The richness and variety of Fu-sheng Ku's painted works makes them difficult to categorize within the world of contemporary Chinese or American art. Ku came of age artistically within the complex artistic currents of late-1950s Taiwan, and as the son of an army general and an active member of the Fifth Moon Group of painters, he gained a notoriety that made the pinning of labels all too easy. Ku, who left Taiwan for Europe in 1961 and later settled in the US, never belonged to any particular school, but underwent a uniquely personal stylistic development, distinct from anything in Taiwan or any other region in which he lived. Such originality should of course be considered a plus, yet it has stymied art historians and critics trying to get a handle on his work. Exploring ceaselessly for over 50 years, Ku began with his early belief in the human form's potential to create artistic vocabulary and to express mental states, from which grew his intensely dynamic human figures and his natural scenes bursting with feeling; it is these that best define the art of Fu-sheng Ku.
Post-war Taiwan experienced diverse cultural infusions and felt the effects of both the Cold War and its own domestic imposition of martial law. The geographically marginal island had neither deep-rooted Chinese traditions nor formal art academies, though it did have a strong Japanese cultural influence. Artists working in nihonga (Japanese-style paintings) or yoga (Western-style paintings) styles who matured during Japanese colonization, along with traditional ink painters from the mainland, attempted to redefine a national style in Taiwan with appropriately contemporary styles and forms. After the island’s retrocession from Japanese rule, nihonga and yoga artists were finally free to pursue a more locally-oriented, Chinese-minded style and to take charge of the planning and jury work for Provincial Exhibitions. At the same time, traditional artists such as Huang Jun-Bi and Pu Hsin-Yu, who had arrived on the island with the Nationalist Government, introduced their conservative ink painting styles into the curriculum of National Taiwan Normal University, which occupied an authoritative position in the academic system. Additionally, U.S. military and diplomatic personnel working in Taiwan also brought American material and visual culture. Through the printed materials made available by the United States Information Service Library, American post-war art became a cultural force on an island severely lacking in cultural and educational resources.
The fact that in the post-war period, neither Taiwan's art market nor its exhibition system were well developed brought painting associations to the fore as a unique feature of its artistic culture. Such painting groups usually fell into one of two categories: The first maintained the traditions of the period of Japanese occupation; exhibitions were held by groups organized by Taiwanese artists who had studied in Japan, such as the Tai Yang Fine Arts Association. The second consisted of groups such as the Fifth Moon Group and the Dong Fang Group, which followed the European avant-garde in opposing tradition and established systems. Virtually all artists in post-war Taiwan joined such art societies, given the opportunities they provided to participate in exhibitions and for networking with like-minded artists. The Fifth Moon Group's first exhibition in 1957 saw participation by six Normal University alumni, including Liu Kuo-song, Kuo Tong-jong, Kuo Yu-lun, Lee Fangchih, Chen Jing-rong, and Cheng Chiungchuan. During the initial period of these Taiwanese painting groups (1957-59), no clearly defined school of theory dominated, aside from a primary focus on Western styles, as artists searched for their own individual styles. They were principally concerned with escaping academia's stuffy atmosphere, its emphasis on imitation rather than innovation, and expressing their dissatisfaction with the monopoly that Japanese-oriented Taiwanese painters seemed to have on getting their work shown at the provincial exhibitions. During his student days, Fu-sheng Ku, like other alumni of the Normal University fine arts department, had been impatient with the conservative stance of his elderly instructors and eager for creative breakthroughs of his own. Such a stifling artistic environment clearly pushed Ku to trust his internal creative drives and to embark on the road toward greater freedom. After his graduation in 1958, Ku's invitation to join the Fifth Moon Group marked the true beginning of his artistic development in Taiwan.
In his early years Ku displayed both interest in and aptitude for art. Born in Shanghai in 1934, his family moved to Taiwan in 1948 with his father, General Ku Chu-tung, and the Nationalist Army. Young Ku took to drawing pencil sketches on his own, the subjects of which were most often his impressions of battleships. As an adolescent his family arranged traditional ink painting lessons for him with Huang Jun-Bi, which, however, he soon found did not match his interests. His direction shifted toward Western painting, and he studied sketching and still-life painting in the Post-Impressionist style of Cezanne with Chu Teh-Chun. At Chu's urging, Ku in 1954 enrolled in the Normal University's fine arts department (in 1955, Chu Teh-Chun moved to France, where he was later often visited by Ku). By the time he graduated, Ku already possessed a masterful brush technique, as can be seen in his 1957 Portrait of My Mother (fig. 1). Under the influence of the Fifth Moon Group, Ku explored abstraction, but never entirely abandoned figurative elements, and he avoided the heated debates on orthodox Chinese painting and the differences between Eastern and Western culture. Instead, he stuck to figure paintings and still lifes as the subjects of his personal expressionistic style. His 1959-60 works show Ku focusing primarily on the male figure, employing somber grey backgrounds in dense, saturated brushstrokes that set off his isolated, emaciated subjects (fig. 2). His simple, incisive, solid brushstrokes and lines in deep colors present the essential aspects of the human figure in a slightly flattened perspective. Ku most often portrays his figures from the knees up, facing the viewer, their bodies deliberately lengthened and standing stiffly erect, occupying the exact center of the canvas, signaling both the compositional placement that would typify his later works and his deep interest in using the human form as a vehicle for the expression of his own inner world. Whether nude or clothed, his figure portraits lack the musculature and other features of realistic painting; their long arms are sometimes crossed, sometimes hanging ill at ease at their sides, while their heads and eyes are slightly downcast. The frame of the canvas seems to cramp their movements, which, along with the absence of a mouth, alludes to the situation of the artist under an authoritative regime; their body language is a sharp yet suppressed expression of how at odds Ku (i.e., the painted figure) must have felt toward his own era (the pictorial space of the canvas). Poet Yu Kwang-chung, discussing Fu-sheng Ku's work in Issue 44 of Wen Hsing in 1961, wrote, "Beneath their composed expressions, we sense the conflicts and despair of their interior lives.” The United Daily News described the sentiment of Ku's first large-scale solo exhibition of 1961 as one of "quiet tragedy." From these descriptions it is clear that, early in his Taiwan period, the intense individualism of Ku's oils was already receiving attention. Viewing his work in the historical context of his contemporaries, it is clear that the expressive origins of his distended, abstract figures are quite some distance from the Taiwanese painters of the time who were working in Japanese styles, or the post-war depictions of distorted figures with broken limbs by artists in Japan. Ku's focus was not local people in their everyday lives, or the shattering violence in the aftermath of the war, but instead the dejection that filled him, and his own contradictions – and determination – as he pursued Western expressionism.
Three of Ku's non-representational works from 1960 were described in the local media as "abstract expressionist" works (though they differed in their origin, their concepts, and their visual effects from the post-war US school), and were chosen to represent modern Taiwanese art in the International Modern Art Exhibition at Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1961. One of the three, Overcharge, won honorable mention, which tremendously motivated Ku and helped win his family's support for a move to Paris to further develop his talents. After sending paintings to be shown in the 1962 Fifth Moon Group show Ku no longer took part in painting group activities. Art Historian Hsiao Chong-ray's book, The Fifth Moon and Dongfang Painting Groups: Development of the Chinese Fine Art Modernist Movement in Post-war Taiwan, concludes that Ku had not been an important member of Fifth Moon, and beyond that offers no further commentary on his later works. Ku's treatment in this regard shows that, whatever opportunities painting groups may have provided certain artists for showings of their work, their earlier identities as members of those groups could easily obscure the understanding of their later development. But Ku's aspirations as a painter had differed from the Fifth Moon Group from the outset, and their styles and artistic goals diverged even further during his Paris period. After 1960, Fifth Moon artists such as Liu Kuo-song and Chuang Che were engaging in different experiments with Eastern and Western media and techniques, attempting to distill a spirit of abstraction from the literati painters of ancient China, and from it, to create a new kind of "abstract landscape" painting. Among Fifth Moon artists, Ku and Chen Jing-rong were typically categorized as having "realist tendencies" because their works tended to feature more recognizably human subjects. Such a classification of Ku's work, however, is again not entirely appropriate. Chen Jing-rong was a founding member of the group; he steadfastly upheld an Impressionist style of realism, and pursued further studies in Japan in 1960. Ku's early works, however, showed ambitions other than pure realism. He drew on the expressiveness of the human form as the basic unit of his visual vocabulary, thus allying himself stylistically to some degree with the German Expressionists of the first half of the 20th century. Ku's artistic vocabulary and his personal expressionist style, among the Modernist styles of 1960s Taiwan painting, were unique.
Upon Ku's arrival in Paris, the sudden change of environment left him feeling unable to continue in the same stylistic vein as in Taiwan; in his search for new methods he began to explore the potentials of mixed media. He eagerly explored the art of the West, both classical and modern, in the major museums around him, making up for the time in Taiwan when he could only see such art in printed media. In early 1962, he published his "First Letter to My Art Friends in Taiwan" in the United Daily News. The letter offers clues about the basic tonality of his own work, revealing that his favorites among recent artists included Modigliani (1884-1920) and Max Ernst (1891-1976), but that he tended to dislike Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) , finding his work rather cold. Ku felt his health was suffering from constantly breathing oil pigment fumes in the cramped, airless spaces of his Paris loft, so he turned instead to collage. He combined an array of materials such as fabric and newspapers and applied oils with broad brushes in an exploration of texture and space that brought his work even closer to complete abstraction.  The artist's restricted living spaces also reduced the scale of his works, relative to those of his Taiwan period, and he underwent frequent stylistic shifts as the change of environment produced an uncertain creative mood. In addition to his visits with Chu Teh-Chun, Ku also sought advice on his painting from Zao Wou-ki, who offered no specific instructions, but did offer encouragement at appropriate times and urged Ku to simply follow his intuition.  Ku vented his feelings in his United Daily News letter, in a way that surely testified to the contradictions he felt at the time: "Let us paint our own paintings! Let us fulfill ourselves, express our own thoughts and feelings, and as far as everything else goes, just let it go! What has it got to do with us?" Persistent thoughts of home fought against the lure of the freedom he was feeling overseas; he felt the push toward creativity yet found it hard to make a start. Out of these contradictions came the emphasis on the nature of his materials and combining them into abstract compositions.
In 1963 Ku began an important transitional phase in his career with a move to New York. From 1963 to 1965 he studied at the well-known Art Students League, the school that, after its founding in 1875, had produced so many of the 20th century's best-known artists. Mingling with artists from so many different countries exposed Ku to a variety of styles, but given his continued dislike of formalized education, he switched to graphic design and copperplate etching. Human figures once again found their way into his work; his etchings retained the flowing, incisive lines of his earlier oil works, along with the tendency toward less than total realism in the elongated bodies and limbs of his subjects. Ku now found inspiration in athletes and dancers, in their elegance and the strength and beauty of their physiques. The self-defensive postures of his earlier works—arms crossed in front of the chest—loosened considerably, while a new sense of swirling motion and color entered his work. His subjects now displayed arms opened broadly or legs spread to show their genitalia; such direct expressions of desire and the intersection of human bodies would have been impossible for Ku to depict in the Taiwanese society of his earlier period. Even more dramatic is Ku's elimination of the heads of many subjects; his focus on bodies rather than faces channels the visual language and the dynamic energy of his work, providing viewers new perspectives from which to consider the beauty of the human form. Headless, running figures at the same time suggest a certain impetuousness, yearning, and bewilderment that are perhaps reflective of Ku's state of mind in New York (fig. 3). At times, figures in different sizes and poses appear in the picture space, adding a sense of depth and a floating feeling that brings to mind the dream world or children's fantasies. The colors and expressive depictions of these new figures have become even more vivid in his later works, including the new works in this ESLITE GALLERY solo exhibition.
Another development of Ku's New York years was the adaptation of collage techniques from his Paris period. The print media around him provided a rich and stimulating selection of subjects, prompting him to move beyond his previous creative play with abstraction. Lazy Afternoon, from 1973 (fig. 4) shows Ku returning, late in his New York period, to the physicality of the human form. Found images of dogs, window frames, and potted plants float in the picture space around a profile of a ballerina on pointe. The varied colors and images of Ku's work are a reflection of the rich visual stimuli Ku found in New York and a newly relaxed attitude toward which elements to place in his picture spaces. Flowers, dogs, and this sense of freedom from gravity would play important roles in Ku's later works, signs of which had already begun to appear in this Lazy Afternoon. In the 1950s, American artists such as Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) had begun producing mixed-media works that combined collage and oils, and their influence in the New York art world, encouraging the trend toward collage, was at its zenith just as Ku arrived there in 1960. Ku's work was distinguished from other American artists of the time by his utilization of materials, along with a special soulfulness and a penchant for the dynamics between the human figures, plants, and flowers of his paintings. Compared to developments in Taiwan during this same period, where Ku's Fifth Moon compatriots were considering what place Chinese culture should occupy between Eastern and Western cultural trends and traditions and striving toward modernist visual qualities, Ku's New York works were meditations on his own inner struggles and the challenges and inspirations provided by the environments of Europe and the US.
A new period in San Francisco began for Ku in 1974, in which the atmosphere and subjects of his paintings were dominated by a new sense of liberation. His human figures gradually took on new fullness, and the emaciated, flattened figures of earlier periods disappeared. The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics provided Ku with new images and athletic subjects, and his brushwork, like the professionally trained and disciplined figures that he depicted, exhibits finely controlled strength, as shown by his 1985 Heat (fig. 5). Its composition suggests a sense of all-out, continuous motion, while Ku's admiration for athletes is transposed into the mild brightness and warmth of the painting. Ku settled in the Sunset District of San Francisco, a primarily Chinese community. He did his best to accommodate himself to doing illustration work and serving as Vice-President of Artistic Direction at Strawberry Hill, a friend's publishing company. Ku's 1981 work Fortune, Success, Longevity is the first in which he directly borrows imagery from San Francisco's Chinatown culture: its typically brilliant Chinese reds, New Year's festival celebrations, and folk characters. Ku has said that he found Chinese culture and tradition oppressive, but in the U.S. he found the freedom to choose his own lifestyle and calmly go about life in his own way. While we can be sure that at one point he had been thoroughly steeped in his own culture, he was already studying Western painting before he entered Normal University, and for decades he avoided traditional Chinese artistic influences in his art. In middle age, he finally found the method of treating these traditional cultural symbols that suited him, which was to introduce them into his paintings at face value.
Ku made a further move, to Portland, in 1990. Increasingly, themes associated with life and the universe and scenes from nature appeared in his work, as his paintings and their titles revealed a sense of the isolation and the impermanence of life. These themes have remained a central focus of his work up to the present. In Vision (1996) and Love for All (2012) (fig. 6), Ku employs youthful and robust bodies in the manner of St. Sebastian, imbuing the works with a sense of sacredness and compassion. From 2002 to 2007, Ku settled briefly in Chicago, but found the climate unsuitable, and in 2008 he moved to Rancho Cucamonga in San Bernardino County, California, where he has remained, living a somewhat reclusive lifestyle, up to the present. The settings of this typical southern Californian suburban community, with its pleasant climate and the beautiful and imposing mountain ranges nearby, appear often in Ku's works. Ku calls this the freest period of his life, a time when he has been able to paint to his heart's content and create relatively large-scale works in his garage studio. The subjects and compositions of Ku's southern California paintings show a tendency toward simplification, with an even more Zen-like quality in his human figures and an atmosphere of musicality in the works as a whole, as is shown in the representative Dancing in the Dark from 2010 (fig. 7). After clipping and pasting a series of images of flowers, Ku applies oils as well as a layer of gold dust, evoking the children’s exercise of cutting and pasting. The work displays its collage process just as if the artist were leaving the marks of his own stamps, and its appeal is further heightened by the solid composition and the finesse of Ku's oil technique. Sometimes Ku cuts out human or animal figures painted on one canvas and pastes them on another, which sets off the newly added images and entices viewers to read the work from new perspectives.
In Ku's Love for All, the collage application of the three dancing cranes pushes them past the boundaries of the painting, where they symbolize the transcendence of the painting's human subjects and bring a new tension and sense of space to the work. Ku also borrows from popular visual culture; by using images of dancers from a Macy's department store advertisement and from the "Dancing with the Stars" reality TV show he makes the work seem to hover and shift between the worlds of reality and imagination. It is worth noting that popular culture, in the eyes of contemporary art, may be labeled as kitsch, and is unlikely to be viewed seriously in an artwork without undergoing some kind of transformation by the artist. But Ku has often chosen kitsch as a visual material since his San Francisco period, directly borrowing such materials with no irony or derision as long as they provide images that suit the needs of his paintings and enhance the depth of emotion and metaphor in his work. Ku's desire for the purest visual impression governs his choices, without regard for any negative associations such motifs might incite from a critical standpoint. In this respect it is clear that Ku's original intent since the 1950s — to make the human form a kind of visual vocabulary— has never changed; his use of it has simply become bolder. The rigid boundary between high art and kitsch in Western art, or the traditional literati prejudice against any association with either folk artists or the court painters of the Imperial Palace, is one that Ku has broken through. The fact that Ku does not evade the exoticizing, commercialized images of Chinatown demonstrates how, by developing outside of the official system, he achieved greater freedom, and shows his desire to use visual symbols easily understood and accepted by the general public.
The prolific Fu-sheng Ku completes about one painting a week on average. He has chosen a mostly figurative style to convey the moods and ideals of his life, in which an Eastern spirituality is blended with the traditional Western attitude of openness toward the beauty of the human form. Yet his work is seldom mentioned either in connection with Taiwanese art history, Californian art history, or Chinese-American art history. Apart from his shy and reserved nature, probably the most important factor was his early departure from the Fifth Moon Group, and his digression from the "abstract landscape" painting advocated by his fellow group members, which later became a signature style of Taiwan Modernism in the 1960s. A further factor in Ku's neglect was the small number of Modernist artists of his generation who were concerned with human figures. As a Chinese artist living in America, he has had a number of gallery exhibitions, but he has suffered multiple rejections because his work is "stylistically all over the place." The Western market does not seem to easily accept "cross-cultural" art that does not completely derive its inspiration from the artist's home (foreign) culture. But whether or not Fu-sheng Ku considers popular opinion and the market important, it is clear from his oeuvre, with its emphasis on vitality and harmony with nature, that what is of greatest importance to him is the expression of his true personal outlook. While today this might come naturally for an artist, in Taiwan of the 1950s it was a goal almost impossible to achieve. Only his 50 years of creative work overseas and outside institutional settings has allowed Fu-sheng Ku to travel with composure down an artistic path that belongs to him alone.
Fig. 1: Portrait of My Mother, 1957, Pastel on Paper, 46.4 x 29.8 cm
Fig. 2: Mr. Ho, 1959, Oil on Canvas, 99.5 x 64 cm, Taipei Fine Arts Museum Collection
Fig. 3: Sixth Heaven, 1967, Etching, 45.8 x 30.5 cm
Fig. 4: Lazy Afternoon, 1973, Mixed Media on Paper, 56 x 39.3 cm
Fig. 5: Heat, 1985, Oil on Canvas, 125.5 x 89.5 cm, Taipei Fine Arts Museum Collection
Fig. 6: Love for All, 2012, Oil on Canvas and Cutouts, 197 x 130 cm (canvas) (set of 4)
Fig. 7: Dancing in the Dark, 2010, Mixed Media on Canvas, 152.4 x 102 cm
 Fu-sheng Ku's birth year in official documents is 1935. However, he was actually born in 1934. For accuracy sake, this essay intends to correct the error and risks inconsistency with past publications.
 Hsiao Chong-ray, The Fifth Moon and Dongfang Painting Groups: The Development of the Chinese Fine Art Modernist Movement in Post-war Taiwan 1945-1970, (Taipei: Dongda Publishing, 1991), 288.
 On April 14, 1961, Fu-sheng Ku held a solo exhibition of over 80 oil paintings at the Heng Yang Street News Building in Taipei. The commentary is from Xia Daoyang's "Personal Explosion –A Brief Look at the Fu-sheng Ku Solo Exhibition," United Daily News, 14 April 1961, p. 6.
 Fu-sheng Ku’s "First Letter to My Art Friends in Taiwan," was published on three consecutive days beginning on January 31 1962. United Daily News, 31 January 1962, Arts and Entertainment, p.8. It was the only letter Ku ever published in a newspaper.
 Fu-sheng Ku's work Scar, from the fourth Fifth Moon Exhibition in 1960, uses stitches in ramie thread to enhance the textural quality."Art Talk: The Fifth Moon Group Exhibition," United Daily News, 18 May 1960, Arts and Entertainment, p. 6. Ku's next use of found materials in collage would only come during his Paris period.
 Author’s Interview with Fu-sheng Ku, 9 May 2012, Rancho Cucamonga, CA.
 Fu-sheng Ku, "A First Letter to My Art Friends in Taiwan," 1 February 1962, United Daily News, Arts and Entertainment section, p.8.
 Author’s Interview with Fu-sheng Ku, 9 May 2012, Rancho Cucamonga, CA.