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    Sale 2630

    Chinese 20th Century Art (Day Sale)

    1 December 2008, Hong Kong

  • Lot 671


    Price Realised  


    (CHEN YINPI, 1913-1995)
    Country Church
    signed 'GEORGE CHANN' in English (lower left)
    oil on canvas
    75.5 x 90 cm. (29 3/4 x 35 1/2 in.)
    Painted in 1942

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    George Chann immigrated to the United States with his father at an early age. In 1934, he attended the Otis Art Institute attached to the Los Angeles County Museum to receive formal education in Western art. His early portraiture and landscape works were mainly of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist styles. Many Chinese artists who traveled or lived in foreign countries carried strong nostalgia towards their native land, and George Chann was no exception. Although he used Western media and materials, his works expressed strong cultural nostalgia. After leaving China for twenty-two years, George Chann returned to the Mainland China from 1947 to 1950, traveling to various parts of the country.

    From 1948 he became a visiting lecturer at Guangzhou's Linnan University and later held a personal exhibition in Guangzhou Municipal Archive Hall in September. This experience had a great influence on his later artistic development. In this auction, seven fine works of art completed in the 40s and 70s reflect the various experiences and visions of Chann during these different times. George Chann's artistic career began in the early 1940s, creating realistic works and portraits imbued with humanitarianism and concerns of the nation. George Chann's Western art training flowed between his feelings as an immigrant living in a foreign environment while growing up with his Chinese family. A reflection of this background is depicted in his works created in the 40's, Still Life (Lot 674) and Country Church (Lot 671), setting classic brown as the main tone and adding color to express shadows and light, reflecting an artist's internal world and displaying Chann's training in Expressionism.

    Later, George Chann returned to China in 1947 and practiced calligraphy with Chinese artists Huang Junbi and Zhao Shaoang. Chann's background coupled with his excellent training in calligraphy and painting enabled him to develop his art towards the direction for creating modern Chinese painting. This drive to seek Chinese inspiration is described by American art critic Michael D. Brown: "What's the artistic theoretical foundation that influences George Chann and makes him insist in working abstract art? According to his explanation, the research of Shang Dynasty's oracles triggered his inspiration for creating abstract paintings. Oracles are the earliest language of China, which can well present the view of abstract art of the ancient people. George Chann believes that only abstract painting can express his artistic philosophy and concept. What he wanted to paint was what he felt rather than what he saw." This interview with Chann indicated that Chann, to some extent, has incorporated the Abstract artistic view of oracles and the abstract theory of Western abstract painting; secondly, when Chann's inner world is in a state of chaos where feelings cannot be expressed with words, the language of abstract painting becomes an excellent outlet to paint his feelings. The Chinese inspiration Chann sought transferred itself onto many of his works, imbuing his abstract pieces with spirit and emotion. Therefore it is necessary for one to seek explanation behind Chann's works. In the 1950s, George Chann's artistic creation began with grisaille painting. In Untitled (Lot 673), we see multiple interpretations in exploration; the fresh and bright oil paints that release feeling and emotion, semi-abstract profiles of mountains, woods, flowers and birds, which creates a symbolic poetic imagery in sketching with bright primitive colors. It can be commented that this multitude of themes confuses the simple expression in Chinese traditional painting of birds and flowers; however, the artist's great skill is so strong, one feels no sense of loss or chaos.
    After returning to the United States, George Chann opened the Farmers' Market Gallery in San Francisco in 1952, from which he mainly traded jades, jewelries and Chinese antiques. During that period, American Abstract Expressionism also reached its peak, with pioneers and famous artists, including Jackson Pollock (1904-1997),
    Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) and Mark Tobey (1890-1976). George Chann also started to actively study the aesthetics of Abstract Expressionism and in turn created a unique Chinese painting style. Many contemporary art critics often compare George Chann with Pollock or Tobey. Indeed, his abstract paintings are similar to these American painters, however the in-depth world of George Chann and his paintings reveal on a totally different philosophy and standpoint. While George Chann's abstract art is derived from Chinese characters and calligraphy, Pollock and other artists' paintings mainly intend to present a sort of "instant trend movement", which relates to the concept of automatic handwriting. Chann employs a layer-based and overlapping technique to express detailed accumulation of Chinese traditional culture, a concept one may see as going beyond Western abstract expressionism.
    Farmers' Market Gallery gave him have the opportunity to come across many books of rubbings of Chinese calligraphy, including the inscriptions on ancient bronze objects as well as various books of rubbings of stone tablets such as seal characters, official scripts and regular scripts. His early black and white abstract-expression style was created by tearing up these calligraphy prints and making a collage on the canvas and later painting over such collages to create words with a black brush. George Chann also found many inspirations from Chinese cultural relics. His works contain a historical sense of Chinese ancient cultural relics from mysterious bronze characters, brief segments of calligraphy works and stone inscriptions, as well as the bronze-like lines with heavy textures formed by piling and rubbing fine sands, papering and pasting materials; or bronze-green rugged textures that successfully produce a kind of three-dimensional spatial effect which is similar to embossing. George Chann's techniques a touch of historical sadness to his works, as if we are visiting past civilizations from thousands of years ago.

    George Chann's abstract works created after 1960 abandoned the handwriting feature found in his early works, thought as to truly separating from various calligraphy styles so as to strengthen and change the message of the works and incorporate richer colors
    and diverse textures. Although he began the creation Script Style Calligraphy (Lot 676) with the symbols of Chinese characters he directly employs the spirit of abstract expressionism, presenting unusual lines and a strong sense of texture, displaying his skillful mastery and knowledge of painting materials, clearly demonstrating his artistic attempt to incorporate character images and historical imagination. The latter ingredient is imperative, for it allows Chinese to appear among colorful vivid lines, with the purpose harmoniously incorporating visual forms, effectively making good use of the appeal and tension of materials. Harbour Scene (Lot 672) created around 1970 shows a quiet view of a setting sun, providing us with another sort of interpretation of George Chann's abstract paintings. These two landscapes work to imbed the artist's training in early impressionism and post-impressionism. The image appears rich, colors dynamic, with powerful brushing showing his achievement in calligraphic research in the 60s. Although he sketches with Western media and materials, a touch of the joy of Chinese brushing and romantic expression also creates an unusual poetic imagery of landscape painting. George Chann's technique in creating collages is to first paste black bordered white calligraphic characters on a light grey blue bottom layer onto a black background canvas; he then presses, rubs or scratches the characters so as to break them apart; finally, repeatedly fills in colors and patches to cover the true appearance of the paper characters. In this way, all elements on the canvas, (including the mounted characters themselves, the Chinese pictographs on the pasted paper, the bright conceptions of color patches, the improvised brushstrokes and the underlying canvas itself) are mixed together into a primal state where the different radicals are impossible to distinguish. Yellow Rhyme (Lot 677) employs a similar technique, with three-dimensional textures creating a unique style of Chinese abstract art, aided by the power of traditional calligraphy and characters. Color change and the formation of images allows the viewers experience his profound painting skill. The handwritten and literal symbols form lines and structures that are even more abstract and free. The pure white lines penetrates colorful images that are a perfect contrast of notes and melodies. In Structure I (Lot 675), Chann breaks through literal writing concepts and space-frame structures with a freedom expressed with strong composition, allowing a striking effect through color. The image is filled with dense and rough textures and its color
    presence is rich and harmonious, culminating in the fuision of and modern styles. From textures to overlapping lines, the historical trail of Chinese culture within Chann's paintings flow naturally and the expression to his saying "Chinese painters paint with their mind while Western ones paint with their eyes." George Chann has incorporated modernist abstract thought as well as Chinese concepts into his art, fully expressing China's rich historical culture into his paintings.


    Private collection, USA


    Hsiung Shi Art Monthly (January Issue), Taipei, Taiwan, 1995, p.98