“I never know what each painting will eventually become…”
Paul Zimmerman in conversation with Ming Franz
Paul Zimmerman: Tell us about your background. How did you become interested in art?
Ming Franz: I was born in southern Taiwan and grew up in a sugar plantation where my father worked as a steam engine engineer. I began studying art when I was eight years old with our neighbor, Mr. Tsai, an art teacher who later became a very well-known artist in Taiwan. Mr. Tsai taught me crayon, pencil, charcoal drawing, and watercolor. He often took me bicycle to surrounding villages to paint and hike. Through these outings, he taught me to observe nature, which had greatly influenced my work. As a child growing up in a rural area, I had to walk several miles just to school every day. I have hiked many mountains around the world, fueling my passion for nature, especially waterfalls, streams, rivers, trees, and birds. I have become a landscape artist because that is part of my life.
Over the years I have studied with masters of traditional Chinese painting, along with studies at community colleges in the US. In the 1990s I fell in love with Splash Ink art by Master Chan Dai–Chein, and began to study traditional Splash Ink with Master Paul Pei-Ren Hau. I also took a course “East Meets West in Art” with Professor Arthur Mu Seng Kao at San Jose State. They inspired me to explore Splash Ink painting.
PZ: How do you find the balance between traditional and contemporary?
MF: In the first 30 years I only painted realistic watercolor and Chinese brush painting. But in Splash Ink technique, I begin by pouring primary watercolor and Asian black ink on Ma rice papers and let the ink blend and merging. when paper is dried it creates an abstract form, I then look at the abstract form, let the colors speak to me, to determine what the subject would be. Then I enhance the painting to support the theme. I love the colorful abstract form which comes naturally to me. When I add objects to the painting (i. e. waterfalls, rocks, trees, birds, etc.), it becomes semi-abstract. This gives me an opportunity to use my traditional Chinese brush technique. It is a perfect fusion of traditional and contemporary art.
PZ: How do you identify yourself as an artist?
MF: I grew up in Taiwan studying traditional Chinese brush painting and western watercolor. I have been immersed in both Eastern and Western cultures all my life, which defines who I am. Splash Ink unifies the East and West, which is why I have been so attracted to it. What is different with the splash ink I do is that normally the artist has a subject in mind or sees a landscape or an object for them to paint. But with the pouring of the ink colors, I have no clue at first what the painting would be. As I observe and let the colors inspire me, I begin to form what the painting could be. Then I go about painting the objects and adding outlines to enhance the painting. I find this process interesting and exciting as I never know what each painting will eventually become at the start of pouring ink.
PZ: Your painting have a meditative quality. Is there a spiritual aspect to your work?
MF: My mother told me when I was a child, she would put me in my grandfather’s garden, and I would play all day until she came looking for me. She said that I often talked to flowers, and smiled when leaves fall. Having grown up in a rural area with nature all around has been a great influence in my life. I enjoy hiking regularly where I find peace and harmony in nature, which nurtures my inner spiritual being. Perhaps that is why my paintings tend to have a serene and meditative quality.
PZ: Have your practice changed over time?
MF: Yes, I studied all the basic traditional techniques — drawing, watercolor and Chinese brush in my earlier years. As a young adult, I experimented with batik, tie-dye, and silk painting. However, it is Splash Ink that became my passion and defined who I am. I had always wanted to combine East and West in art, and this medium is exactly the tool for me to combine Chinese brush with watercolor. In recent years, I began to experiment in Splash Acrylic technique.
PZ: What is themes important part of your work?
MF: Anything to do with nature, may it be birds, landscape, flowers, or water, all of which give serene, peaceful and harmonious feelings.
PZ: How would you define art?
MF: Art tells a story, provokes thoughts and stirs emotions.
PZ: Which artists are you most influenced by?
MF: My first teacher, Mr. Tsai Shui-Lin who gave me early training and foundation as an artist. Master Chan Dai–Chein, whose paintings inspired me and led me to Splash Ink. Currently, I admire the works of Bette Ridgeway with her spontaneous style.
PZ: What are you working on now?
MF: I am working on large size abstract acrylic and splash ink paintings.
PZ: How does the pandemic influence your work and sensibility?
MF: As my teaching load diminished during the pandemic, it has allowed me to have more time to paint. It has be