Plein air painting - Hsin-Yao Tseng artist
Born in 1986 in Taipei, Taiwan, Hsin-Yao Tseng became interested in art after seeing the drawings of a visiting cousin when he was 9. Today the artist makes his home in San Francisco.

Plein Air Painting > Hsin-Yao Tseng combines Eastern brush techniques with a Western sensibility to create paintings that exude attitude and atmosphere.

By John A. Parks

Born and raised in Taipai, Taiwan, and trained in San Francisco, Hsin-Yao Tseng brings a lively cross-cultural flavor to his glori­ously energetic plein air paintings. His brushwork has the decisive immediacy of traditional Chinese brush technique combined with a luscious Western sense of impasto. The subject matter melds dif­ferent worlds, too. Scenes of Taiwan depict Chinese lanterns glowing at twilight on narrow streets, or mountain villages of rickety wooden buildings clinging to steep hillsides. Scenes around the Bay Area show late model cars glinting in the watery light among apartment blocks and the accoutrements of American life.

Other subjects are timeless: waves rolling over rocks towards stony beaches, sailboats, harbors, and cliffs – the endlessly pleasurable world of the great outdoors.

plein air painting by Hsin-Yao Tseng artist
Hsin-Yao Tseng, “Aeolian Yacht Club, Alameda,” 2013, oil, 9x 12 in., Private collection, Plein air

Handling a wide variety of light conditions – from soft twilights to brilliant midday suns – Tseng masterfully incorporates a wealth of informa­tion and atmosphere, managing to suggest texture and detail without overloading or overworking the painting. The paint thickness ranges from juicy impasto to thinly washed overlays, giving the pictures a sense of depth, richness, and variety. The brushwork, always direct and committed, is varied in scale and attack, as the artist juxtaposes the most delicate touches with more aggressive, large-scale strokes.

Tseng also varies the edges considerably within each painting, softening many of them to a blur while using harder edges sparingly, often at the focal point of a painting.

Hsin-Yao Tseng, "Alameda Terminal," 2013, oil, 9x 12 in. Private collection Plein air
Hsin-Yao Tseng, “Alameda Terminal,” 2013, oil, 9x 12 in. Private collection Plein air. “Sometimes I do take plein air studies back into the studio and use them as reference for larger, more finished pieces,” he says.

In spite of the masterly quality of his plein air work, Tseng regards himself as primarily a studio artist. “I do plein air paintings as a break from my studio work,” he says. “When I paint on location, I not only can travel around and just enjoy nature in person, breathing fresh air and feeling the wind, but I also don’t need to worry about shows, sales, and all the pressures of marketing.”

The artist also enjoys the company of fellow painters on outdoor expeditions, finding it a welcome break from painting alone in the studio.

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