One City, Three Perspectives
Text: Alexandra Hartline Images courtesy of Karen Lee
Look outside your window. What do you see? Is there a flash of green plants from your neighbor’s window or the familiar stripes of your local 7-11? Have you noticed window dressing, stone filigree creating curlicues against a brick background? Or do you see rain-soaked grey walls highlighted by the bright flash of shop signs? These are the little things, the precious details that make Taipei endearing. But only if we notice them. I’ve lived in Taipei for three years, and to be honest, I don’t peek out my window as often as I should nor do I notice these small moments. Which is why I need a fresh perspective on the city I love and turn to the art of Leland Lee, a 25-year old Taiwanese artist diagnosed with autism when he was just eighteen months old. Bright and exuberant, Leland’s paintings are the creative windows that help me see Taipei in a new way. Through Leland’s three paintings entitled Town Plaza, Taipei 101, and Winter 1, I rediscover what I love about city life with all its buzz and chaos.
Town Plaza is an inviting look into the busy atmosphere of social spaces. A man sits perched on a wagon wheel as cowboys and police officers ride by on horseback. Bright flags hang from windows, and just opposite them, a branch with lime-green leaves reaches out toward the crowd. An imposing building, much like Taipei’s Presidential Office Building, stands in the background against a sky full of tumultuous yellow, pink, and purple clouds. Town Plaza provides a vibrant, refreshing take on the red and white Presidential Office Building I know so well.
When I first moved to Taipei, I made an effort to look at Taipei 101 every day. With its distinctive color and bold shape, looking at the 101 made me feel rooted in my Taipei life. Unfortunately, I got lazy, and I can’t tell you if I look at it every day. Leland’s Taipei 101 stands in stark contrast to the 101 I used to look for every day. In this painting, a soaring Taipei 101 made up of composite multi-colored squares stands tall against an orange background. Two strokes of green paint curl out from the top of the building. Stylistic C’s, G’s, and E’s dance around the building’s edges. It’s a playful representation of my favorite skyscraper.
Winter in Taipei is my least favorite time of year. In Taipei, it’s gray and slightly cold, or at least too cold for this California girl. Winter 1, another of Leland’s paintings, is a cheerful depiction of a Taipei winter. His grandparents’ Astoria Confectionary Shop is brightly lit with a jigsaw façade of vibrant turquoise, pink, blue, and yellow rectangles. A line of men and women wearing formal suits and dress streams out of the shop as a Christmas wreath twinkles from above the doorway. Two children, a boy and a girl, play with a sled. The painting seems like it could be out of a Dickens’ novel if not for the vintage car chugging down the road in the background. Winter 1 provides an eclectic image of people and things of another century rooted in the hustle and bustle of Taipei. It’s a pleasant scene that buoys me on the grayest of Taipei days.
Leland Lee’s images are well-known not just in Taiwan but throughout the world. In November, he and his mother traveled to the Vatican, where he met Pope Francis and participated in Animating Hope, an international conference on autism spectrum disorders. The conference focused on the gifts autistic people bring to the world. Leland’s work was on display, and most importantly, he met Pope Francis. Recently Leland and his mother were in San Francisco, California for the opening of an exhibition of Leland’s work in the Main Library of the San Francisco Public Library system. His work will be on display there until April 23 to inspire others. After looking at his work, I also feel inspired to create. The bold colors, energetic images, and lively city scenes help me to appreciate Taipei and by closely viewing his Town Plaza, Taipei 101, and Winter 1, I can see more vibrancy and color in the city. Leland’s work is a breath of fresh air that allows me to see the world in a different way, and I hope you do, too.
For more articles visit our COT Magazine