Taichung (CNN) – The people of Taiwan’s Rainbow Village are not ordinary homo sapiens, but brightly colored whimsical animals.
Covered in bright colors and funky illustrations from wall to floor, the 1,000-square-meter Taichung Art Park in central Taiwan has been a favorite with Instagrammers for its kaleidoscopic visuals, attracting an estimated two million visitors. visitors per year before the Covid-19 pandemic.
People not only visit for its aesthetics, they also love its history: the village was once on the verge of demolition, but a veteran’s simple gesture of painting saved it and gave it an even more glamorous second life. .
The veteran turned artist
In 2007, Huang Yong-fu, then 84, learned that his house was going to be demolished and the land was going to be sold to developers.
Born in mainland China’s Guangdong Province, Huang was constantly on the move throughout his life as a soldier.
He fought in the Second Sino-Japanese War, lived in Hong Kong, then joined the Nationalist Army on Hainan Island to fight the Chinese Civil War before retreating to Taiwan with troops led by Chiang Kai- shek in 1949 following their defeat.
He then served at an air base in southern Taiwan and eventually retired as a clerk at a recruit training center in Taichung. Since then, he has lived in a military village, one of many communities built to accommodate Nationalist soldiers who fled to Taiwan, along with their families.
An artist retouches a detail at Rainbow Village.
John Mees / CNN
To bid farewell to his nearly 30-year-old home, Huang picked up a paintbrush and began painting his furniture. Playful images of imaginative creatures and local superstars came to life one after another, crawling from her wardrobe, desk, and stools to exterior walls and neighbors’ abandoned homes.
He didn’t know that his fate – and that of his beloved household – was about to take an unexpected turn.
When students from nearby universities discovered Huang’s artwork, photos of the colorful buildings went viral online. The 11 houses covered in original paintings quickly became a photo hotspot under the nickname “Rainbow Village”, leading to a petition campaign to save it from demolition in 2010.
The Taichung City Government finally agreed to keep the village and turned it into a public park in 2014. Huang, now 98 years old and known as “Grandfather Rainbow”, was allowed to stay. and to continue his daily routine – painting the village and welcoming visitors.
Paintings of blessings
Wei Pi-ren, 68, has supported Huang since 2010 and shares his vision for the village. “We want this place to be fun, calming and romantic,” he told CNN Travel.
For decades, Wei has strived to preserve the culture of military villages and help veterans like Huang during their hospital visits. When Huang’s younger brother from Hong Kong asked him to take care of the veteran and his art, Wei founded Rainbow Creative and recruited young artists and staff to maintain the park.
The company’s artistic director, Lin Yang-kai, 34, has been painting and studying with Huang for nine years. He is also keen to help the veteran who “lived through wars and separation from his family, but still remains innocent and pure” to diffuse a positive energy through his art.
Grandpa Rainbow is pictured in his military uniform, brush in hand.
John Mees / CNN
“His wish is simple,” says Lin. “He wants people to enjoy their stay here. They can take pictures with the Chinese illustrations and blessing phrases and take the happy memories with them.”
Love and family are recurring themes in the village. Lin thinks they reflect what Huang aspired to but “was never allowed to have as a soldier in wartime.”
“The murals are mainly about family, love, success, friendship and health – a simple happiness that we take for granted and that we have never struggled to obtain,” explains Lin, pointing to an illustration of a happy family sitting around a table. “He finds comfort in painting them.
A legacy to last and prosper
Due to health issues, Huang currently lives in a separate place and rarely visits the village himself.
However, Rainbow Village – which has no more inhabitants – has developed a life of its own. It continues to evolve as murals are repaired and renewed by painters like Lin.
Five years ago, Wei and the team came up with an idea to ensure that Huang’s creative energy and spirit will not be limited by the size of the village or Huang’s health condition.
Lin Yang-kai, 34, hopes to take over from Rainbow Village in the next generation.
John Mees / CNN
“He was painting new things every day and we ended up running out of wall space,” Wei laughs. To solve the problem, Wei rented a warehouse and ordered custom stone boards for Huang to paint. “Grandpa Rainbow and our art team have created many new paintings on the boards. They can be screwed to the walls and displayed anywhere and anytime in the future.”
But Wei’s ambition doesn’t end there. The company plans to introduce Huang’s art to more people by building seven rainbow villages across Taiwan, depicting the seven colors of the rainbow.
“The villages will feature stories and food from military villages, and of course, Grandpa Rainbow’s murals,” Wei said.