Chen Forng Shean

Born in 1956, Mr. Chen showed great interest in arts when he was only a little child. Since 1981, when he started the miniature creating career, he’s produced more than 100 great creative pieces. His work has been widely reported by worldwide media, such as Associated Press, Agence France Presse, Reuter, Xinhua News Agency and Zhongxin News Agency more than 100 times since 1993. Moreover, his creations have become popular collective items among international collectors, Taipei Grand Palace Museum, Memorial Hall of Dr. Sun Yat-san, organizations and individuals. To add to his glory, he’s appointed by art institutions and greatly involved with arts events as a judge, inspector, planner, consultant and awarded as a director of honors.

Mr. Chen’s talent in drawing was discovered early on when he was an elementary school third grader. He also demonstrated another wonderful talent in calligraphy while attending Wanhua Junior High School. After graduating from Wanhua, he entered Daojiang Vocational School and majored in Design and Technology to learn everything about arts and handicraft skills. At the end of his army service, he passed the test and was granted a position in Central Engraving and Printing Plant, a division of Central Bank of China. Mr. Chen’s was mainly in charge of engraving the steel plates for printing bills in the Lithograph Plate Manufacturing Department, where inevitably he was exposed to many particular tools, engraving steel plates. In his free time, he used the steel needle to “carve out the landscape ” on a five-Jiao coin – 10 Jiaos make one NT$ dollar, which is no longer in use – whose size is a bit smaller than one NT$ dollar coin now. His colleagues were all tremendously impressed and praised both his aesthetics and creative skills, which inspired and encouraged Mr. Chen significantly that he decided to devote himself to miniature carving and creating in 1981.

When asked about his life-changing decision to commit to miniature creation, Mr. Chen answered, “Despite of the fact that many galleries carry my paintings, I realized that art creation is a long and winding road; plus, it would be hard for me to gain a space by competing with other senior outstanding artists no matter in water painting, sketching or sculpting. Thus, after putting a lot of thoughts, I’ve decided to choose a completely different path”. It’s obvious that Mr. Chen’s decision has proved to be correct and has opened up another door for him. Although no predecessors, who he could consult and learn from, it was yet exactly how he earned his space by creating his very own style, which makes his arts precious as he self-taught himself the disappearing art practice, miniature creation. From developing the tools, experimenting the materials to sharpening the skills, he had himself to rely on. Mr. Chen said that except the magnifying glass, essential tools like steel needles or brushes, he needed to manufacture them accordingly to make his creation possible. It’s apparent that it was a time consuming process – polishing the steel needles to the level that is thinner than a sewing needle, trimming the brushes to the level where a magnifying glass is acquired to be able to see the hair of the brush. Not to mention the strenuous efforts and time required for the breathtaking petite creation!

After work each day for the first ten years of his art career, Mr. Chen dashed into the studio, located in the second floor of his house, and immersed himself in the world of miniature creation. During this period, he led a simple life; he neither interacted with the outside world much nor had his works exhibited in the public. However, within this decade, Mr. Chen honed his skills and finally reached the standard and the expectation he set for himself, which can be witnessed in the quality and quantity of his marvelous works. He then gradually introduced his creation to the eyes of the public. His perseverance can’t be illustrated better.

Since Mr. Chen’s works exposed to the public’s eyes, each one of the works has been receiving enormous attention, myriads of both local and international media have interview him, and his name has been on every exhibition’s inviting list. All of the above contributed to the solid foundation of his miniature career and delivered him to the high position of this field. His works certainly become popular collection items among collectors. However, Mr. Chen wasn’t moved by the high prices offered from all over the places. He didn’t sell any of them. Mr. Chen expressed his view, “ It’s surely a great thing that my works are recognized. Nevertheless, once the items become private collection, they’re bound to be viewed exclusively to a few people; plus, when commercial transaction is involved, it more or less sets the boundary of the freedom and the simplicity an artist values, which lies the original interest of creation. The salary I earn from Central Engraving and Printing Plant is ample enough to lead a comfortable lifestyle; so keeping the artworks ensures a better access for the public to enjoy them”. What Mr. Chen hopes the most is that the whole world can witness Taiwanese artists’ perseverance and spirits in the journey of creation while sharing the glory with the people who strive on the same soil. That demonstrates his belief and confidence thoroughly.

Mr. Chen’s works and his principles totally portrays the Zen state of mind,” In the universe, events run their courses. The tiniest object can also change the course of nature ”. When one can step away from the frame set up by one self, one can see the wonders of the universe in a grain of sand. Based on this belief, Mr. Chen has been able to break away from the ponderous burden projected by business interests and look into his inner self instead for ultimate freedom in creation. Mr. Chen not only ignites new fury in the miniature creation but also opens up a “grand” vision for the viewers.

Miniature creation is the least practiced art. One might wonder what keeps Mr. Chen going for the past decades. The key might lie in the process of creation. Mr. Chen has his unique wisdom of life from a constant series of challenging “micro tasks”. He said, “The seemed tiny objects actually hide the universe without boundaries. Each project takes me on an adventure of wonders; the wisdoms hidden within are beyond my grasping. The moment the project is done, the satisfaction is so rewarding that it can’t be replaced by money”.

Great miniature creation takes more than the aesthetic knowledge, essential foundation for anyone who’s devoted to arts, but also high-level concentration for a long period of time, posing great challenge on eyesight, physical endurance, energy and patience. Between strokes or cuts during the process, it’s sometimes necessary to hold breath more than a minute while coordinate every muscle to keep the hands from trembling. The reason is because the materials adopted are always tiny, such as a grain of rice, a sesame seed, a sand and a pumpkin seed, a slight miscalculation of the strength can lead to shattered or even pulverized pieces. All the previous efforts then go into waste.

Mr. Chen has hence learned to adjust his breathing – inhaling, exhaling and holding the breath. Moreover, he also enhances the endurance of his hands and the steadiness of his body, which corresponds perfectly with the practice of QiGong. Miniature artists are required more to have peaceful and calm minds than other art practitioners if the nature of the practice is compared. In other words, Mr. Chen’s creation process is a way of carrying out the essence of “ Calm, Serene, Peaceful, Reflecting, Obtaining”.

To break away from the boundary set by the predecessors long ago in this field, Mr. Chen experiments materials, which haven’t been adopted before, from paper, wood, bamboo, cotton, stones, sands and metal to stuff we find in our daily life like toothpicks, dental floss, toothbrushes, grains of rice, matches, eggs, pumpkin seeds, even ants’ heads, dragonflies’ wings and flies’ wings. Mr. Chen has been able to transforme all the pieces into unique artworks with his creative mind.

Different materials also pose different challenges. Speaking of developing new materials, Mr. Chen has many stories to tell. For example, when Lewinsky Scandal broke out, he wanted to create the concept, “When dry wood meets blazing fire”, meaning caught in a passion, so he tried painting the portraits of Clinton and Lewinsky on the tip of the match. It wasn’t an easy task as the phosphor, coated on the tip of a match breaks quite easily. It took two hundred matches before Mr. Chen figured out the precise strength needed to effectively have the project completed.

Ants have to be the hardest objects to work on when it comes to insect-material-adopting series. The reason is because ants naturally produce the body oil, which consumes a whole day to rid by rubbing alcohol on it before any further steps take place. Plus, the thin feelers on ants’ heads are so fragile and delicate, making it difficult to work around them. It takes scrupulous efforts to deliver successful results.

Eggshells might appear to be some artists’ material. However, unlike what most artists exercise on the eggshells – carving on the surface of the shells, Mr. Chen punches tiny holes with a micro thin steel needle to form an oval shape; then remove this piece, an oval-shaped hole hence created. Next, he painted “Kong”, a Chinese character, which means emptiness, 280 times on the eggshell to form a bigger “Kong” character. While telling this story, Mr. Chen laughed and said that during the process of this creation, egg dishes appeared on the dinner table everyday as the dream of the project cost many catties of eggs to realize.

Another unorthodox material, adopted by Mr. Chen is noodle. He studied the texture and the endurance of each kind of noodles and concluded that they are bound to rot and disintegrate in the end so he came up with the solution, applying anti-sepsis to the noodle.

Mr. Chen also figured out a clever way to cope with the difficulties while carving a grain of sand as it disappears in the surrounding quite easily and it did happen. To solve the situation, he trapped the sand with clear tape and double-sided tape. His patience and perseverance did pay off in the end.

 

Among Mr. Chen’s great creation, the micro books have to top the others and take Mr. Chen’s primal pride. Each book takes about two years. It’s really fascinating to read this 0.9cm x 0.9 cm book. It weighs 0.35 grams and distributes “Tan Dynasty 300 poems” evenly to 75 pages. Another book, “MoMoTaRo”, meaning “The Peach Child” in Japanese, a 24-page storybook, depicts the child’s life story with color illustration, which weighs only 0.43 grams. The famous fairytale, Snow While, was delivered in a 56-page book in English with each alphabet the averaged size of 0.3mm. The book weighs only 0.6 grams. Mr. Chen puts in lots of thoughts and efforts on those books especially “The Petite Polar Bear”. What makes this book so special is that besides the text part, each page is complimented with elaborate illustration. It’s so unbelievable that one has to see it for himself to do it justice.

A few years ago, a lady visited Mr. Chen’s exhibition and expressed her will of sponsoring his creation. Mr. Chen turned it down out of one of his principles, art creation shouldn be independent without involving money issues. A few days later, the lady still sent in NT$10,000 to subsidize Mr. Chen, which touched him tremendously. French media also conducted many phone interviews and offered to purchase some art projects. The path that Mr. Chen chose has been full of solitude and hardship, however, the support and recognition he received along the way have helped motivated him to continue on his journey. 

A well-known story tells a man sought the secrets of archery from a master. The archer told him to stare at one bull hair without failing until the tiny hair appeared as big as the bull itself to him. Mr. Chen said that the process of his miniature creation is quite similar to the story. He said that a micro entity does seem as a normal object to him after he stare at them for a long period of time. However, it’s easier said than done; this amazing ability is the accumulation of 25 years’ of hard-working experience.

 

The demanding practice of miniature creation has to be responsible for this disappearing art practice. To ensure this art can be passed on for the generations to come, Mr. Chen has promoted this art form at all levels. He founded Carving Club at work, Central Engraving and Printing Plant and encourages artists of the like mind to join. He said that when time is ripe, he’d hold an exhibition for the members in the club. His own Miniature Museum and exhibiting space not only display his works but also provide tools, designed by himself, to have hands-on experiences. The widespread media reports on his creation also contribute enormously to the public’s understanding and preservation of this art, which is exactly why Mr. Chen keeps the media informed whenever he completes another satisfying project. It's hoped through the power of media, more and more people get to learn to appreciate the beauty of miniature arts.

The advice Mr. Chen gives to the young miniature artists is to strengthen the fundamental art knowledge and skills especially sketching and calligraphy. This art practice consumes one’s eyesight and energy greatly so he also emphasizes the importance of maintaining good a habit of exercise and keep a healthy diet as it’s a long journey, demanding not only professional skills but also physical endurance.

Miniature creation has not only enriched Mr. Chen’s life but also widened thousands of Taiwanese people’s vision. Relying solely on his passion and perseverance, he’s had his passion realized in his projects one after another. It’s fortunate that we get to appreciate his works, while witnessing the beauty of an artist’s creativity and his integrity.