Yahon Chang: Living Through Art, Painting with the Soul


2017 / 2月

Chen Chun-fang /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Katje Chen and Darryl Sterk

Yahon ­Chang is the chairman of Meala International Taiwan Ltd. He is a successful businessman who got started in commercial cleaning, and then went on to build an empire with diverse concerns, including international brand distribution, interior design, construction, and beauty products. In recent years, however, ­Chang has put on a new hat—that of an artist. Now he’s more than a magnate with an eye for numbers and the bottom line: he is also an artist in touch with a more sensitive, emotionally colored view of the world. How can ­Chang reconcile the quantitative and the qualitative, the two seemingly conflicting sides of his self, shifting seamlessly from one persona to the other?

Yahon ­­Chang was born and raised in central Taiwan, in Nan­tou County’s ­Shuili Township. As a child, he didn’t enjoy studying, preferring to doodle on his classmates’ textbooks. His teachers considered him a trouble­maker, but that didn’t deter him from the joy of his art, and when he received second prize at a province­-level art contest for a drawing of a temple festival, it only deepened his artistic confidence. He found no support at home: his traditionally minded parents, for whom painting was a mere hobby without a future, wanted him to go into business. But the quick-witted young Ya­hon found a way to reconcile his love of art and his filial piety: he applied for a degree in commercial design at the National Taiwan College of Arts (now National Taiwan University of Arts), persevering on the road of art while also learning about business.

Still taking courses in interior design, architecture, and related fields, ­Chang started a business with a friend. They started out taking janitorial contracts in high-rises, then moved on to interior design, and selling carpeting and drapes. ­Chang’s lifelong passion for art, his keen eye for color, and his design chops won him a reputation. Later he went into construction and moved toward integrated architectural design. With his exquisite taste, he realized the value of many internationally famous brands, which he proceeded to import. That is how he built his business empire, one step at a time.

Healing through art

Chang still drew in his spare time, for even sketching interior designs filled that need and brought him joy. But as his business grew and he got busier and busier, there was less and less space in his life for art, which was crowded out by numbers. In 1991, at the peak of his success, chronic stress afflicted him with a disorder of the nervous system. He often lost his balance and fell when walking, and suffered depression and insomnia. Endless tests failed to find the underlying cause.

But then a business trip to Japan changed everything. ­Chang happened to see a group of monks on a mountain path. The sun sprinkled down on their ­tranquil, reverent faces, a scene so beautiful that he couldn’t help but attempt to commit his vision to paper when he got back to the hotel. There he painted for three days straight, without sleep or rest. His concerned wife hovered over him, chiding him to take care, but his efforts only energized him rather than depleting his reserves. He had made a miraculous recovery from his chronic nervous debility.

For Ya­hon ­Chang, art is about appreciation and redemption, healing and understanding. His wife and help-meet’s sudden death of a heart attack in 2000 sank him into the depths of depression. His art was mainly toned black during those days, with abstract shapes evoking nirvana, prophecy, silence, and meditation. His “Shadow of Buddha” series depicts the search for a Buddha’s peace of mind that ends with the discovery that Buddha was in his heart all along. These paintings are done in shades of black, brown, and gray, dark colors revealing ­Chang’s immense pain at the loss of his wife. Consigning his widower’s grief to the canvas sustained him through those difficult days.

Making his mark with ink-wash art

Yahon ­Chang’s works are in the Chinese ink-wash tradition. Powerful strokes with a big brush on a large canvas or sheet of rice paper render creations reminiscent of Tang-Dynasty wild-cursive brushwork. He works on the floor, with no prior composition, in a spontaneous burst of creative emotion. Though tiring, this has become his form of stress relief. He also uses oil and acrylic, but always paints with ink brushes. This combination of Western paint with Eastern wild-cursive brushwork in bold, strong lines has brought him international acclaim.

Ever since he received an invitation to present a solo art show at the Shanghai Art Museum in 2000, his works have been shown in famous museums and national art galleries in Germany, Spain, Korea, Japan, and Italy. He painted on site at the 2015 Venice Biennale, covering the ceiling, walls and floor of the exhibition space with his taut abstract portraits of humans and animals, some screaming, some closed-eyed in contemplation, some confused—outsized ink-wash masterpieces that drew viewers into a distinctively philosophical artistic space.

Making friends through art and tea

Chang merged his two loves, tea and art, in a teahouse on Yong­kang Street in Tai­pei. His paintings grace the walls of Ya­hon Tea and Art Space. Just as the artwork isn’t for sale, the teahouse isn’t for profit: its sole purpose is to open a space for guests and friends to relax amidst the exquisite decorations, sample tea prepared by a tea master, and discuss art and culture with kindred spirits. The space has become a must-see hidden gem for many foreign travelers who wish to gain a deeper appreciation of Eastern culture.

His dark night of the soul long past, Chang’s paintings have in recent years become more colorful. Vivid depictions of alpine sunrises in red, yellow, and white have joined his fretful abstract portraits. It appears that he has found a refuge in the world of art, and is now sharing his joy, hope, and light with the world.

A passionate art lover, ­Chang wishes to show his art in all the major art galleries before he turns 76. Plans are in place for a show in Germany this year and for another in Milan next year. Future plans include the building of an outdoor sculpture garden in his hometown of ­Shuili in the hopes of showcasing pieces by diverse sculptors. He firmly believes that “good art transcends time.” ­Every stroke of his brush paints a glorious page in his life for the sake of his art. That little boy who loved to doodle in class lives on in the heart of Ya­hon ­Chang.                                             



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