Chen's attention to detail comes out in his works, and it's his ability to capture and refine ordinary scenes that makes his pieces magical

By Liu Dawei Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/6 15:48:39

Artist Chen Jinzhang     Photo: Courtesy of Chen Jinzhang

Chen Jinzhang's passion for his homeland is at the core of all his artwork. His landscape paintings have a purifying magic that can transport viewers away from the hustle and bustle of urban life to the peaceful tranquility of nature as depicted in the beautiful mountains and rivers in his artworks, helping people find the beauty in life.

In 1947, Chen, one of  the founders of the Lingnan School of Painting, attended the Guangzhou Municipal Art College where Gao Jianfu, a great art educator served as president. Today a landscape painter of the modern Lingnan School, Chen has spent 60 years honing his craft and developing his career. Looking back on his life, the artist is still just as passionate about his motherland, hometown, people and craft as he was when he first started landscape painting.

"Art comes from our life, and art is beyond our life," is still one of his many beliefs and his devotion to capturing magnificent rivers and mountains on his canvas is still very much alive. The delicate works imply a modern aesthetic consciousness of Chinese landscape paintings.

Traditional Chinese painting, as an essential part of Chinese culture, has a long history that is congruent with the development of Chinese civilization.

Since the Sui Dynasty (581-618), landscape paintings, which originally appeared only as figure paintings, had gradually become independent. At the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and the beginning of The Republic of China (1912-1949), traditional Chinese paintings gradually declined, and the Western style gradually rose with the New Culture Movement.

After the founding of China, sketching became extremely important. Guan Shanyue and Li Xiongcai, two master artists of the Lingnan School of Painting, adjusted their own artistic ideas and techniques and created many excellent works that presented the new era through that aesthetic approach. They dared to innovate and influenced Chen deeply.

Li Jin Cang Sang (Go through vicissitudes) Photo: Courtesy of Chen Jinzhang


Qiu Yan (The beauty of autumn) Photo: Courtesy of Chen Jinzhang

Chen also studied Chinese painting at Guangzhou City Art College for two years. After graduating, he went to Central South Art College to continue his studies. When preparing his final project for graduation, Chen thought his oil painting was better than his Chinese painting. So, he completed Chang Jiang De Li Ming (Dawn on the Yangtze River) as an oil painting and won the first prize in the five Cities Art Exhibition of Central and Southern China.

Chen graduated in 1956 and became a teacher at the school. He also became an assistant of Li Xiongcai, another great artist and art educator. Since Chen still had room for improvement in traditional brushwork, Li suggested that he imitate lots of classic works from ancient times to practice his basic skills.

In 1958, when Chen followed Li to Huangshan Mountain to sketch, he was overwhelmed by the grand landscape and used Western drawing skills like light and shadow to capture the scenery.

As a result, Li told him that traditional Chinese paintings use lines to represent things and drawing them should start with studying a single object and analyzing its structure; A tree, stone or pond can all form a drawing.

His words inspired Chen, and the drawing Li Ming (Dawn) can be viewed as a turning point in Chen's art career.

In 1961, the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts invited Li Keran to the school for an academic exchange, and his opinions on art impressed Chen.

Li Keran pointed out that artists should master the natural laws through sketching. Chen thought Li Keran's views were in line with Li Xiongcai's. Since then, Chen started creating through sketching.

He focused on the structures of natural things and observed and considered carefully. He drew thousands of sketches in the traditional Chinese style. The sketches represented different rock structures, clouds, waterways and trees. The aim was not only to accumulate creative materials but also to learn and master the laws of nature, the mountains, rivers, trees and rocks.

Yue Hua Ru Lian (The moonlight is like a silk ribbon) Photo: Courtesy of Chen Jinzhang


Tai Hang Chun Nuan (Spring on Taihang Mountain) Photo: Courtesy of Chen Jinzhang


Feng Yu Yue Qian Nian (Feeling the time from a tree) Photo: Courtesy of Chen Jinzhang

As time went by, Chen replicated different structures and forms of landscape and could create artworks from memory.

Sketching also made Chen realize that the ancient art masters' sketches did not copy the landscape and would not contradict the Western style of sketching if he could find a way to integrate them. He thinks traditional Chinese painting could teach artists how to use a brush and the laws of drawing, and the Western style of sketching can increase the sense of space and structure. Chen has proved that he can create the same or even better work with traditional Chinese painting tools in comparison to others who use Western skills and tools.

Learning skills from outside and cultivating inner inspiration has always been the fundamental law of traditional Chinese painting. The former is the direct source from which artists read and interpret real life. Although it contains certain elements of recreation, it is not equal to art creation.

Chen has a deep understanding of how important it is for artists to learn from daily life. He believes that life is the source of art creation and that only if one has a passion for life, can he create vivid work.

At the same time, artists should shoulder their social responsibility, which is bringing spiritual enjoyment to the public. As a result, depicting the beauty of landscapes has become Chen's ultimate pursuit in art.

Over the decades, Chen has created many works showcasing China's beautiful landscapes. Ordinarily, the landscapes he draws do not represent any specific mountain or river, nor are they simple copies of a sketch. They are his pure creation based on his understanding of nature.

Liu Xiaochun, a famous art critic, used to comment on Chen's work. "When drawing, the works are gentle, and after finishing, we can feel the grandness," Liu said. His comment correctly described Chen's works. 

Chen's works are mostly large. One of his most outstanding works is Qian Gu Jiang Shan Tu Juan (Landscapes of thousands of years), which is 10 meters long and 70 centimeters high. Another classic work is Long Teng Hu Yue (Flying dragon and jumping tiger). It was inspired by a visit to an army base where he saw the soldiers practicing on a dam. There are ocean waves, rocks, clouds and mountains in the painting. The layers are clear, and the sense of space and distance is brilliant.

Chen is good at capturing minute details about daily life that are too ordinary to be noticed by others. After artistic refinement, the small details become crucial points in his artwork. For example, in many rural areas along the Pearl River Delta, farmers use little boats for transportation. During their free time after work, they would rest in the boats. In Chen's Rong Yin Xia Ri (Summer under the shadow of banyan), a farmer rests in a small boat under a big banyan tree with a bamboo hat covering his face, which is vivid and lively.

Chen cares about ordinary people's lives. In 2005, he drew Shan Zha Hong Le (Hawthorns turn red). A hawthorn with ripe fruits is in the painting. There is a story to explain why he chose to paint it.

Once, Chen went sketching on Taihang Mountain and saw many farmers happily looking at a hawthorn tree. He asked them why they were so happy, and they told him that every 500 grams of hawthorns could be exchanged for 1,250 grams of rice. So, a good hawthorn harvest meant a good rice harvest. Chen was inspired and created the work.

Chen thinks that drawing landscapes is not about simply copying natural scenery but expressing the harmony between man and nature.

Chen Jinzhang   Photo: Courtesy of Chen Jinzhang

Introduction to the artist

Chen Jinzhang was born in 1929 in Huazhou, Guangdong Province. He is a professor and master supervisor at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts and an expert at Chinese landscape painting. Chen is the deputy director of the Chinese painting department, deputy director of the Lingnan Painting School Memorial Hall, a Guangdong Artists Association council member, and a Chinese Artists Association member.

He was named a National Excellent Teacher in 1989 and enjoys a special allowance from the State Council. In December 2015, Chen was awarded the Guangdong Cultural and Art Lifetime Achievement Award as the only Chinese painting artist.

Newspaper headline: Painting the beauty and love


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