When Eric Chiang moved to Westport in 1993, he lived across the street from the legendary illustrator Howard Munce.
Growing up in Taiwan, Chiang had loved art. But he didn’t know anyone who made a career of it. So he went to New York University, majored in computer science and math, earned a master’s, and got a “normal job” as a programmer and financial modeler at Goldman Sachs.
Watching Munce — then in his 80s — create sculptures outside, even in winter, intrigued Chiang. He watched with added interest as Leonard Everett Fisher — another iconic artist — came to visit Munce.
Chiang realized that Westport’s arts legacy lived on, in the spirit of real, working artists.
Around 1997, he carved out half an hour or so every night to create art. He had no formal training. He did not have an actual studio either — just a small easel in a corner of his living room.
But after nearly a decade, he’d accumulated plenty of works. He had ideas for many more.
Chiang wanted no regrets. He decided to leave Wall Street. His wife gave her blessing.
In 2007, Chiang became a full-time artist. His painted realistic objects, arranged surrealistically.
In the past few years he’s moved into less precise landscapes. His works are big, and tied to his love of nature.
For example, he says, he always wondered what would happen if the earth wrote a story about itself.
To keep his hands off the work — he wanted the art to be as primordial as possible — Chiang sprayed paint to represent rain, storms and the erosive process at work. To mimic gravity, he tilted the canvas.
The resulting “Land Scripts” series of more than a dozen paintings is 50 feet wide.
Chiang applied the same technique to “Water Scripts,” a series of 12-foot high waves and waterfalls.
Another work fills a large space at Coleytown Middle School. When Westport Permanent Arts Collections officials realized they had nothing suitable to hang near a staircase and skylight in the newly renovated school, they asked Chiang to help.
He presented 5 options. Students chose an intriguing work called “Are We Born Connected?,” which included guitars.
When that was selected for an exhibit at the Housatonic Museum of Art, the second choice — a 16-foot, 4-panel “History of Civilization” — took its place.
Not all of the artist’s creations are enormous. His most recent work — “Westport: A Perspective From Early Days” — is one of 5 murals unveiled this month at the Main Street entrance to Bedford Square. His depicts the earliest days of our town.
This mural brings us into an imaginary world back in the early days of Westport, when the Paugussett Indians occupied the area with a farming and fishing culture. Then the European traders came to transact with the indigenous tribes, just to be followed by the English colonists, who built towns, church, and farms.
From there, someone in the painting invited us to peek into the future – Let’s go over the bridge and see a bigger town and a much greater nation in the making.
Inspired by Howard Munce and Leonard Everett Fisher — and his own career change — Chiang is a firm believer in the importance of arts to Westport.
“It’s less about the exhibits and displays, than the spirit of the people,” he says. “And it’s not just visual artists. It’s musicians, dancers and writers. Their activities make the whole town artistic.”
In Taiwan, Chiang had no role models. In his first years as an artist here, he worked alone. But when the Westport Artists Collective began in 2014, he was an avid founding member.
He is eager to keep passing Westport arts’ “spirit and culture” on to future generations.
Meanwhile, visitors to Bedford Square — and hundreds of students at Coleytown — are enjoying Eric Chiang’s work.
A long way from Taiwan — and Goldman Sachs — he enjoys creating it too.
(To see more art at Eric Chiang’s website, click here. Hat tip: Kris Szabo.)