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A Garden in My Heart

By Cao Rong

“I stood atop a tree,
Learning to fly like a bird,
Knowing that some things will never be possible,
But, I’m still keen to try!
The wind picks up, and I flap my arms,
Dancing in the wind…
Feeling the unparalleled bliss.”
Taken from Jimmy Liao’s A Garden in My Heart

In early 2018, Taipei was a scene of persistent rain and chilly temperatures. What filled me with warmth was running into Jimmy Liao at Locus Publishing. He was just there browsing an exhibition about his 20-year creative odyssey.

“What books would you put into a time capsule to be opened 20 years later?” That was the question in books.com.tw’s reading campaign for Taiwanese high school students in 2015. For many students, it was Jimmy’s picture books. If there is a bookstore selling Chinese books anywhere in the world, chances are you will be able to find Jimmy’s books. His more than 60 books have been translated into dozens of foreign languages and are sold in more than 20 countries.

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Jimmy Liao at Taipei International Book Exhibition 2018

Picture Book + Words = A Rediscovery

Jimmy makes the complicated world less so through his drawings, and adds a magical touch with words that allegorise life’s various scenarios poetically, expressing the complex relationship between humans and the environment, and conveying the desire of adults to experience unfettered emotion again.

Picture books are typically meant for youths and children. Picture books for adults were nonexistent when Jimmy started publishing years ago, prompting him to joke during the salon that he had started a new genre.

The soul-searching element contained in Jimmy’s works resonates with many adult readers, who are caught in an endless quest of discovery in a fast-paced world. However, Jimmy does not publish with a specific audience in mind as he is purely expressing his passion for drawing.

An Endless Stream of Inspiration

How do art masters turn a blank canvas into a world of expression, with seemingly no boundaries?

“Creative work is an opportunity. Age is no issue but the surroundings must be conducive,” Jimmy revealed. His 20-year journey beginning in 1998 has not been smooth-sailing, but he takes it in his stride. “I build a secret path from scratch every day, and enjoy exploring this meandering path.”

Jimmy is currently travelling on more than 50 such paths simultaneously. An endless stream of inspiration supports his creativity. To him, his biggest challenge is to turn the plethora of inspirations that have popped up at different periods in various forms into reality.

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Jimmy Liao’s “A Garden in My Heart”

An Artist with Foresight

Ambitious and blessed with foresight right from the beginning of his creative career, Jimmy set his sights on finding a publisher that could bring his books out of Taiwan. Locus Publishing took up that challenge.

Although the uncertainty of life is a common theme in his works, Jimmy views such uncertainty as the norm. Seeing art as liberation, he uses blue as the base colour for many of his illustrations not only to represent gloominess and uncertainty. It is the colour of the ocean, the sky, a lifetime of experience, eternity, tolerance, and love. Likewise, without any indication that his picture book, A Fish With A Smile, was created for the medical staff who battled with him through his illness. To me, Jimmy seems to be swimming with his paintbrush from the fish tank towards the sea of freedom.

Jimmy attributes his success to luck. In reality, there is more than just luck. His picture books have inspired readers to find a direction in the midst of uncertainty countless times, encouraging us to keep trying. Eventually, a garden will blossom in our hearts.

(Translated by Shawn Pang)

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