What separates a great artist from the merely original is a uniqueness of vision, seeing the world the way no-one else does. For Kuo Kuan-hsin, this vision comes from deep with herself. Each painting is a spiritual revelation. For her the creative process is spontaneous -- not about concentrating, but about freeing her mind.
Kuo's paintings are hard to define. They can with justice be called modern, dreamlike, romantic and mysterious, but there is more to them than that. While they can't be called narrative paintings -- in other words, painting that tell a story -- each one seems to capture a theme.
"It's never my intention to tell a specific story or make an exact reference to anything. I'm just painting what I feel. The wonderful thing about art is that it's open to an infinite number of interpretations," says Kuo.
Kuo has been painting for 13 years. She started art school at the age of 22, at the San Francisco Art Institute, one of the oldest and best-known art schools on the West Coast of the United States.
What started her off on the path of being an artist, never an easy road to travel?
"I've always liked to paint. I've been painting since I was a child," she says. Her grandfather, Chang Hsi-ching, was a well-known artist. It's obvious he was an inspiration for her.
"He was a real artist." she says. "He led a very artistic life. He worked in pastels, oils and watercolors. Her whole family likes art," she adds.
She mostly admires other women artists like Remedios Varo, Tamara de Lempicka and Leonor Fini, who tend towards surrealism.
For Kuo, the creative process is an evolution. The 24 oil paintings in her new exhibition "The Dream Maker" took her two years to paint, from 2004 to 2006. She spends 10 hours a day, six days a week painting. It usually takes her about a month to finish each painting.
"When I start to paint, I don't have a clear image in my mind, just a vague idea, but I have ideas about colors -- red is passinate, yellow is joy, blue is compassion. The colors inspire the elements in the paintings."
Kuo's mixture of imagery incorporates eastern and western styles and can be attributed to her artistic development.
"I like European art, "says Kuo. "Spirituality is important in my art. I have not real religion, but I tend towards Buddhism. My art is an east-west cultural mix."
From Taiwan, she first arrived in Seattle in the U.S. Pacific Northwest to stay with her identical twin sister, Lori, who is also an artist. With no clear idea what she wanted to do with her life, Kuan-hsin took up painting. Her teacher suggested she had talent, and that she should develop this talent in an academic environment, with a view to becoming a professional artist.
At the San Francisco Art Institute, the teaching method centers on developing students' creativity and helping them to find their own voice, rather than concentrating on the technical side of art.
"I have called my show 'The Dream Maker,' after one of my paintings. I am also publishing an art book. The book contains 64 paintings from between 1995 to 2006. The inspiration for my work comes from spirituality -- it is about getting in touch with my inner self. Part of my motivation for doing art is that it feels like a form of meditation."
Kuo is also an art teacher. She says art is not about control, but about learning to let go. Adults often have trouble with this concept. "Children have much more ability to set their creative impulses free." she says. Adults tend to get too hung up on the technical aspects, she adds. "I tell them to take it easy, relax."
Kuo's show is at the Galerie Elegance, Taipei, which was envisioned as an outlet for Euopean art and artists in Taiwan. It's an interesting story. Kuo was looking for a job, and she met Mr. Lee, the gallery owner. He saw her art and her character, saying "You're not really a commercially-minded person. Why don't you paint?."
What does the gallery see in her paintings? Wang Su-chin, the manager of Galerie Elegance says, "Kuo's paintings seem to radiate light -- it's almost as if they have a light source in the back, shining through the paintings. The subtle gradation and range of colors give the paintings a vivid life of their own."