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Image: Chen Chi-kwan, The Mind's Eye: Commemorating the 90th Anniversary of His Birth
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  Destiny | Memories | Emotions | Boundaries | View | Void | Art | Thoughts
Chen Chi-kwan was born in 1921 in Beijing (known as Beiping at the time). As a child, his father invited a tutor to instruct him and his sister in the Four Books and Five Classics. He also did calligraphy as he learned seal, clerical, regular, running, and cursive scripts to further strengthen his foundation in traditional studies. The War of Resistance against the Japanese erupted when he was a youth, and his whole family ended up moving from place to place, finally settling along with the seat of government in Chongqing, Sichuan Province, where he studied architecture at Central University.

In 1944, before graduating from university, Chen Chi-kwan was drafted and served as an interpreter in the China-India-Burma Theater of World War II. After Japan was defeated, he returned to China and worked in Nanjing, setting sail for the United States later in August of 1948 to continue his studies. In 1951 he was invited by the famous Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius (1883-1969) to work for his architectural firm, also being recommended to teach part-time at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Three years later, in 1954, Chen received a phone call from the architect I.M. Pei to go to Taiwan and work on designing the campus of Tunghai University. In September of 1960 he would return to settle in Taiwan on a permanent basis, setting up the Department of Architecture at Tunghai University and single-handedly overseeing the design of its Luce Memorial Chapel. From then on his life was inseparable from Taiwan, and he went on to great achievements in architecture and painting, his excellence in both being known far and wide.

Chen Chi-kwan used a uniquely Western perspective to revolutionize traditional Chinese painting, employing his "Mind's Eye" to view the world. His paintings have a pure and fresh quality, a style all their own. He developed innovative views on humanity and nature while achieving startling results in both modern and traditional aesthetics. Consequently, on 3 September 2004 the National Culture and Arts Foundation presented its eighth National Award for Arts in the category of fine art to Chen. The reasons were as follows:

1. With an architect's aesthetic, Chen Chi-kwan combined abstract concepts and monochrome ink to create a new kind of painting. He used a uniquely imaginative way to express a mystical, architectural, ethereal, and pure world seemingly beyond time and space. As a result, his works exude an aura of creativity and freedom.

2. Chen fused elements of recollection and imagination, to which he added his search for "innovation" in the moment. His works have a universal quality of constant expansion through radiating, juxtaposing, and repeating forms. His creativity in art is therefore unique.

3. Chen Chi-kwan's paintings reveal decorative colors, architectural lines, and mystical spaces, inspiring viewers to look beyond their surroundings in a completely new way. Thus, his style is both cumulative and inspiring.

These three reasons for presenting the award in many ways sum up Chen Chi-kwan's lifetime of achievement in painting. Thus, with the approach of the ninetieth anniversary of his birth by Chinese reckoning, the National Palace Museum is hosting this special exhibition organized by the Chen Chi-kwan Cultural and Education Foundation in memory of this master of modern art and architecture.
* The Destiny: An Architect of Great Talent

Destiny is the convergence of fortune and opportunity.

In the same year that Chen Chi-kwan emerged from graduate school, 1949, he won first prize for the design of Stanford City Hall. Later, in 1956, he would also win first prize in the open competition for a youth center held by the American magazine Architectural Forum. He described it as an architectural entity using large hallways to divide the individual houses, much like traditional Chinese garden architecture. A genius in architecture, Chen Chi-kwan added Chinese elements to Western ideas and techniques, an innovation recognized by his peers. He was then invited to go to Taiwan and help plan the campus of Tunghai University as well as oversee the design of its Luce Memorial Chapel. From then on, Chen Chi-kwan's destiny was inextricably linked with that of Taiwan.
* The Memories: Beacons from the War

Memories are part of the human experience, at times so deep as to be permanent.

In 1944, before Chen Chi-kwan had an opportunity to graduate from university, he was drafted into the China-India-Burma Theater of World War II, serving as an interpreter. From his home then in Chongqing, he went to Guizhou and then to Kunming in Yunnan. After a short stay in Kunming, he flew to Ledo in India. On the Ledo Road, he used watercolors and colored pencils to record what he saw along the way. Although these appear to be straightforward paintings and drawings, for Chen Chi-kwan they represented valuable memories to be treasured. These beacons from his memory actually opened new ways of seeing and had a major influence on his later art. In fact, many of his paintings were based on memories of this period, including "Vertigo."
* The Emotions: A World of Affection
Emotions are the foundation of human affections.

Chen Chi-kwan was self-taught in art. He sought to use Western concepts to revolutionize Chinese monochrome ink painting, but he still retained a strong preference for the traditional brush and xuan paper. He used delicate shades of ink to depict monkeys, pigs, cats, cranes, fishes, fruits, and vegetables, which served as vehicles for a myriad of human expressions and emotions. Traditional subjects in his hand would become something from a completely different world. These paintings reflect a range of affections--joy, frolic, humor, innocence, etc.--with an interesting Zen-like quality that constitutes his microcosm of human relations. At the same time, these elements became the essence most highly appreciated in the monochrome ink painting of Chen Chi-kwan.
* The Boundaries: Creating Space

Architecture is the delineation of space.
And its boundaries demarcate solid and void.

As early as the 1950s, Chen Chi-kwan would often incorporate architectural elements in his paintings. He especially favored designing views seen through round or hexagonal doors, developing and extending the scenery one layer at a time to create a sense of depth that expresses the intersection of solid and void in space. He once said that space consists of both solid and void, but:
    People often only see the colors but not the space,
    Only see the visible but not the invisible,
    Only see the solid but not the void,
    Only see the substance but not the space between substances,
    Only emphasize the architecture but not the thing that defines its space--the street,
    Only see the architecture but not the environs that influence its atmosphere.
                                                                       --Chen Chi-kwan
* The View: A Mind's Eye for Scenery

Scenery is reflected in the eye, then stored in the heart.

Traditional Chinese landscape painting never actually treated the scenery in a truly realistic manner, but rather combined the scenery of yesterday with that of today to create a composite image. At the same time, Chen Chi-kwan was able to invent the scenery in his landscape painting. He used the "Mind's Eye" to view scenery and to depict an ideal world of freedom from top to bottom entirely from his heart. His pure, otherworldly, tranquil, and peaceful landscape paintings were done using a fine brush to depict myriad things in harmony coexisting in natural and scenic wonder, reflecting the sense of utopia envisioned in his mind. In doing so, he was able to leave behind the noise, contentiousness, and conflicts in life. Thus, Chen Chi-kwan wished to remind people that through his painting we can all live together peacefully.
* The Void: Circling the Universe

In Chinese, the universe is often described as "The Great Void."

In the 1980s Chen Chi-kwan gradually raised his painting to universal heights as he began to reveal his "macroscopic" view. In his works he often combined imagery of the sun, moon, stars, and time of dawn and dusk, as if in space looking down on the Earth. This represented the culmination of his life experiences over the years. In other words, he underwent a natural progression from looking at things with the "naked eye" to using the "objective eye" and finally the "Mind's Eye." Taking the still landscape and turning it into a dynamic universe, Chen Chi-kwan combined sense and sensibility while raising the audience's viewing experience of his paintings.
* The Art: Craft Refined, Colors Beautiful

Printmaking is a craft, but it is also an art.

In 1955, when still in the United States, Chen Chi-kwan personally made prints to experiment with a different kind of art. Many years later, someone suggested that he take up printmaking again so that even more people could share in the richness of his art, moving him to revisit this art form long since locked away at heart. So in 1997 he went to Paris to do lithographic printmaking, also personally instructing French masters in mixing colors and cutting blocks. The laborious and complex procedures led to him to comment that the process of printmaking, using dozens of printing blocks and layers of colors, is truly a different form of artistic expression. The exquisite and refined prints that Chen Chi-kwan made also ultimately reformed his artistic spirit.
* The Thoughts: Building a Painting

Buildings require designing.
Paintings require planning.

Between the above two are many areas that link them together. As far as Chen Chi-kwan was concerned, moving back and forth between pondering a design and imagining a painting took little effort. Perhaps out of habit in his work, he would often spend much time before doing a painting to plan and design it, which is evident from his sketches. Each draft reveals how diligently he planned his works, and every sketch demonstrates his creative process. While drafts demonstrate his architect's way of thinking, Chen Chi-kwan's paintings went far beyond architectural reasoning to incorporate even greater realms of thought and imagination.
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