Born in 1937 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Provence, Chen Jialing is an important artist in the New School of Shanghai Painting. Early in his career he graduated from the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, where he specialised in figure painting and studied under the tutelage of Pan Tianshou and Lu Yanshao. Early on, Chen Jialing, together with Qiu Deshu, co-founded one of the first experimental art societies, named CaoCao Shehui (Grass Society), an independent artists’ group that sought to reinvigorate ink art. Qiu Deshu’s piece Fissuring series (Lot 15) is typical of the unique fissuring (liebian) painting collage style that he created at the time. Later on, Chen focused on flowers and birds, and created his own distinctive ink-wash style, which incorporates Chinese wisdom and motif with elements of Impressionism, Abstract Expressionism, and Expressionism.
Chen Jialing’s paintings distinguish themselves from the usual categories of freehand paintings of flowers and birds. Their enticing style diverges from and then re-assembles back into the original subject. Making full use of ink washes and paper seepage, he has pioneered a new aesthetic space for Chinese artistic expression.
In Flowers and Birds (Lot 32), a collection of twelve of Chen Jialing’s finest paintings, the paintings— plum flowers, small birds, an ox, lotus flowers, or green bamboo—appear childlike and playful - yet impart an original and profound understanding of the relation and movement between brush, ink, and paper. He is not constrained by brush or compositional techniques, but rather, allows colours and shapes to apply themselves naturally penetrate the paper.
In the foreword, Chen Jialing describes his method of creating in unregulated, light and dark calligraphy:
“Inspiration is just being sensitive to one’s spiritual energy and transforming the fortuitous into the required. It is spiritual energy that makes the light, ever full of inspiration, inexhaustible, and it is spiritual energy that gives the continuous discovery of the fortuitous, order. Spiritual energy is the source of all the artist’s creativity. By means of spiritual energy, the artist can transform decay into a marvel, generalise from one instance to other cases, draw wonderful analogies, and display the curious and the beautiful. This is spiritual transformation (lingbian), and spiritual transformation is the crux of art.”
Lang Shaojun appraised him thus: “Chen Jialing’s works display a distinctive effect of light ink and light colours penetrating sheng xuan rice paper. This creative development of traditional “outline-less” painting gives the painting a hitherto unknown understatedly elegant, ethereal, gauzy quality. This resembles the literatus Li Bai’s aesthetic ideal of natural beauty and even more closely exemplifies Huang Yue’s notion of paintings that are ‘empty, ethereal, and possess the primordial obscure spirit,’ or paintings where ‘the smell permeates the furnace, the flames have died out, and all is smoky.’ ”1
In 2013 “The Realm of Transformation: An Exhibition of Chen Jialing’s Art” was exhibited at the National Museum of China. Chen Jialing thus became one of the few artists to have an individual exhibit at the National Museum. In 2014, Jia Zhangke’s documentary Chen Jialing was presented in an honorary showing at the Ninth Rome International Film Festival. The documentary uses a realistic narrative focus to explain the life in art of Chen Jialing, master of the Shanghai school, and his pursuit of the Chinese dream. This is the first time that a biographical narrative of a contemporary Chinese artist has aired at such an important international film festival.
1 Lang Shaojun, Biange, shenshi, shenghua: Lüetan Chen Jialing de yishu tansuo (Change, Examination, and Sublimation: A Brief Discussion of Chen Jialing’s Artistic Explorations) (2007)
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