Portrait of an artist

15:16, April 28, 2010      

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Five years after his death the majority of Chen Yifei's paintings have returned to China and are now owned by Chinese collectors.

He was the first contemporary Chinese artist to gain international success in the 1980s, breaking new auction price records repeatedly. He was also the first Chinese artist into fashion, publication, home decoration and the movie industry.

The first memorial exhibition of Chen is now on Shanghai Art Museum and will run till May 9.

His younger brother Chen Yiming, who is also an artist, is art director for the exhibition. He says his brother had many dreams to fulfill but these were prematurely curtailed during the shooting of the movie The Music Box, in 2005.

"Chen Yifei grew up in Shanghai and lived here most of his life. His art practice is deeply rooted in the local culture, from his painting, to broader expressions on an industrial level," says Mao Hongkun, curator of the Chen Yifei exhibition.

The exhibition is made up of 58 oil paintings borrowed from collectors homes and abroad, 15 sketches provided by his family, and magazines and other publications under his name.

His art works have increased in value over the past few years pushing the insurance figure to 620 million yuan ($90.8 million) for the exhibition.

Born in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, in 1946, Chen graduated from the Shanghai Art College and became a professional artist at the Shanghai Oil Painting and Sculpture Institute, aged 19.

Thanks to his distinctive painting techniques, Chen became one of the leading Chinese painters in the 1960 and 70s, when he painted huge portraits of Chairman Mao Zedong and depicted the grand heroic events of modern China. Some of his paintings during that period are regarded as "red classics", and are in the permanent collections of many public museums in China. Paintings of this period are in the first section of the exhibition at Shanghai Art Museum.

Chen went to the United States in 1980 to study fine art in New York, soon winning recognition in the New York art scene. A few years later, when Armand Hammer, an American entrepreneur and owner of the New York-based Hammer Gallery, visited China in 1985, he presented a painting by Chen as gift to Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. The painting of two bridges in Zhouzhuang soon became known all over China, and boosted the tourism industry of the town.

The second section of the exhibition features paintings depicting water-town sceneries and portraits of Chinese women in elaborate costumes, as well as those from his time in the US, when he did many beautiful portraits with musical instruments.

Since the 1990s, his painting style changed and scenes from Tibet became his favorite subject. These paintings are in the third section of the exhibition at Shanghai Art Museum.

In the upstairs exhibition hall, his magazines and clothes from the "Leyefe" brand that he created are exhibited.

"Yifei was one of the first to become aware of the market potential of Asian artists," says Chen Yiming. "In the early 1990s he was involved in the first auction of contemporary Chinese art held by Christie's. Now that Chinese have started to buy art, many of his paintings, sold to Western countries many years ago, have been bought by Chinese collectors, and returned to China."

Source: China Daily


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