Unexpected Guest: Paintings by Chen Chengwei
Open between: November 1st-7th 2018. Opening time: 10 am to 4 pm.
Private View: November 1st 2018, 6 to 9pm.
For artists, the painting of a self-portrait is in no way as simple as a drawing exercise. A self-portrait is an artist’s mirror, and it proves his/her existence. The emergence of the self-portrait during the Renaissance signified the rising status of the artists in the field of the liberal arts. It implied artists were no longer being considered only as craftsmen, but as autonomous creators of ideas turned into visual artworks. In an era without photographic media, a self-portrait could only be achieved by those with the expertise to evoke a likeness. Self-portraits acted as the artists’ autobiography within an image, tracing their styles as well as personalities and recording the ebb and flow of their lives.
Chen Chengwei seeks to know and discover himself through self-portraiture. Vincent Van Gogh once wrote to his brother, Theo: “If one day I can paint my self-portrait well, although it is hard, then I can easily paint portraits of the other men and women in the world.” Yet, it is never easy for people to paint themselves, for no one can see themselves clearly. However, a self-portrait not only allows the artist to practice the finer techniques of their craft but it also probes into the psychology of images; it is the external manifestation of mental activities through self-observation. When artists can seize their hidden selves by depicting specific traits - the slight upward curve of a lip, a shy light in the eyes, or an eyebrow with a hint of gloom - they can begin to find these hints in “other men and women in the world”. For this reason, Chen Chengwei insists on painting self-portraits.
Chen Chengwei exhibits this bravery through his continuous development of the self-portrait. He sees his “Autobiography” and “Republic of China” series as an act of self-exploration. Chen’s early work depicts a direct self-display reminiscent of Rembrandt and the “Autobiography” series stands as a salute to this master of the Baroque Period. Echoes of Rembrandt’s compositions and emphasis on psychological insight can be seen in this series, adding drama and character to the artworks. Rembrandt’s series of self-portraits bravely record his sorrow, sadness, freedom, and dignity. Chen Chengwei strives to create a similar mood through his direct gaze and bold touch. By placing himself as a player in historical scenes, Chen utilises both lighting and layering as symbolism so to add drama to his work. The most prominent of these contemporary ‘history’ paintings is Chen’s depiction of Eileen Chang’s novel 'Red Rose, White Rose'. Using pictorial iconographical elements that mirror the symbolism in the novel, Chen uses these images to exhibit his mastery of the art.
Chen’s commitment to the exploration and portrayal of the self cements his importance within the canon of self-portraiture. This exhibition marks a pivotal moment in Chen’s career. His use of traditional European techniques to depict integrally Chinese themes marks him as a truly international artist. His presence at the Sunny Art Centre could not be more fitting following both the gallery and the artist's commitment in encouraging a truly global artistic environment.