|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following is submitted by Cornelia Seckel, publisher ART TIMES|
Profile: Chen Chi
By RAYMOND J. STEINER
ART TIMES July 1989
With the Eastern mind:
Peace, freedom, harmony, tranquility,
NAME MEANS "journey achieved," yet, at seventy-seven, he readily
acknowledges that the "way" still lies before him and that whatever
accomplishments he has made along the journey, there are yet more
surprises to come. A painter with the mind of a philosopher and the
soul of a poet (although he only admits to the title of painter), Chen
Chi's work seems of a piece with his life. Primarily a landscapist and,
above all, a watercolorist, there is in his work a sensitivity and
reverence for nature that has only deepened since his early training in
Chen Chi's "On a Tightrope" could well represent the
artist himself. Born in Wusih, Kiangsu, Chi studied in nearby Shanghai
where he was imbued with the all-encompassing approach to art that is
distinctly Eastern, an approach that expects the artist to have
"travelled 10,000 miles" and to have read "10,000 classics." The
Eastern "Master" is called so because he is first a man of virtue and
his works are admired not only for their aesthetic value but for their
virtuous character as well. The collector of Chinese art does not take
pride so much in the dollar value of his collection as he does of its
placing him in the company of such great and virtuous masters. Chi
himself taught these same principles to his pupils when he taught
painting in Shanghai at both Wu Pen (a girl's high school) and at St.
John's University where he served on the staff from 1942 to 1946.
Yet, from as early as 1930, when he became a member of the
avant-gardist "White Swan Art Club" in Shanghai, Chi was influenced by
Western art and ideas. And, although his first major one-person shows
took place in China, he was to travel to the United States through a
cultural exchange program in 1947, having many exhibits over the next
several years, garnering accolades and honors along the way.
Ultimately, this most Eastern of painters would take out US citizenship
in 1964. Yet, Chi, the man "on a tightrope," hovering over East and
West, feels that he never lost his balance, convinced today that he has
successfully avoided the label of either by merging the two distinct
influences in his art.
This balancing between cultures seems to
be reflected not only in Chi's approach to watercolor painting but also
in his ability to thread a path between objective and non-objective
work. Never totally figurative nor abstract, Chi's subjects, often
Western, are thoroughly transformed by an Eastern turn of mind. His
landscapes often with a figure or two unobtrusively included are less
replications of a particular scene than distilled generalizations of a
locale or motif. Thus, a hill of blooming azaleas in Central Park
becomes a swirling blend of pastel hues evoking a general feeling of
"azaleaness." This, of course, is the very essence of Eastern art to
capture the essential feeling of tree or mountain or blossom rather
than this particular tree or mountain or blossom.
leaning towards abstraction, Chi usually begins in nature, and in a
specific part of nature. Until recent years, he would paint en plein
air (or "on the spot" as he phrases it), choosing a motif as a
foundation for his finished painting. Today, he will make on site
sketches and do his painting at the studio, usually working on the
floor since he tends toward large paintings. Even in early days,
however, when his work was more representational, he sacrificed literal
'truth' for artistic 'truth.' While at his studio at the National Arts
Club in New York City, he recalled an event that brought animated
laughter to his retelling of it. During Japan's occupation of Shanghai
during the early 40s, Chi was painting a landscape "on the spot," in a
field not far from town. He attracted the attention of a Japanese
soldier who wandered over to look over his shoulder as he worked. After
some moments of silent watching, the soldier, who could not speak
Chinese, excitedly pointed out four trees in Chi's painting and five
plainly standing in front of them. Chi, who could not speak Japanese,
thought about the soldier's question for several moments and then hit
upon the idea of first pointing to the leaves in his painting and then
at those on the trees. Immediately, the soldier's face broke out in a
grin, thereby showing that he understood (perhaps for the first time) a
cardinal rule in composition: all art begins in abstraction.
Even at his most abstract, however, Chi begins if not with nature than
with an idea. A student of Lao Tse (among other Eastern philosophers),
he will develop a painting from a line, a thought or a teaching from
this great thinker's works. Thus, we have paintings such as "The Realm
of Zen," "A Thread of Fire," "The Tao," "Realm of Chuang Tse," "The
Great Sea Takes All" or "The Galaxy." If these paintings stand alone as
pure abstractions, they yet gain in a far more complex dimension when
we learn (and comprehend) their titles.
It is perhaps when we
look at Chen Chi's approach to art and to his materials that we find
the quintessential Eastern Master. An effusive and animated speaker,
the years seem to fall away from his countenance when he speaks about
his work. Not even the heavy topic of current events in Beijing which
came up during our sharing lunch could stay the obvious delight that
Chi takes in speaking about his art. Not even the fact that this
political turn of events meant the cancellation of a major show planned
for China this year (last year, he had a retrospective at the
relatively new Taiwan Museum of Art). Not that these events were taken
lightly. If such events saddened him, somehow the idea of art
transcended such transitory happenings. Art has a life of its own, only
vaguely connected to the affairs of man, abstractly tethered to history
as one of his paintings is to a particular locale.
Chen Chi, is timeless and more concerned with other arts than with the
ways of the world. The other arts, in fact, are much in evidence when
he speaks of his painting. A dancer performing in "The Sleeping Beauty"
lingers in his memory because her toes, gracefully pointing this way
and that, recall the delicate touch of the painter's brush on canvas.
The pianist's fingers, crashing upon or gently caressing the keyboard,
also evokes the painter's handling of the brush. Attending a recital,
the singer's voice suggests the image of a painted line of fire. Such
analogies merely touch the surface of Chi's conversation when he speaks
about the technique of the brush. Thus, the lightness or heaviness of
applied pressure, the thickness or thinness of a line, the lightly or
heavily loaded brush and the duration of its contact with the paper all
must be considered, weighed and carefully executed in the painting of a
watercolor. This, of course, after one has meticulously prepared the
colors with special attention to viscosity, tone and hue. Nor is this
all, for there is yet the properties of the paper upon which one paints
that enters into the total composition. For Chi, there can be no
substitute for Chinese papers which possess a range of absorbency far
surpassing that of all others. The painter, therefore, must intimately
know the properties and idiosyncrasies of all of his materials before
he can even begin to consider his subject.
Yet, not even
knowing all of this can guarantee that you will attain the status of
master. One's own sensibilities, garnered from those 10,000 travelled
miles and 10,000 studied classics, must govern the hand and eye so that
one does not end up, as the Chinese say, "painting a snake, finishing
it but wanting more, and so adding feet to it. Then it becomes nothing
not even a snake." This wisdom to know when a painting is done can only
come to that artist who tempers the control of his craft with a cosmic
overview which considers all aspects of the act and object.
must have the virtue of being able to look in all directions back as
well as forward when trying to capture the elusive mysteries of art. In
one of his several books, Chi writes: "I was painting a snow scene. The
second wash spoilt the picture some colors blotted the white blank
paper left as snow and delicate textures on the background. I was sad.
How true it is that in art the meaning of HOW is so important. It is
not only the end that counts, but HOW that end is achieved. It is as in
life, what is important is How To Live, not just what one gets at the
end. I tried to paint a second one, it was not good; then I tried
another, the third one again not good. I got weary. I looked at the one
I started. It was lying wounded. I gazed at it, I felt tears in my
heart. I gazed at it again I placed it on my easel. I used white to
paint heavy snow and so covered the blotting. Then painted trees,
branches Finally, I completed it. It came out not bad. I was happy! So
this is life. Art is full of contradictions!"
chance. For, over and above all the painter has learned about his craft
and his life, there yet remains that Lord of all, Fortune. Again, I can
do no better than to use Chen Chi's own words from his poem, "1967
A year has passed.
I took out paper
brought back from Peking
by my friend Ida Pruitt.
I made a first try
Poured a pot of blue
to paint a sea
The paper crinkled
Heaven formed natural waves.
I felt great joy!
To know when Fortune is working with you is perhaps the greatest secret of all.
Although Chen Chi has used several "chops" to inscribe his paintings
over the years, one of his favorites is a seal he once found in a
Friendship Store in China. Its character reads: "I use my way." For
Chi, his way is in reality no way for it is not a method one can
transmit to another. Indeed, each painting is an adventure which brings
into play all the various elements: the paper, the paints, the brushes,
the subject, the mood, the point of view, and, of course, chance never
the same as before and, thus, requiring a brand new "method" each time.
One must admit that for Chen Chi, this has been a highly successful
Not only has he exhibited in a great many group- and
one-person shows in the great cities of both the United States and
Asia, but he has long been gathering honors along the way. Among his
gold medals and awards from many national annual exhibitions in the US
are the 1955 American Watercolor Society's Special Award for the
Watercolor of the Year, the American Watercolor Society's 99th Annual
Grand Award with Gold Medal of Honor in 1966, the National Academy of
Design's Samuel Finley Breese Morse Medal and Saltus Gold Medal of
Merit, the American Watercolor Society's Bicentennial Gold Medal in
1976, the Artist's Fellowship's Benjamin West Clinedinst Medal in 1976
and the Gold Medal from the National Arts Club. His most recent
recognition was the Medal of Honor in 1988 from the National Museum of
History, Taiwan, Republic of China.
Chen Chi's works are
included in the collections of most of the major museums in the country
as well as in the collections of universities, foundations,
corporations and private individuals. He is a member of the National
Academy of Design, the Century Association, the American Watercolor
Society and the National Arts Club.
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Chi was born in Wuxi, Jiangsu, China in 1912. He first began exhibiting his work at the annual art exhibitions in Shanghai in 1940. In 1966 he received the National Arts Club Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement.|
Chi's works have been shown extensively throughout the United States and he was the first living Chinese artist to be honored with a one-man retrospective of his oeuvre at Versailles, in conjunction with the first World Cultural Summit in June 2000.
|Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, II:|
|Chen Chi (b. 1912)|
Born in Wu-sih, Kiangsu, China, Chen Chi enrolled in an art school that emphasized Western techniques rather than traditional Chinese painting. During this time, Chi sought new aesthetic expressions and ideals at a time when China was searching for a new life. From 1942 to 1946, he was an Instructor of Watercolor at St. Johns University in Shanghai. In 1947, he came to the United States, becoming a citizen in 1964. During the 1960’s and 70’s, Chi was a visiting professor at Pennsylvania State College and Utah State University.
During his long and successful career, Chi has received numerous honors, including the National Art Club Medal of Honor. A member of the American Watercolor Society, Chi earned their 1955 Special Award for the Watercolor of the Year, as well as the 99th Annual Grand Award with Gold Medal of Honor in 1996. Chi is also a member of the National Academy of Design, and a former director of the Audubon Society.
Louis Zona, the director at the Butler Institute of American Art stated "Chen Chi is the undisputed world master of the watercolor medium and has held the distinction since World War II. Every watercolor artist in the world not only reveres his work but has at one time or another been influenced by it. He is to the medium of watercolor what Olivier is to the theater."
Chi now lives in New York City, a town that has inspired some of his best-known work, including his watercolors portraying performances at the Metropolitan Opera House and paintings of Central Park at different times of the year.
His work has been shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in California.
In a letter commemorating Chi’s contribution to the art of New York City, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg wrote “Your ingenuity and amazing watercolors have inspired generations of artists, and your paintings of New York’s great treasures, including the Metropolitan Opera House and Central Park, are especially meaningful to our City.”
Reference: Tribune Chronicle 8/9/2001, http://digitalconsciousness.com/chenchi/chenchibio.html, http://www.elizabethwanggallery.com/,
|** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.|