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The Life of Artist Chen Yifei
Latest Updated by 2005-04-27 16:00:39

Chen Yifei had long been established as one of the first Chinese artists to be recognized by the Western art world. 

Two weeks ago, Chen Yifei, the famous Chinese artist, commercial fashion designer and budding film director, died of a stomach hemorrhage in Shanghai's Huashan Hospital. Despite only making it to the age of 59, Chen Yifei had long been established as one of the first Chinese artists to be recognized by the Western art world. Asides from his many famous oil paintings, he also left behind an unfinished film, "The Barber," and an unfinished visual enterprise. Therefore, in today's program, we'll take a closer look at the life of this frequently exalted and sometimes criticized Chinese artist.

Chen Yifei is recognized as one of China's most acclaimed and commercially successful visual artists. Indeed, his works were among the earliest of their type to be successfully exhibited and sold in Western countries.

Born in 1946 in the eastern coastal city of Ningbo, he graduated from Shanghai Art School in 1965 and began to focus on oil painting. In 1980 he became one of the first artists from the People's Republic of China to receive permission that might study art and work in the US. It was a trailblazer's experience, and Chen said that he arrived in the US with just $38 in his pocket. However, progress was quick and in 1983, his solo exhibition could be seen at the Hammer Galleries, even before he had earned his master's degree from New York's Hunter College. Later, he would paint on contract for the Hammer Galleries, and his works would reach countless other established art institutions in the US, Britain, France and Japan.

Chen Yifei is first and foremost a painter, gaining fame in the West for works which combined realism and impressionism with Chinese themes and tastes. Through such works, he realized the first of his many wishes in life.

"Maybe there are few people who can remember my name, but at least they know that there is a Chinese person who is doing well in the field of oil painting. This is my first wish."

One of his masterpieces was a landscape work featuring the scenery of East China's Jiangxi Province. It sold at a Hong Kong auction in 1991 for more than HK$1.3 million, or about US$162,000, a record price for a Chinese painting at that time. In later years, Chen saw many of his other works notch up even more impressive prices at Christie's, Sotheby's and other auctions in New York and Hong Kong.

Yet Chen was not just known as a painter. In the 1990s, he returned to China and settled in Shanghai. From there he became involved in film direction, and in 1995, his movie "Evening Liaison" was entered for the Cannes Film Festival. For him, film-making was a dream, and he wished to express his feelings through the visual elements found in this genre. However, film directing was by no means his only new pursuit. In 1999, he launched his own clothing line, named Leyefe, before setting up two Leyefe home furnishing outlets in Shanghai.

Throughout this period, he was also acting as the agent for several successful Chinese models.

Later, this increasing commercialism, alongside frequent public appearances, caused a certain amount of artistic controversy. Some critics said this was not the behavior of a real artist, yet as far as Chen Yifei was concerned, there is no contradiction involved in being both an artist and a businessman.

"Actually, painting is a kind of cultural commodity. I think that most artists and directors will be happy if their works sell well. However, more importantly, as an artist and director, I need to remember that what thrills me most is that I have created a good piece of work, rather than how much it's worth."
Therefore, accusations of over commercialization perhaps seem harsh, and Chen Yifei certainly followed his own financial route.

"I never spent my money buying stocks and investing in real-estate. What I am dealing with is related to vision. This is because I think as a painter, and by using the elements in vision, I have developed the right to say something. I am interested in everything in the field of vision, and I believe that I achieve good results in this area."
Unfortunately, continuous hard work would destroy Chen Yifei's health. Those who were close to him say that he was always pursuing absolute perfection; for him, there were just too many things that needed his attention.
Cao Kefan, a famous TV host in Shanghai, was a good friend to Chen, and in deep sorrow after Chen's death.

"He was given brilliant artistic talent, but he was not given a long enough lifespan. He could have done so many more things if he'd had the chance."

Gu Jingwen was the doctor in charge of Chen during the hospitalization that occurred as he worked on "The Barber," She feels deep sorrow for his death, and says that even when Chen was seriously ill, he still worked hard on his film.

"He was so persevering in his work. I would always say: Your body can't stand such hard work', but he would say: No problem. I have to go and work. I want to do my work perfectly.'"
Chen Yifei was a man who was always chasing his dream. He hoped that his fashion brand would grow up alongside the young generation, and he hoped that when he grew old, he could enjoy his own films in a studio alongside several close friends. The dreams may have come to stop with the thread of his life, but we can at least leave you with Chen, and his feelings about on the nature of dreams.

"People always have many dreams and hopes, but one's ability and time are limited. Therefore I want to focus on those things that are important to me and try to make them perfect. I once dreamed of becoming a good painter, and now I think I have realized this dream. But people never stop dreaming. Though it would be very tiring for us to realize our dreams one after another, I think that this is life itself."

Editor: Donald

By: Source:CRI website
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