“Local color” in art during Taiwan's Japanese colonial period refers to the depiction of distinctively Taiwanese features—scenes, climate, natural features, customs, and so on. However, local color was not only a matter of choice of subject-matter but also a construct of cultural characteristics. Western-style painters such as Ozawa Akinari (1886-1954) and Ishikawa Kin'ichirō (1871-1945) incorporated techniques of traditional ink paintings (which they referred to as nanga or “southern painting”) in their oils and watercolors to create Taiwanese landscapes with an East Asian flavor. Meanwhile, Eastern-style painters such as Lin Yushan (1907–2004) and Somei Yūki continued to use traditional materials but borrowed Western techniques such as impasto and bird's-eye perspective, but they were criticized as lacking the essence of Eastern painting, as their finished works looked more like Western paintings.
This study argues that Taiwan's cultural identity as a Japanese colony had two overlapping contexts within the broader context of East Asian cultural identity. The first was based on the establishment of this greater East Asian cultural identity, made possible by the commonalities among Asian countries and linked with a shared sense of belonging among different regions in Asia. Nanga or ink painting, with its emphasis on line, its use of void spaces, and so on, was the common cultural heritage of the region; it became representative of the spirit of Eastern art. The second context was based on presenting Taiwan as distinctive from its Asian neighbors. This was reflected in the selection of the materials used: in comparison with elegant Japan, Taiwan was coarse. Artists selected “southern” Taiwanese subject-matter that contrasted with that of “northern” Japan (banana trees, water buffaloes, acacia trees, etc.). Taiwanese cultural identity under the broader East Asian cultural framework had to search for aspects of homogeneity with other Asian regions but also aspects of heterogeneity—the two layers were independent, yet overlapping. In this way, Taiwan's pluralistic, diverse, and complex cultural identity was formed.
Drawing upon critiques and articles on the Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition (Taiten) in the Taiwan Nichinichi shimpō and other texts and historical documents, besides the artworks themselves, this study intends to explore various aspects of Taiwan's developing cultural identity during the Japanese colonial period, including the meaning of local color and new nanga. In so doing, the search for cultural subjectivity in Taiwanese art during this period is delineated.