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Chen retrospective to show abstract genius
By Wang Jie

A retrospective exhibition featuring paintings created by Chen Cheng-Hsiung from 1953-2013 will be unveiled at the China Art Museum from next Friday through November 23.


Born in 1935 in Taipei, Chen is a pioneer of abstract painting in Taiwan. He has devoted over 60 years to the creation of modern painting and related theory. Famous at home and abroad, he has been called “the promoter of Taiwanese abstract painting”, “the godfather of abstract painting in Taiwan”, and an “adept wizard of color.”

One of the few internationally recognized Chinese artists, Chen composes pictures that weave the themes of his lifelong engagement with abstraction into a harmony of East and West, ideal and natural, abstract and traditional.

An invitee of the 1969 International Young Artist Biennial and the 1998 Shanghai Art Biennial, Chen has also been invited six consecutive times to the Florence Biennial since 1999. There he is the only Asian artist to have won its two highest honors consecutively, in 1999 and 2001. This not only affirmed his place in the international artists’ pantheon, but stands as a great encouragement to Asian artists everywhere. He was also named a Life Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in London in 1974.

The triumvirate of Zao Wou-Ki, Chu The-Chun and Chen became abstract painters during the historic decade of the 1950s and were consistently represented at the Salon de Mai in Paris.


In the mid-1980s, at the height of his creative powers, Chen moved in between turbidity and transparency, either sprinkling his paint or spreading it fluidly, sometimes splattering, sometimes etching. Like a magician waving a magic wand, Chen brought his works to life, sometimes mighty and imposing, sometimes light and nimble, but always joyous.

Chen said: “It is my aim to explore and communicate the only truth that I firmly believed in — the truth of inner experience (feelings, emotions, moods), and through the basic elements of painting and aesthetic form, to explore the mysteries of the inner world and transform invisible experience into visible reality.”

In 1992, Chen visited Moscow for the first time, as part of an international art exchange. This was his first among countless journeys abroad, but this trip unexpectedly brought about a major turn in his artistic life.

In many art museums, churches and even ordinary buildings in Russia, Chen saw many icons, with peculiar compositions. In the icons, there was a square frame, inside of which was a picture of the Holy Mother or of Jesus, surrounded on either side by other pictures from biblical stories. When he was looking at one of these center frames, the concept of a “window” flashed in his mind. This window was a skylight connecting to the sacred world.

After he returned to Taiwan, he spent whole days staring at the icons he had bought from Russian antique shops, gazing into the mysterious skylight leading to a different world.

One day, his son was teaching him how to use a computer. When the computer first came on, the Windows logo appeared. His son said, “Windows is the name of Microsoft’s operating system. You use this interface to enter the ‘digital world’.” Thus two series of paintings came into being, centered on the themes of windows and digital expression. This was a fundamental shift in direction, with Chen parting from his artistic life of the previous two or three decades and setting out on a new art path.

John T Spike, an American art historian and PhD at Harvard University, commented about the artist: “As Chen approached the age of 80, his new paintings are still infused by his lifelong pursuit of harmony.”

Chen once concluded about his art experience: “The creative process is a long, lonely and difficult road. An artist is not merely an adventurer, but a compulsive gambler with life. Artistic innovation is a compulsion of intuition. There is a lack of freedom in life, but abstract art allows the mind a freedom to adjudicate and accept aesthetic beauty, giving the spirit license to soar. I believe that the life of the artist is an intoxicating dream.”


Welcome party for artist Chen

Shanghai Daily, teaming with Panorama Art, will hold a welcome party for Master Robert Chen Cheng-Hsiung’sretrospective exhibition in Shanghai on Wednesday, October 29 at Grand Kempinski Hotel Shanghai.

This is part of Shanghai Daily’s Art Vision series of events. During the party, Chen will join guests to share a selection of his artworks and also his story in the art circle. Click HERE for more information about the welcome party and to see more of Chen’s works.

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