的市场，而且会让更多观众接触到新的艺术思想。“我想作为中间人，发挥像桥梁一样的连接作用，这也是丝绸之路的意义所在，通过亚洲与罗马之间的往来，见证艺术如何影响和改变世界。”