Chen Lianqing – 2007
Flooding the Forbidden City
Flooding the Forbidden City
In recent years contemporary Chinese art has become a hot topic at the auctions houses. When a gallery in Beijing or Hong Kong hangs contemporary works in their window, such as the “big baby” portraits, they immediately become popular. The concept of contemporary Chinese art came from the West and it referred to a new tide of art following World War II. Within contemporary Chinese art it is often hard to distinguish between what really belongs to this new tide and what are merely imitations.
During the 1980s and 1990s a few western journalists living in Beijing brought with them to Hong Kong some works by “nderground” artists. Most of these were painted on cheap canvases, using poor quality materials, the subject matter was dark and dull. We couldn’t sell these works from our gallery. I believe this was Chinese contemporary art in its initial stages. Xing Xing artists began to emerge from the “nderground” and later on came the Yuan Ming Yuan artists. Galleries in Hong Kong started promoting Chinese avant-garde art to the foreign market and international buyers started quietly collecting these works. Later on came the Song Village artists and early this century Yan Club became a pioneer in the area known as 798, which is now a hotbed of contemporary Chinese art in Beijing.
Among these contemporary artists were those who displayed their suffering, others merely imitated this suffering, some copied Western artists such as Hockney, Bacon and Warhol. But among them are also artists such as Chen Lianqing, who manage to skillfully express their own feelings onto canvas.
Lianqing was born in Sichuan Province – known in China as Paradise Province, although life there is actually tough. Sichuan people are sensitive and tolerant, but they also appreciate humour and their dialect reflects this humour. After mastering the skill of painting Lianqing was destined to become a pop artist. The fast developing China has its colorful, bright side, but the background to Lianqing’s paintings is grey, reminding us that there is another world existing. In his paintings there are always historic buildings and around these buildings are hundreds of small orange, very active men representing China’s mass of people. They do’t care about power. In the paintings they are pulling things down, having fun, causing trouble in and around the Palace. They are naughty, happy and very busy – typical Sichuan people. The little men swimming and diving in the flooded Forbidden City are even more interesting, but they also serve to remind us that Lianqing’s hometown was also flooded a few years ago.
Traditional oil painters often think that the technique used by contemporary artists of applying acrylic directly onto the canvas is too simple. On the other hand many traditional oil painters are incapable of painting without using a model. Isn’t this just as simple? Contemporary artists throw themselves into real life, they use real life situations to express their feelings about life. Their works therefore feel real and are easily accessible. All kinds of artists should learn from this.
When I was writing this article I met a director from Sotheby’s New York and I asked her what she thought would be the next hot topic after contemporary art and she said it will still be contemporary art, but just new faces. Good luck to the newcomers!
Fong Yuk Yan