Tao Painting at Lamma Island: the story of a lifetime

Tao Painting

Tao Painting at Lamma Island: the story of a lifetime

Exploring is in our nature at iDiscover  ̶  to uncover “hidden gems” of both places and people with stories to tell. Here we meet Mr. Chou, a Tao-painter living on Lamma, one of the over 200 outlying islands that make up Hong Kong.

Every day a colourful mix of people boards the ferry at Pier no. 4 from Hong Kong Island to leave the fast-paced city behind and return to their tranquil homes on Lamma Island. Among them is 74-year-old Tao-painter J.D. Chou. Since 1972 Chou has dedicated his life to depicting Tao philosophy through Chinese ink paintings. He balances the softness of yin and the fierceness of yang into a simple harmony which is characteristic of nature’s ways, but scarcely found in human creations with his Tao Painting.

Tao Painting
Artist Chou holding one of his works: One Stroke Cyclist

When Chou turned 21, in the fifties, he exchanged Hong Kong’s scenery for the birthplace of impressionism: Paris. He ended up staying five years, soaking in not only the impressionist’s art style, but also their way of life. He found a warm haven in Paris’s numerous jazz bars, strolled along the boulevards so different from the ones he was used to and served his friends humble meals of plain spaghetti and red wine. Having returned to Hong Kong, he soon travelled abroad again. Inspired by the work of the Impressionists he felt the urge to start a new direction in art. This aim brought him to Japan, where he studied Zen paintings in 1968. In 1972 Chou founded the art style of ‘Tao painting’, that made Chou a well-known artist in Hong Kong in the 70’s and 80’s and let to 37 exhibitions of his work all over the world.

Tao Painting
Chou’s Tao painting: Six Cranes (Image: Tao-art) 

Chou’s very first painting that we can call a Tao painting, was lost during his travels, but the second, painted in 1973, still exists. With only a few brush strokes, he painted a man on a donkey; a traveller, just like Chou himself. In his over fifty-year long painting career, Chou has been best known for his unique ‘one stroke paintings’. According to Chou, this type of paintings is a result of the chi he has built up in his life, and can’t be produced simply by practising. His ‘one stroke paintings’ are not preceded by drafts, but painted in one sitting. A rooster, a series of cranes, but also a cyclist show the painter’s expertise in handling the limited amount of ink a brush can absorb. During our talk, Chou mentions casually that Picasso also produced a few ‘one stroke paintings’, “in ballpoint though, and not nearly as artistic”.

Tao Painting
Chou’s Tao painting: Red Sleeping Beauty

A more earthly influence of Chou’s paintings is the size of his apartment. Except for the oil paintings, all of his works are painted on the floor of his apartment in Tai Peng Village, the rice paper stretched out on the floor. You wouldn’t guess that the floor is the artist’s workspace: there are no traces of Chinese ink to be found. This shows his competence, explains Chou, with a shy yet pleased look on his face. While standing in a hunched pose overt the rice paper, the artist is able to create the power and subtly that his paintings convey, which is in itself an achievement.

Lamma Island
Lamma Island is home to many other artists

Besides Chou, Lamma Island is home to many other artists. It must be something in the air: an aromatic combination of the scent of the sea, subtropical plants and freedom. This island air has been nourishing sculptors, jewellery makers, and wood engravers for years. While Chou’s artistic talents with Tao Painting may not be an exception on Lamma Island, what the painter does with his talent certainly is. Artist Chou has turned the Tao philosophy from something that is felt and lived, into something that is visible and can be admired. And he’s not finished yet. Chou’s founding of Tao-painting is the literal story of a lifetime – and this is just one of the many stories boarding the ferry at Pier no. 4 every day.

If you’re interested in purchasing Chou’s Tao-art, or simply want to enjoy beautiful imagery and interesting background information, do visit his website.

Do you want to explore more of Hong Kong and meet its interesting inhabitants yourself? Download the free iDiscover Hong Kong app!

About Eveline

Guest Blogger,  Literary and Cultural Analysis student at the University of Amsterdam

When I travel, I don’t want to be merely a visitor. To create a feeling of belonging, I capture fragments of the places I visit in words. The forgotten story of a building, the smell of the air and the taste of that dish sold on the corner of the street. I would like to show you the people and places that stick with me when I move on to my next destinations.

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