CHEN CHI, b. 1912
High Noon, New York
Watercolor, 38 X 35" (96.52 X 88.90 cm.)
Signed, lower left
Chen Chi was born in Wusih, a small community near Shanghai, China. Due to his father's financial difficulties in the silk business, in 1926, Chen Chi moved to Shanghai where he was employed in an oil pressing factory. The owner of the factory, having children the same age, allowed Chen Chi to attend their classes. In 1931 he enrolled in an art school that emphasized western techniques rather than traditional Chinese painting. The establishment of the Chinese Republic, in 1912, coupled with the opening of China to the West, which had begun in the nineteenth century, heightened his awareness of Western ideas and art trends. Chen Chi, recalling his early training stated, "We were wanting a more modern painting.... There was already this direction in the modern cultural movement. And with art, we did not want to go back to the Chinese traditional style, although we had such a strong tradition of it.... I belonged to the younger generation, and we wanted ... the modern style."'
Chen Chi came to the United States in 1947 and became a citizen in 1964. New York City, his home since arriving in the United States, and his extensive travels to many parts of the country provide an inspiration for his work. Pearl Buck, in speaking of Chen Chi stated, "Few artists can be transplanted from their own culture and find new inspiration in an environment originally strange to them. Chen Chi is one of the very few. Preserving the essentials of Chinese tradition in technique, he has enriched that technique while he has absorbed and mastered new subject matter. In short, he is a mature and exciting artist and his works are significant in symbolic thought as well as in beauty."
High Noon, New York is a study in movement. The swirling wind seems to push the hurrying pedestrians and automobiles through the canyon of Manhattan skyscrapers. The flags ripple and snap, further emphasizing the vitality and movement of the busy thoroughfare. High Noon, New York is typical of Chen Chi's highly personalized watercolors that merge Eastern brushstroke technique with the Western conception of color.
Chen Chi has painted scenes of Washington, D.C., Chicago, New Orleans, and San Francisco, but his main source of inspiration has always been New York City. In 1958, he began painting a series of watercolors picturing performances at the Metropolitan Opera House, the most notable being On The Stage, The Old Metropolitan Opera-House, New York (1958, private collection). His paintings of Central Park under a blanket of snow are pictorially successful as simplified impressions of nature, as are his variations of spring, summer, and autumn.
Chen Chi's merging of the Orient and the Occident continues to be traditionally beautiful. "We Chinese value beauty in aesthetic terms, as we value peace, tranquility, purity, harmony, innocence, simplicity, humility, love, joy, qualities of the heart which artists in their work express to people."