Since the late seventies to the eighties, the Tibetan series is Chen Danqing's important creation and also a milestone in China's modern artistic development. During the Cultural Revolution, Chen, then merely a secondary school student, was sent to work in the countryside in the south of Jiangxi Province. He was pretty interested in painting; where after work, he would paint with pen and paper, gradually cultivating himself as a self-taught painter. It was not until 1974 that his fabulous works were displayed in an exhibition and was highly praised, which he soon sought admission to the master's programme at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts. In 1976, in order to search for inspiration, he traveled to Tibet, from where he brought back portraits telling of Tibetans' realistic lifestyles instead of paintings that depicted political messages and manipulated images.
In 1980, he was subsidized by the Academy to visit Lhasa again. This was the last time he visited Tibet before he left China for America. In his Tibetan series, he has brought the invariably mystical Tibetan customs and practices to canvas, capturing a different set of aesthetics. Tibet's unique geography and mentality, alienaated from mainstream ideology, have provided an excellent blueprint for Chen's brand-new painting language. He borrows from life drawing the techniques of directness and determination in order to depict images of Tibetan daily living, resulting in an often free and bold brushwork. Walking into Town (Lot 519) is a snapshot illustrating a perfectly matched couple coming from a traditional Tibetan family. The Tibetan man has a large figure, wearing a sizable thick sheepskin robe and is shouldering thick beddings, whereas his wife is holding his arm and intimately following his steps. The painting has captured the image of a submissive Chinese wife. In contrast to the gentle woman, the man keeps his head upright, eyes on the environment, wears a steel flint and bravely guards his wife at his back to march into the town.
The artistic theme of the Tibetan series is, through the artist's deep insight, to unveil to the viewers the costumes, as well as, the intrinsic spirit of Tibetan culture. Being one of the important elements of Tibetan culture, Tibetan costumes are similarly unique, dazzling, extraordinary and historical. In Walking into Town, the clothes of the two protagonists are meticulously drawn to allow viewers to see the Tibetan snowy highland's traces of history over a thousand years. It also show the richness and colorfulness, extensive history and remarkable ethnic characteristics of Tibetan costume culture to exhibit the Tibetans' wisdom, creativity, artistic cultivation and aesthetic interest. The wife is wearing a pulu hat; her face is applied with ochre facial cream and is partly hidden beneath a red and orange blanket for wind-proofing. She is wearing a long thick brown robe, with an overcoat embellished with high-contrast color combinations including red and green, black and white, red and blue, yellow and purple. Besides the vibrant colour costumes, there are ornaments including silver bracelets and necklaces that are beautifully shaped with a genuine sense of Tibetan tradition.
Chen's paintings realistically depict Tibetan genre and give viewers an unprecedented visual enjoyment, but they also are mingled with the artist's sentimental feelings - a respect for an independent entity in the world, as well as, different cultures and life styles. Hence, the couple in Walking into Town is full of brightness and dignity that reveals the painter's own feelings.
Chen's realistic paintings are greatly rich in ethnic, cultural and hometown features, which has been an impact upon the perpetually popular yet extremely doctrinal thematic-creation-model, and brought a new realm to China's art scene in the eighties. Humanistic sentiments and integral strength are the primary artistic themes of Chen's works, which are also the natural realization of his own sentiments and integrity, the revelation of his own experiences and his profound understanding and sympathy and respect for the grass-root people. This kind of humanistic sentiments and integral strength have given his works glorious and lofty meaning. Chen's works have marked an important milestone within China's modern art development.