George Chann was born in 1913 in Zhongshan city, Guangdong. At the age of 12 he migrated to the United States with his father, and at 15 commenced his study of painting. In 1935 the 22 year-old Chann entered the Otis Art Institute, an affiliate of the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, with full scholarship. There he received a formal education on Western art. In 1940, after earning his Masters degree, which he undertook with a two-year full scholarship, he worked as a teaching assistant in the school. Even in his early days when he was only a rising star in the art world, Chann was warmly received by the local community in the West Coast of the States due to his artistic dexterity. His works were widely exhibited in art galleries and museums all over the country. In this period, most of the art featured the social lives of the lower class in a realistic style, and Red Lady (Lot 1355), one of our lots, is an excellent representative work. The lady holding onto a cigarette leans lazily against the door - a gesture so idle that exposes her rumination and melancholy. Red, the base colours, meshes with the blue brushstrokes to counterpoise the somber theme, conveying to the audience the artist's reflections on life and his sympathy for the lady in red. The candid depiction expresses the sentiment of the artist, who, being an outsider, shares the same cry and destiny with the lower-class American society.
When Abstract Expressionism flourished in America in the 1950s, Chann began his exploration in this art form and its aesthetics. Inspired by both the Western wave and Chinese calligraphic art, the artist created his own style of Chinese abstraction. Scores of ink rubbings and prints are crumpled or trimmed, and arranged and attached to the canvas. And after such efforts to press, scrub, scratch and grind, with recurrent scripts and splashes of colours, the paper loses its physique, while all elements on the canvas integrate into a primitive illusory form in which the differentiation between top and bottom, front and back is completely devoid of. Chinese antique, too, was a source of inspiration for Chann. The patina on ancient bronzes and the cracks on stone inscriptions, for example, embed the weight of history that impels the artist to construct his own unique resonance with the civilization. The flat canvas becomes a space in dimension, or even an embossment, through the piling and smearing of materials like sand grains and papier-mache. The dynamic, vibrant tints of colours are entwined in the serpentine lines that resemble bronze epigraph; it weaves the austere grandeur of the scenery, summoning our admiration and yearning for the ancient civilization.
The two lots, Oracle-Bone Script Transformation (Lot 1356) and Light of the Universe, illustrate thoroughly the artist's refined praxis of his Chinese abstractionism. Oracle-Bone Script Transformation is a riotous display of bold colours backed by bright red; the interspersion of these foreground and background colours create a resplendent visual effect. The white oracle-bone scripts, on the other hand, seem to be floating and flowing all over the canvas, fusing a palpable texture into the formal structure to enhance both the visual and sensual experience. The work arrays an archaic glamour with a revelation of the ancient Chinese culture. The Light of the Universe (Lot 1358) is compact and intricate in composition that is structured freely with lines sketched at complete liberty; the artist is not bound by any conventional notion and form of writing. Lines keep coming to the foreground, and within their intimacy some are endowed with a sense of reticence and some of ebullience. While they race back and forth on the glaring canvas, the golden lines, which soar through the picture, echo with the theme of the work and furnish it with a dazzling radiance.
Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong(Lot 1357) is a sequel of the artist's early exploration of Impressionism and the Post-Impressionists. It depicts with a lively, dynamic brushwork the charming vista of Victoria Harbour, and is for the artist an alternative to artistic expression besides abstractionism. The canvas is divided by the boats that berth along the coastline. In the foreground is a scatter of boats over a large board of water, where the brilliant variation of rich colours and the smooth, forceful brushwork conjure up the image of a shimmering sea. In the background, shafts of light disperse over the distant sky and the mist-wreathed mountain range, shading them with reddish black, and create such a magnificent scene that the sky and the water seem to be mingled. The strong rhythm of the picture brings to us the sheer vitality of the Victoria Harbour, and exhibits the artist's remarkable skill in integrating Western and Chinese medium of painting in his realistic depiction.