I got to know the artist Chen Chengwei a decade ago when he had just graduated from the China Academy of Art. At that time, he was busy with teaching some students earnestly while working on an easel painting quietly. With the highest score in the professional course among all students enrolled by China Academy of Art that year, he is no doubt a gifted talent. I once asked him about his favorite artist, Rembrandt was his answer. After a decade when abstract works are making a hit in art market today, he still persists in working on the easel painting. One should try to be a master in the field he specializes in. To reach this goal, he has worked diligently and tirelessly for a decade. I ask him again about his favorite artist, Rembrandt, the answer is the same.
We had talked about pre-life. He told me that he met an old man who listed several forms of his pre-lives during the journey in foreign countries. Born in different eastern and western countries of various environments, the pre-lives of him had followed diversified courses of life. In fact, he had entered a unique unit, namely creating the portrait for himself, as early as several years before he met the old man. This is a series of exploration of the integration of “dramatic effect” “real substance”. It is not sure whether there is a pre-life for human beings. If there is pre-life, different self-portraits in his “self-portrait series” created since 2004 perhaps actually existed in his pre-lives.
Chen told me that he born a resemblance to Rembrandt with the natural curly slight blondhair at his twenties. There could even be an inner conversation between the two during the creation which was as natural as talking to another self. Therefore, he created the work Self-portrait-A Tribute to Rembrandt in 2015.
Among his self-portraits, Rembrandt had never tried to varnish his aged face, a direct illustration of human nature; because he thought that a perfect image doesn’t mean anything. So does Chen Chengwei. His self-portraits present his naivety, proud, loneliness, hesitation, exhaustion, and so on. Just like this solo exhibition, he hopes to show us his rich and vibrant life in artistic exploration. I have visited his studio to observe his creation. He should spend a long time on the repeated painting of each work. Every detail is processed for many times. The outline and details of the character are endowed with new life by his unique artistic skills. For example, everything that can show the emotion of the character like expression lines, eyes, and so on, is properly painted. If you appreciate it carefully, you will find that his work not only displays a unique aesthetic value but also embodies much complex narrations and emotion. This is something unique as an artist.
The gorgeous costumes, the faces fragmented by light, the loneliness in the eyes, and the strong contrast in the works of Rembrandt have deeply influenced the creation career of Chengwei. He shows great respect for Rembrandt, yet he doesn’t want to imitate him. With the passion for Rembrandt flowing in his blood, he makes new creations on the basis of the reality. He began to create the Great Republic Period series in 2012. With himself as the best model in the works, he integrated his self-portraits with the elements of the Republic Period and presented it to the audiences with a completely astonishing form. There are kind people as well as evil people in the picture, yet it is hard to tell who is kind and who is evil in the mysterious atmosphere. Without revealing the actual identity of the characters in the painting, he wishes that the audiences can make their own judgment. The first picture of the Great Republic Series was completed in 2012. The one dressing like a spy is using a flashlight to shed light on a Party emblem and there is the shadow of a mysterious hand on the upper right corner. Those with vicious look are showing a sense of justice. The works with unique features are rich in dramatic color to provide immense space for people’s imagination. Every work of his is thought-provoking and grips the imagination of us. The greatest disaster of artists is to be out of creativity and imagination, yet he is rich in both, which makes him stand out of his peers.
In recent years, he began to pay attention to ancient Buddhist statues. He collects Buddhist statues and engraves their solemn faces and graceful gesture of these statues on his mind. Through absorbing the skills for making ancient Buddhist statues and their features, his mentality is gradually promoted onto a higher level.
I was deeply impressed by one sentence of him, “Painting is like my wife. I live for painting”. He kept his words in the past decade. An artist with such great persistence should be a good one. I am really looking forward to the next decades of Chengwei’s art life.