MEMORIAL EXHIBITION OF PAINTINGS AND WORKS ON PAPER
12 October - 12 November 2005 Private View Tuesday 11 October 6-8pm
We have lost China's foremost living painter too soon. Courageous, intellectually inquisitive and stylistically adventurous through the years of oppressive conformity, Chen Yifei's first retrospective in his homeland - shown in Shanghai and Beijing in 1996 in his 50th year - justly became an event of national importance and impact.
Chen Yifei was fortunate in gaining admittance to Shanghai's High School for Art at the age of 15, emerging top of his class four years later to enter the Shanghai College of Art. Like so many others, he was caught up in the orthodoxies of the Cultural Revolution, painting portraits of Mao, drawing the picture books for conformist literature, designing propaganda posters for the Party, and was also made to till the land.
By the age of 33, he turned a corner with his full-length self-portrait seen from behind 'Thinking of History from my Space', 1979 - in reality a huge filmic panorama of 20th century Chinese history, freed at last from Maoist dogma. Reviewed in the US art magazine Art News, this painting paved the way for Yifei's first visit to America, where initially he earned his living as an art restorer. He stayed for four years, studying, exhibiting, and experiencing and savouring the many famous works of art in the original, some of which were already familiar to him from reproductions.
Films had been his other constant predilection - until then mainly from Russia and Eastern Europe - but now in the US he could explore and absorb the widest variety of
film imagery, techniques and repertoire to his heart's content. This had an impact not only on his subject matter but also on his painting style. Nostalgic evocations of traditionally-clothed Chinese beauties from the interwar years sat side-by-side with gritty, chiaroscuro-like paintings of traditional and poor figures from Tibetan life. Some were seen etiolated and distorted, as if viewed from a sharp angle on a film screen, others in hazily-edged, impressionistic detail, as if viewed too close at the cinema.
His tragic death at the age of 59, whilst working on his latest film, has left us mourning an artist at the height of well-deserved success. An artist whose international reputation was won through years of vicissitude and sacrifice that few in the West will ever have experienced at first hand - and yet whose art world career was capable of still more judicious surprises and challenging adventures.
The Directors of Marlborough Fine Art would like to dedicate this Memorial Exhibition to
the Artist's memory and to his heirs. We feel priviledged to have been able to work with Chen Yifei over the last decade and we hope this exhibition will be a lasting memorial to the passion and creativity of this exceptional artist.