Renowned Artist Talks at SF State
October 15, 2006 6:18 PM
Chen Chi Kwan's art, although heavily influenced by war, has been described as fluid and alive with his magical landscapes and imaginative use of color.Chen talked about his life's work in front of approximately 100 people Oct. 11 in the Fine Arts Gallery at SF State.
The event was part of the California Calligraphy Summit curated by Mark Johnson, the gallery director. The interview with Chen Chi-kwan was conducted by Chinese poetry and medieval Chinese studies professor Charles Egan, who translated the dialogue from Mandarin to English.
Chen is a Chinese artist and architect who was recently awarded the Eighth National Award for Arts of Taipei.
“Thank you to all of the leaders who have made Chinese culture a part of SF State," said Johnson, as he introduced Chen to the audience.
Guests of the event were shown slides of Chen’s work and he spoke of his motivation for each of the pieces in Mandarin, translated by Egan.
The first painting, titled “Put Down the Sword and Become Buddha” was inspired by Chen who, at 93 years old, has lived though three wars. Blue markings on the bottom of the painting of a solider represent bloodshed. Chen said he didn’t want to use the color red because it would have made the painting too violent.
Born in 1921 in Beijing, China, Chen studied architecture in both China and in the US until he took up painting. He has excelled in both fields since the 1950s.
His paintings have been featured in major museums in the US and in China, and an 80-year retrospective exhibition of his work was presented by the Beijing and Shanghai art museums in 2000.
Now a resident of Burlingame, Calif., he was soft-spoken when he addressed the audience. He wore thick, black-rimmed glasses and Birkenstocks while keeping his cane close to his side.
Frank Yee, a literature professor at the City College of San Francisco and a graduate of SF State, said he was very excited to hear him speak but couldn't hear him. Several other guests agreed and noticed that someone had placed his microphone on the wrong side of his jacket lapel. Yee, who was sitting in the second row, added that he could barley make out what he was saying because Chen was also talking softly.
Only part of the interview was translated from Mandarin to English for those who don't speak the language.
“The reason why calligraphy is so important is because it teaches discipline with brush strokes. There isn’t a single Chinese artist who isn’t good at calligraphy,” Yee said. He added that calligraphy is essentially the cornerstone of Chinese art and philosophy.
Calligraphy is very apparent in Chen's work. One painting shows a mother pig feeding her young. Egan pointed out it appeared to be painted in a single stroke.
Chen said the painting is meant to represent vulnerability, luck and vitality.
Many of those who attended the event were SF State students who are currently studying Chinese and calligrapy. The single-color painting of the mother pig was SF State calligraphy student Annie Kuo’s favorite.
"I think the painting is meant to represent vulnerability and vitality," Kuo said about the piece.
Kuo said she had never heard of Chen's work, but thought it was cool to be introduced to his art.
Chen wrapped up the event by answering questions from the audience and responded to a question regarding his incorporation of windows in his paintings.
“A window is like eye,” Chen said simply. He also mentioned that when he was an architect nothing made him happier than to paint.
Chen picked all of the paintings presented and in one particular piece, titled “Vertigo,” he talked about the piece as a twisted point of view, the fluidity of it, and he added that this type of work is rarely seen in Chinese paintings.
“The moving eye of the painting is what makes this one different and dynamic from western art,” Egan said.
Guests of the event were treated to complimentary dim sum and green tea following the discussion and were encouraged to tour the gallery.
The interview wrapped up with questions from the audience. One guest asked Chen if he might have missed big oppurtunities in the world of architecture while he was dedicating himself solely to his art. But Chen grinned and replied, “I’m just happy playing with paintings.”
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