Chinese painter Chen Lin talks about his deep ties to Laos and its people

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/12 18:33:39


Devout by Chen Lin Photo: Courtesy of Chen Lin

There are some artists who aim to make a long-lasting name for themselves in the field of art, and then there are some artists who want nothing more than to bring a little bit of happiness to people. Sixty-year-old Chinese painter Chen Lin certainly belongs to the latter group.

A majority of Chen's paintings depict the lives of ordinary people living in China or Southeast Asian countries. Due to the simple and straightforward nature of his painting style, his works have received a warm welcome around the world.

In June, an exhibition of Chen's works was held in Hong Kong as part of activities celebrating the 20th anniversary of the city's return to China. 

Interestingly enough, this Chinese artist is actually often associated with Laos, a result of the 15-year period during which his art focused on the scenery of Laos and its people.

Living in Laos

Although Chen went to art school, he never imagined he would find himself making a living as an artist overseas.

Like many in the Chinese mainland who were born in the 1950s, Chen had a stable job designing ads for a State-run company. However, he was laid off in 2000, a time when many State-run companies began restructuring.

The idea of heading to Laos was planted in Chen's head by a Laotian man he encountered one day while sketching the landscape in Xishuangbanna, South China's Yunnan Province.

"Have you ever thought about going to Laos?" the man asked him. Later he helped Chen to get a visa.

Chen's first trip to Laos in 2003 didn't go as smoothly as he had imagined. He ended up getting robbed and found himself lacking the money to return home to China.

To earn some money, Chen set up shop near the Mekong River and began drawing portraits for people. Charging only 5,000 Lao kip (60 cents) per painting, Chen's business attracted a large number of customers, who found that having their portrait drawn was actually cheaper than taking a photo and getting it developed. His business became so popular that sometimes the police had to get involved to help keep the crowd orderly.

To avoid having his customers wait too long, Chen decided he would paint each portrait in under 20 minutes. Soon enough, he found his skills had greatly improved. Two years later, he opened his first gallery in Laos.

Deep love

Chen has been to a number of countries now, painting his way from Vietnam to Myanmar and on to Thailand. Yet, Chen said his deepest feelings are still reserved for Laos.

"Laos is a home base for me. Whenever I go, I return to my gallery there, shut the door and paint," Chen said.

Chen told the Global Times that he has been deeply impressed by the honest, simple and warm hearts of Laotians over and over again.

He recalled that one time a young man he didn't know ran over to protect his works during a big rainstorm. Another time, a group of locals raised money to purchase all of his works for an exhibition.

"When I first started and didn't have any money, a monk shared his food with me and brought me paper and pencils. He encouraged me to keep drawing and painting, to not give up. I came across so many people like this, which has meant a lot to me," Chen noted.

Newspaper headline: Humble beginnings

Posted in: ART

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