Veteran artist never rests on his laurels

Wang Jie
Chen Jialing's new rendering "The Beautiful Equatorial in Jing'an," an ink-wash painting that stands 2 meters high and 5 meters wide, was unveiled at the Hotel Equatorial Shanghai.
Wang Jie

Veteran artist Chen Jialing never rests on his laurels.

In 2015, he walked down the red carpet at the opening of the Rome Film Festival for the premiere of the eponymous documentary “Chen Jialing,” produced by award-winning filmmaker Jia Zhangke. The documentary reflects changes in Chinese society as seen through Chen’s eyes.

In 2016, Chen created an ambitious piece “The West Lake Scene” — for the G20 summit’s main venue in Hangzhou.

One year later, he held a solo exhibition at the National Museum of China in Beijing.

In 2019, Chen’s Buddhism Art Hall opened in Shanghai’s Jade Buddha Temple.

“Although I am already 83, I still have an amusing heart,” Chen said. “I continue searching for more possibilities in both life and art.”

His new rendering “The Beautiful Equatorial in Jing’an,” an ink-wash painting that stands 2 meters high and 5 meters wide, was recently unveiled at the Hotel Equatorial Shanghai as part of its permanent collection.

Veteran artist never rests on his laurels
Courtesy of Hotel Equatorial Shanghai

“The Beautiful Equatorial in Jing’an”

“This is the first time that I’ve applied the traditional painting technique of depicting pavilions and pagodas on rice paper to depicting a forest of high-rises,” Chen said.

Born in Hangzhou in 1937, Chen rose to fame in the late 1980s, first gaining attention for his “Lotus” series, which fused traditional ink-wash techniques with modern flourishes.

Lotus flowers have long been popular subjects among Chinese artists, but Chen’s depictions in light hues and smooth curves distinguish him from his peers. He is noted for applying impressionistic and abstract techniques to traditional Chinese ink-wash painting.

“Lotus flowers are my favorite flower, because their beauty is born out of mud,” Chen said. “There is a famous Chinese saying — ‘Lotus is unsullied by the mud it’s grown from and remains plainly charming after washing in clean water.’”

For his new painting, he said: “I have a special emotional connection to Hotel Equatorial Shanghai.”

Five years ago, Chen fell while sketching in Taizhou, Zhejiang Province, breaking his leg. Because he thought it would be easier to live in a hotel while his leg healed, he moved to Hotel Equatorial Shanghai and has lived there even since.

“Frankly, I was quite down during that period,” Chen said. “A broken leg meant I had to lie down or sit all day long for several months, but I believe there was a reason it happened.”

Sure enough, 2015 presented Chen with a series of opportunities and awards. Due to the documentary about him, he was named “cultural ambassador” at the 35th Hawaii International Film Festival.

“Sometimes I wonder if my fall was a warning,” he said. “Were it not for my broken leg, I might have become arrogant from all the adulation I received. The key is to have balance in your life. I feel fortunate I had time to self-nurture with a clear mind.”

Veteran artist never rests on his laurels
Ti Gong

Chen Jialing does a sketch at the terrace of Hotel Equatorial Shanghai.

“The Beautiful Equatorial in Jing’an” features several familiar buildings, including the Shanghai Exhibition Center, Kerry Center, Jing’an Temple and Plaza 66. Chen imbues the work with a certain poetic ambience, as the concrete buildings are reminiscent of mountains in traditional landscape paintings.

“It took me nearly six months to complete the painting,” Chen said. “It was a rare experience in my life, as I was the only guest at the hotel for a period of time due to COVID-19. There are small black birds in the lower left corner of the painting. Those birds were originally errant ink splotches from my brush that I turned into flying birds, which I like very much.”

Unlike many artists, Chen doesn’t limit the subjects of his paintings.

“I don’t like to be stereotyped or repeat what I have painted in the past,” he said. “That’s boring. I like to challenge myself.”

Over the past two decades, Chen has blended ink patterns with porcelain, silk clothing and rosewood furniture.

“I am a wayward person,” he said. “Life is too short, and I feel my days are numbered. But I still have many things on my to-do list. Luckily, I was born with a strong body, so I continue to explore different possibilities.”

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