Po Pin Lin | A Sense of Wonderment


Wintertime Truckee, oil, 24 x 36. painting, southwest art.
Wintertime Truckee, oil, 24 x 36.

By Norman Kolpas

About two years ago, while on a skiing trip with friends in the High Sierra town of Truckee, CA, Po Pin Lin looked up into the sky and beheld a sight he had never before seen in his 29 years: falling snow. “It was incredible,” he says with a smile, the awe he felt then still evident on his face.

Enthralled, Lin climbed a high hill that overlooked the community of some 3,500 people on California’s eastern border, just north of Lake Tahoe. “I wanted so much to see the whole view,” he says. The vantage point immersed him in the falling snowflakes and blurred the contours of the late 19th-century buildings on Commercial Row, Truckee’s historic main street, which stretched out below him.

Evening Approach, oil, 18 x 24. painting, southwest art.
Evening Approach, oil, 18 x 24.

Back home in his studio on San Francisco’s Sutter Street, Lin pored over the photographs he had taken from that hilltop. He recaptured his sense of wonder in an oil painting he titled Wintertime Truckee, a work so faithfully rendered and yet so richly atmospheric that, says Lin, “looking at it, I can still feel the coldness and I can still smell the snow.”

A powerful feeling of wonderment conveys itself to viewers of this or other canvases from Lin’s brush. To be sure, the works owe much of their impact to his mastery of composition, form, lighting, and color, not to mention his sure handling of his medium. Yet, another factor adds an intriguing element to the impact of Lin’s paintings: a boyish sense of discovery that leads him to charge up hills in the midst of a snowstorm. Every work of his however familiar its subject may be seems charged with a fresh sense of discovery.

Po Pin Lin. photo, southwest art.
Po Pin Lin

Lin has always viewed the world with an artist’s eyes, even before he was fully aware of his talents. Growing up in the idyllic rural village of Nan Toe in the center of Taiwan’s Formosa Island, his earliest memories are of “always being surrounded by blue sky, cotton-white clouds, green mountains, crystal spring waters, and colorful flowers,” he says. He came to regard nature “as my second mother, who has offered me the most generous and abundant part of life.”

Sightseeing, oil, 24 x 30. painting, southwest art.
Sightseeing, oil, 24 x 30.

Lin began helping out on his family’s tea farm at an early age. He remembers standing in the fields one day when he was about 5 or 6, watching art students from the local high school paint the surrounding landscape. “I was amazed to see what they could do with their canvases and brushes,” he says. “And I couldn’t wait to try.”

By the time Lin was in second grade, he had his chance. A beginning art class let him try his hand at charcoal drawing, and immediately his talent was evident. Soon his classroom studies began to pay off. In countless student contests throughout elementary and junior high schools, Lin’s works placed first. Gradually, he says, the realization dawned on him “not only that I wanted to be an artist, but also that I could be.”

Standing High, oil, 30 x 40. painting, southwest art.
Standing High, oil, 30 x 40.

He won a coveted admission to the respected Fu Shin Art School in Taipei, reserved only for high school students of exceptional promise. While still there, Lin began to submit his works primarily watercolor landscapes to student competitions and to national contests for professional artists. He won these, too.

After completing his studies at Fu Shin at the age of 19, Lin’s progress as an artist was briefly sidetracked by the call of duty, both to his country and to his family. First, he spent two years of compulsory service in the army. Then, in light of the support his family had shown him, he says, “I felt it was my responsibility to help them with the tea farm.” He opened a shop to sell their tea direct to consumers in the capital city.

Despite the shop’s success, however, Lin’s true calling eventually won out. “After a year,” he says, “I realized it wasn’t the thing for me.” Art was.

Two friends from Fu Shin had moved to San Francisco to study at the Academy of Art College. They urged Lin to join them. “I talked it over with my dad and made a decision to come here,” Lin says. He arrived stateside in 1994, a move that would finally propel him into the professional art world.

“At first, though,” Lin explains, “it was a nightmare.” His Eng-lish was poor, he’d never been so far from home, and his two friends in San Francisco, good though they were, hardly amounted to a support group. “But my goal of being a professional artist helped me,” he says. “To be an artist, you have to be a risk-taker.”

The risk gradually began to yield dividends. “Any artist has to be a good observer,” says Lin, “and San Francisco gave me a lot of new ideas for my work.” At the academy he began to work in oils. In his spare time, he visited the city’s outstanding museums to study the works of both old and modern masters.

Lin earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in 1998. Today, he continues to work on his master’s degree while teaching classes in drawing still lifes, figures, and landscapes at the academy.

His classroom and independent studies aside, Lin found his move to San Francisco most valuable for “the stimulation of new ideas in my work,” he says, both in the vast new variety of cityscapes and landscapes that surround him and for the multiculturalism of his new urban environment. By way of example, he points to a recent work entitled Sightseeing. Literally a world apart from the landscapes he typically produced less than a decade ago, it celebrates the very essence of his adopted city: steep urban streets, tightly packed yet hospitable houses, a cable car, and the sort of warmly glowing light that comes only when the sun sets into the ocean.

Not that Lin has forsaken his more nature-driven subject matter. He continues to paint landscapes to “reveal the beautiful side of life,” he says. “Some artists like to bring out only the darker side of life. But I like to paint the world as I see it.”

Lin’s worldview continues to win people over. He is an award-winning member of the Oil Painters of America. His paintings have been included in more than 20 student and professional shows since his arrival in San Francisco, and he is currently represented by several galleries. “The number of art galleries in Taiwan is very small,” he says. “There are more opportunities here for me as an artist.”

Those opportunities will only continue to grow as Lin completes his master’s degree and launches himself as a full-time professional artist. The never-ending process of growth is already evident in a recent painting he completed following a return visit to Truckee this past spring, after most of the snow had melted.

Once more, he climbed the hill, this time to admire the way the fading sun illuminated the red-brick buildings and surrounding foliage. The painting’s title applies equally well to his vantage point for the creating it and to Lin himself at this stage in his career: Standing High.

Photos courtesy the artist and Howard Portnoy Gallery, Carmel, CA; Lee Youngman Gallery, Calistoga, CA; Mountain Trails Gallery, Park City, UT; and Gallery Fifteen, Clovis, NM.

Featured in September 2001