Many young landscape painters gain inspiration from natural areas near their home. But what if they had already lived in four countries on three continents while still in their teens? That’s been the experience of artist Liang Wang, who has a studio near Vancouver’s Science World. And it’s given him a global perspective, which is on display in his serene yet colourful paintings.
“I like to capture the quietness and the calmness,” Wang tells Pancouver. “I think that is what I’m trying to make people feel—the quiet and the stillness and the calm.”
His 2021 series, Never Left. features a vast array of scenes from Taiwan, where he was born. According to Wang, these paintings “are a testament to the profound influence of this captivating land on my identity”.
He mentions in his artist statement that Japanese animator, filmmaker, and manga artist Hayao Miyazaki inspired the colours.
“Within this universe I create, nostalgia intertwines with imagination, blurring the boundaries between reality and fantasy,” Wang declares. “I aspire for these painted narratives to resonate with those connected to Taiwan and anyone seeking a deeper understanding of cultural identity and the yearning for a sense of belonging.”
Moreover, there are many other scenes of Taiwan on the walls of his studio. Near the door is an iridescent, mostly blue painting (see above) of an alley in Taipei. Through a ground-level window, a man can be seen hunched over a table making something.
Wang reveals that this is the same alleyway where his grandmother’s home used to be. He remembers living there as a boy on the fifth floor. In those days, there were many family factories operating from ground-floor residences in Taiwan.
Wang likes to create a visual universe
His father started his manufacturing career in this way, so it has a special resonance for Wang. This ground-floor factory work set the stage for his dad to support his entire family as his business prospered.
“Two years ago when I went back to visit my grandma’s place—although she had already passed away—some of the factories still exist,” Wang says.
To the left of this painting is another scene from Taiwan. This work, mostly in red with yellow light peeking out, was inspired by a shop in the southern city of Tainan. “I was trying to snap a photo of this lantern,” Wang says. “Then a guy came out and opened the door.”
Although his paintings are inspired by pictures he took in Taiwan, he sees himself as “creating a visual universe drawn from my experiences”. He devises his own rules for colours, light and shadow, and space.
There’s also a self-portrait in his studio, but it’s different than most. In this painting, Wang has included a second image of him inside his studio. Through the painting, he’s trying to show what kind of person he is.
“The painting is inspired and influenced by Lisa Yuskavage’s studio series paintings,” Wang explains.
It will be exhibited as part of a series of four self-portraits later this summer during TAIWANfest in Toronto and Vancouver.
Growing up in China
Even though Wang was born in the Taiwanese city of Changhua, he actually spent his formative years in China. That sets him apart from his Taiwanese friends in Canada.
It happened because his father owned a business manufacturing hardware. In the 1990s, his dad moved the family and the business to Huizhou, a city in the southern province of Guangdong. Wang was just four years old. As a result, Wang learned Simplified Chinese in school, which is different than the Traditional Chinese script used in his native Taiwan.
“Basically, I grew up in China,” Wang says. “I visited Taiwan every summer and winter.”
In China, he was exposed to calligraphy and Chinese ink paintings.
He recalls his Chinese classmates treating him well in Huizhou. Because he was from Taiwan, he was a curiosity for them.
From Brisbane to Canada
Then at the age of 15, Wang moved to Brisbane, Australia, to attend secondary school and improve his English.
He thought he might attend university in Australia but then his family decided to immigrate to Canada. It meant that his two younger brothers could attend high school in this country.
Once in Canada, Wang had to choose a career. He loves making things with his hands, and he considered becoming a carpenter to create furniture. But he also loves to draw, so he enrolled in the visual arts program at the University of Alberta. Wang thrived in his studio courses, but struggled with the lectures.
After a few years, he decided to return to Vancouver and worked in the renovation and construction industries. He quickly concluded that didn’t want to do this for a living.
In 2016, Wang moved to Toronto and started working in a restaurant. “But during that time, I was also painting in my bedroom and trying to meet other artists in the city,” he says.
He found studio space with the Akin Collective and continued painting. Then he went back to school and completed his bachelor’s of fine arts degree at OCAD University in 2022.
Mural in the River District
Wang’s works have been shown in different parts of Canada as well as in Taiwan. Never Left was his second solo show. It was exhibited in the Arcade Art Gallery in the southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung in 2021.
Last year, he and fellow artist Anqi Cheng (TheCoalCinder) created a mural, Personal Canal, in the River District. Painted as part of the Vancouver Mural Festival, it celebrates how water is the origin of life.
Meanwhile, several paintings in Wang’s studio show the Taiwanese countryside. In addition, there are vivid Taiwanese urban scenes such as a dessert cafe, a rooftop dwelling, and a bunch of parked motorcycles.
The vibrant colours and the way people are shown—often very understated or not at all—raise an intriguing question. Has Wang been influenced in by Taiwan’s most famous landscape artist, Chen Cheng-po, who painted colourful scenes of Taiwan in the early to mid-20th century?
Wang responds that he only learned about Chen’s work after attending university. In fact, he cites deceased California artist Wayne Thiebaud as a significant influence. Thiebaud, who died in 2021, is best known for his dazzling images of cakes and desserts.
“I try to use warm and cool colours for different emotions,” Wang says. “I would say some of the colours are inspired by this artist.”
Where to see Wang
TAIWANfest Toronto runs from August 25 to 27 at Harbourfront Centre. Its visual arts programs are at South Lawn, North Orchard, and Brigantine Patio.
Vancouver TAIWANfest takes place at various locations in downtown Vancouver from September 2 to 4. Its visual arts programs are in the 700 block of Granville Street.
Liang Wang will offer a painting demonstration in the 700 block of Granville Street at 1 p.m. on September 2, noon and 3 p.m. on September 3, and noon and 4 p.m. on September 4. All events at TAIWANfest are free.