By Professor Wong Shiu Hon*
I am very much honoured to be invited to say a few words on Chen Ping and his works.
Chen Ping was born in 1962 in Shantou, China and is now working in Beijing and Australia. In 1981 he obtained a certificate from the Sub-High School, Guangzhou Academy of Fine Art, China. In 1985 he was awarded the Bachelor of Fine Art (Education) by the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Art. Later in 1997 he was awarded the Bachelor of Fine Art (Painting) by the School of Art, University of Tasmania, Australia. Since then he has been actively involved in the art circles in Australia and China and has held a number of exhibitions in various cities in Australia, China, United Kingdom and United States. His works are now housed in numerous art galleries and private collections all over the world. It is with great pleasure for me to state that Chen Ping is now a well-known artist in oil painting in Australia and China!
I have not known Chen Ping in person for too long. As far as I can remember I came into acquaintance with him in less than a year’s time. But I was well aware of his works long before I came to know him personally. It was just about a year ago when I met Chen Ping unexpectedly in a lunch party. During the course of the meeting we had a lengthy and in-depth conversation and since then we became good friends. As both of us have a passion for art, though the media we use are different. Chen Ping uses oil to express himself while I use Chinese inks.
It really gave me great joy today to appreciate the art works of Chen Ping. It is my personal feelings that , to a certain extent, the form of Chen Ping’s works has reflected the influences of a number of western masters such as El Greco, Giacometti, Modigliani, Francis Bacon and above all Willem de Kooning. It is my strong belief that the style of Chen Ping’s works has been influenced immensely by Willem de Kooning. But, it may just be a coincidence.
I have also noticed that Chen Ping has placed significant emphasis on brush-work in his paintings. This is a blatant evidence that he is greatly influenced by traditional Chinese painting and Chinese calligraphy. Since the early 5th century, Chinese artists have been emphasizing two very important principles in Chinese art, namely, the Rhythmic vitality and lively movements, and Structural method in the use of the brush. It is only through the Structural method in the use of the brush that the artist can achieve the Rhythmic vitality and lively movements in painting. Now Chen Ping has achieved this. In fact, all great masters in the history of Chinese painting were able to attain this objective!
To me, there are two notable realities in many of the paintings of Chen Ping, for example, reality + illusion, substance + emptiness, body + spirit, existence + destruction, subject + shadow, West + East. That means there are Reality A + Reality B. But at the same time I feel that –I really feel that there is “another reality” behind them. The Other reality is neither Reality A nor Reality B, it is Reality C, that is, the product or the result of the combination of Reality A + Reality B!
Reality A and Reality B in the painting are elements of opposite nature or opposite forces, now Chen Ping has tried his best or has exerted great efforts to bring them or pull them together. That is why in the works of Chen Ping, the images are very often distorted, sometimes even broken into pieces. They look a bit fragmentary! We can notice that there are cracks and even distortion in his works, the images are basically broken, we can see a bit here and a bit there. Although the brush works are broken, yet the idea or theme is intact, as we said in Chinese, this is “筆斷意連” . Similarly, in the works of Chen Ping, the images are broken, but the reality—the Other reality is there. Then, what is the Other reality? I consider that it is the artist’s uncertainty of two realities of different nature. It is in this uncertainty that the dream of the ancient Chinese ideal beauty and the doubt of the incidence of the presence of mankind are, at the same time, expressed. In each of Chen Ping’s works, he tries to convey to us the idea, the soul and his views on art. In fact, we can find in his works the ultimate reality of his art pieces, or rather the ultimate metaphysical reality of them.
In the book Dao De Jing 道德經 (Book of the Way and Virtues) written by Lao Zi, the teacher of Confucius, about two thousand six hundred years ago, there is a passage which reads as follows:
The “Substance” mentioned by Lao Zi is exactly the metaphysical reality we can now see in the works of Chen Ping, which are filled completely with full vitality. With his brush and paints, Chen Ping has succeeded to express this ultimate metaphysical reality .
Chen Ping expresses or shows the metaphysical reality to us with his own language of art, that is, his own techniques and his own style. Chen Ping’s soul exists in every piece of his paintings. About two thousand five hundred years ago, the ancient Chinese had produced a very sophisticated and well known treatise entitled Yi Jing 易經(The Book of changes). This book, as many of us know, has placed strong emphasis on the discussion of yin 陰and yang陽—the negative force or element and the positive force or element. These two opposite elements help to build up the whole universe and everything within the universe. The Yi Jing says:
The combination of yin and yang is called the Dao (the Way)
In many of Chen Ping’s works of art , as I have mentioned before, there are two notable realities, which can be compared to the yin and yang elements indicated in the Yi Jing. When Chen Ping pulls them together or places them in a harmonious state, they then become the Dao, the metaphysical reality or the Other reality. It is the “Core of Vitality” as emphasized in the Dao De Jing. Why? Because it is the life and soul of Chen Ping! Dao De Jing further suggests:
Since the Other reality is the life and soul of Chen Ping, it is undoubtedly “very real.” It has got an “unfailing Sincerity”! In fact, every piece of Chen Ping’s artwork exhibits his life and soul and indeed is Chen Ping himself. Or we can say that Chen Ping and his works are completely identical.
To make it clear and simple, I would like to say that every painting is a true expression of the artist himself. Or the other way round, Chen Ping can express or show himself entirely in every piece of his paintings. Let us appreciate them. Let us penetrate into the form in order to find out the metaphysical reality within it. Let us feel the “Vitality” within the metaphysical reality, and, finally, let us be touched by the “sincerity” of the artist towards art!
*Professor Wong is former Professor, School of Chinese, University of Hong Kong. Presently he is Honorary Principal Advisor, Chinese Arts and Antiquities, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Australia; Honorary Fellow, Jao Tsung-I Petite Ecole, The University of Hong Kong; and Museum Expert Adviser, Leisure and Cultural Services Department, Hong Kong SAR, PRC.