HONG KONG - The remarkable thing about the Chen Yiming: The World of Mortals – Dreamland exhibition at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery (15 - 29 April 2015) isn’t simply the breadth of style and technique – it’s the fact that the raw, erratic metamorphosis is taking place right before our eyes. In recent years Chen has been undulating between the exquisite cinematic realism that links him to brother Chen Yifei and his own maturing brand of melancholy abstract realism. Going back and forth between interior and exterior, lush nudes and desolate landscapes, Chen’s transformation is touching precisely because of its fitfulness: we are witnessing every step of the artist’s explorations as he carves out his painterly voice.

Chen Yiming's Transitory Moments 2012.

Parallel to the artist’s move from realism to abstraction is a migration from idealistic beauty towards an unflinching study of the female form. Elegant qipaos are replaced by folds of flesh; coyly poised sitters strip and lounge about in an overtly post-coital fashion. But the wanton figures are somehow still graceful – ethereal and glowing under Chen’s expert brush. In Entangling Dreams (2012), a naked woman stretches across a hotel bed in luxurious abandon while a bespectacled suit smokes a cigarette in the corner. Chen’s women are free, relaxed, uninhibited; his men, perhaps a caricature of the artist himself, pensive and reserved. And then the male figure disappears completely in Transitory Moments (2012) – peering over his lady’s shoulder, he is reflected in the mirror but mysteriously not present in the room itself.

Chen Yiming's Life is Like a Dream, 2014.

But Chen’s formidable brushwork, courtesy of his incessant drive to experiment and reinvent his craft, is perhaps best displayed in his abstract landscapes. While still portraying classical themes, Chen’s canvases swirl with motion and fresh energy, successfully re-interpreting conventional Chinese landscapes with a striking new aesthetic.

LEAD IMAGE: Chen Yiming's Entangling Dreams, 2012 (detail).