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Lingnan School artist expresses love for homeland through brush

Chen Jinzhang is a prominent figure of the Lingnan School of Painting, a Chinese style of painting that originated in the 20th century in south China's Guangdong Province and is famous for blending traditional Chinese ink techniques with modern aesthetics.

As a professor at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts (GAFA), Chen excels in meticulous brushwork landscapes. He combines Western techniques of form, light, and shade with traditional Chinese ink-and-brush techniques, infusing his works with a distinct personal style. Critics have hailed his art as taking the Lingnan style of landscape painting to new heights.

Chen was born in 1929 in Guangdong. His early fascination with classical Chinese literature and painting led him to repeatedly copy illustrations from an ancient text entitled "Travels of Emperor Qianlong to the South." In 1947, he was admitted to the Chinese painting class of the Guangzhou Municipal College of Fine Arts, the predecessor of GAFA. At that time, its principal was Gao Jianfu, another founding figure of the Lingnan School of Painting.

Chinese painter Chen Jinzhang. /CGTN

Chinese painter Chen Jinzhang. /CGTN

In school, Chen not only received guidance from Gao Jianfu, but also from teachers Guan Shanyue and Li Xiongcai, two of the second-generation inheritors of the Lingnan tradition. They encouraged their students to study the works of ancient masters while also expressing their personal reflections on life.

In 1956, Chen graduated and became Professor Li Xiongcai’s assistant at the school. During their journey to Mount Huangshan, Li suggested that Chen focus on a single stone or tree instead of creating a panoramic landscape painting. Chen then created the painting "Daybreak", which marked Chen's first attempt at intricate brush-and-ink landscape painting. From then on, he embarked on the journey of mastering meticulous brushwork landscapes.

The painting titled

The painting titled "Daybreak" by Chen Jinzhang. /CGTN

During his breaks from teaching at school, Chen embarked on journeys with his students, sketching in various locales. He encouraged them to innovate rather than merely replicate his work. One of Chen's students, Li Jinkun, now the vice chairman of the China Artists Association, said that what strikes him the most was Chen Jinzhang's unwavering commitment to his art.

Sketches by Chen Jinzhang in his youth. /CGTN

Sketches by Chen Jinzhang in his youth. /CGTN

Among the many trips was one to the Three Gorges in central China's Hubei Province. They traced the path of Tang Dynasty (618-907) poet Li Bai's famous line, "A journey of a thousand miles on the Yangtze River is completed in a single day." Chen wanted to record the scenes along the Three Gorges with his brush.

After returning home, Chen eventually painted a monumental scroll spanning 12 meters, capturing the breathtaking panorama of the Three Gorges along the Yangtze River. The artwork starts by depicting the lush sandbanks seamlessly merging with the river water, followed by an expansive view of fields and villages. As one journeys downstream, mountains on both sides stretch to the sky, veiling the sun and creating a scene of pure vitality and flourishing beauty. Peaks and valleys transform with each twist and turn. The composition concludes with ethereal clouds and mist, leaving a lingering and tranquil impression.

Details of the Three Gorges painting by Chen Jinzhang. /CGTN

Details of the Three Gorges painting by Chen Jinzhang. /CGTN

Chen had a strong attachment to this piece. And it garnered much admiration from his mentors, Guan Shanyue and Li Xiongcai. From then on, Chen experienced an important leap in his use of brushwork and ink. The hallmark of his art lies in the juxtaposition of the robust and solemn portrayal of mountains with the graceful and dynamic use of light ink. He excelled at creating a poetic atmosphere. Years of practice endowed him with a unique mastery of rendering clouds and mist.

Details of the painting

Details of the painting "Mountains Enveloped in Mist" by Chen Jinzhang./CGTN

Chen marvels at nature's craftsmanship and the vitality of plants. His awe for the natural world has fueled his artistic journey, driving him to venture outdoors and keep on creating, even in his nineties. He painted not for money, but for the love of his country and its landscapes. In 2023, Chen donated over 100 of his representative works to the Guangzhou Cultural Center. This collection formed the foundation of the "Chen Jinzhang Art Museum," a permanent display of his artistic legacy.

"My works are the cornerstone of my life. After retiring, I devoted myself entirely to creating. I've created a series of works and I'm ready to donate all of them. I hope to keep contributing to culture and the arts," Chen said.

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