Compass Magazine, June 2002

In Memory of an Outstanding Man and Artist
--------------------A tribute to Max Liu

By Rachel Chiou Translated by Cheryl Robbins

Earlier this year, I had the chance to visit Max Liu's studio. What I saw was not what I imagined a studio belonging to a famous painter would look like. It was located on the fifth floor of an ordinary apartment building and was crammed with books, magazines, knickknacks he had brought back from his travels around the world, sculptures and paintings given to him by other well-known Taiwan artists.

He was dressed casually in charcoal gray and khaki. On his face was the smile often seen in his self- portraits. Although he had accomplished so much during his long life, he was one of the kindest and humblest people I have met. Many people called him Teacher Liu. To that he responded, "I call everyone teacher. There are things that you can do well that I cannot. So, you are my teachers."

A recent illness had left him with almost no voice, so it was necessary to listen closely to understand what he was saying. But, his kind smile communicated far more than his words and revealed the depth of his love and passion for life. He was also very humorous. When asked how he had been, he replied, " Just like a beggar."

He forced a smile and lit a cigarette. It seemed he was thinking about something more, but he just let his thoughts drift upward along with the cigarette smoke. There was a brief silence and then he continued, "Just before you came, a crew from a public TV station interviewed me, so I am a little tired. They asked me about the events of 2-28. I got really angry! The young people today don't study history. Instead, they use past events for political purposes, to create divisions among people. The Chinese people nowadays don't really have any nationalist concepts. I don't like to talk about politics. I don't watch the news. Because what I see on the news makes me so upset that I cannot create."

According to Merina Lin, one of his former students, Liu seldom got angry. I didn't mind because it is not often that you meet a 90-year-old who is so patriotic.

The conversation then turned to his artwork, books and travels. After telling us about his most recently published book on art anthropology, he jokingly said, "I'm not an artist. [I do it] just for fun! I am a con artist and a magician." His eyes sparkled as he laughed, radiating a mischievousness and charm.

"People like my paintings because they don't cost a lot to buy," he continued. "Especially young people. They don't have a lot of money, so they like my art because they can afford it. I never went to art school. My paintings aren't worth much money, so I like to donate them. If I just keep my paintings here, they are of no value. But, if I donate them to a museum or art center, then I can feel proud that people will pay money to go to see them."

He pointed to some sculptures in the corner of his studio, some of which were his own work, and said, "If a museum needs something for a research study it is conducting, I will donate it. To me, these things do not have any value." This surprised me. In addition to being very humble, he held ideas about value that differed from mainstream society. I admired his ideals. I then smiled at him as I asked he thought was of value.

He smiled back but didn't answer right away. Finally, he said, "You already know the answer to that, don't you? The most valuable thing is love. Poor people need love and rich people need love. Love can be learned and, once you know what love is, then you know how to appreciate everything you have." I saw that tears had welled up in his eyes and then, my vision became blurred as tears came to my eyes as well.

That was the first and last time that I saw Max Liu. I often think of our conversation and, afterwards, watching him slowly walk back to his home with the help of a cane. As this is a city guide and not an art magazine, maybe it is not possible for me to educate readers on all of his professional achievements. But, in this article, I hope that I have been able to reveal his personal side, his love of life and his energy that allowed him to keep working and learning until the end of his life.

(Max Liu passed away on April 13, 2002 at the age of 93.)

View This Page In Chinese