Interviews of Dr. T.F. Chen's Olympics Series Works
  2009-12-17 15:31:25  


When did you start working on the Olympics Series? What inspired you at the time?

I’m seventy two years old. Based on my life experience, I think nothing came into being by accident. Instead, things develop in the cause-effect chain, where opportunities and changes constantly emerge.

Therefore let me answer you questions in light of this perception

I started the Olympics series in August 2007, yet with a story. Please allow me to tell you in order to answer your questions more systematically.

In 1995, The UN convention announced the International Tolerance Day as November 16th and initiated the award of Global Tolerance through Friends of UN. In 2001, they decided to give the award to people in the arts to acknowledge their accomplishments for the humanities and building a global culture of peace through the arts. It is said that they’d begun selecting the candidates three years before and eventually they gave me the honor and appointed me as Ambassador of Tolerance and Peace. Subsequently, I’ve been working with them on a world tour exhibiting my Neo-Iconography series to promote a global culture of love, tolerance, harmony and peace

The traveling exhibition was initiated in 2005 when I decided to make China one of our stops in 2008. Thereafter, I started making artworks with a theme highlighting Chinese Culture. First came out the Temple of Heaven series, which consists of 20 paintings completed one by one. Another reason lays in my trip to China in 1998, where I was most impressed by the Temple of Heaven and the belief in exercising benevolent power in politics, a traditional philosophical thinking in Chinese culture. Qi Nian Hall gave me lots of inspiration with the unique architectural design and symbolic meanings it carries.

I was invited by the sponsoring organization to exhibit my works at the first forum of Chinese Collectors’ Association when it was convened in Kai Feng in 2007.Apart from the Heaven of Temple series; I felt the necessity to enrich my exhibition with more new works, then I started my Olympics series. As the Beijing Olympics has become a world celebrated event and been on the world media focus, I thought that my Neo-Iconography series would perfectly complement the historic event in an artistic way.

2 How many paintings does the Olympics series consist of? Will you plan to have a show for it?

The 2008 Beijing Olympics is the 29th in history, so I originally planned to complete a series of 29 paintings to celebrate it. As I got more and more productive and inspired, I finished 60 paintings which way exceeded the original quantity. There’s still plenty of time before the Olympics and I’ve been constantly inspired. It’s possible that I will even complete 99 paintings eventually.

So far I will exhibit at World Art Museum (of Chinese Millennium Monument) in Beijing from June 13th to 25th. Then I will have another solo show at Shanghai Zhu Jizhan Art Gallery. There are people with invitations and proposals coming to my studio every day, so the above-mentioned two exhibitions might also have affiliated events or develop into bigger projects as well.

3 What artistic approach did you take to this series?

When it comes to artistic approach, I’m more inclined to flow with inspiration, being spontaneous and changeable. This is the enlightenment I had in Paris and the path to a free artistic pursuit.

 In 1963 I received a competitive scholarship from the French government to study in Paris. During the 12 years in Paris, I was working on my thesis on modern and contemporary art while trained as a painter at the prestigious L’Ecole Nationale Des Beaux Arts for 7 years. The Abstract Art was in the primetime in Paris and world art scene; I actually jumped on the wagon and did some abstract works for a brief time. Then I realized I have to establish something that makes me feel artistically fulfilled. It would be difficult to innovate and make changes if I was prematurely confined to an established style even with international recognition.

4.What Olympics visual elements will be incorporated in this series?

As long as it involves no copyright issue, any Olympic visual elements can be incorporated. The Modern Olympics carry the legacy of ancient Greek sports ceremony at the mount Olympia thousands of years ago. Since its inception in 1986, there are a variety of modern Olympics visual elements. They basically can be categorized as following: 1. the origin and history of the Olympics; 2. the spirit of the Olympics; 3. Snapshots that capture the extraordinary moments in every competition of every Olympics event held.

5.How do you visually represent the combination of the Olympic elements and traditional Chinese culture by means of western oil painting?

This is a good question and also the highlight of my Olympics series. This series is particularly dedicated to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, not the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the 1988 Seoul Olympics or any other Olympics held elsewhere. How to achieve the representation of the marriage of the Olympics elements and traditional Chinese visual culture? A multi-faceted approach or a multi-perspective… will make the traditional Chinese culture stand out and grasp the attention of the world spectator with our unique visual identity.

The traditional Chinese culture needs to be represented via imagery, which is the cultural images—Icons. I adopted Beijing Opera masks, Temple of Heaven, Chinese calligraphy, Chinese landscape painting images and merged them with Olympics elements such as the five rings, five colors,

6.What is the internal relation between this series and other series you made?

This is an individual series as well as an extension of the Temple of Heaven series. These two sets of works enriched my traveling exhibition “Arts for Humanity” world tour and have become the highlight of the World Tour in China. My previous series such as the Humanities and Arts deal with themes related to compassion and world peace, such as War and Peace, the Rich and the Poor, the Age of Space Technology, Love, Environmental Protection, World Cultures etc. Those series embody my advocacy of a new renaissance of a global culture centering on love since the 1960s. It is my belief that the Olympics spirit and the traditional Chinese value of benevolent power both need to be reinstated worldwide in an age of globalization: “Love, tolerance, harmony and peace are interactive and interrelated within one entity both in spiritual and practical pursuits

7.Please tell us about your experience in working on your new Olympics book?

To complement the exhibition of the Olympic series, we plan to publish an art book “The Olympics and Art”. The book will have about 240 pages, featuring 60 paintings of the Olympic series, 18 of the Temple of Heaven series, and another 18 of the Humanities and Arts series. Due to the bilingual

nature of this book, I recently wrote many articles in both Chinese and English. Most of the paintings have accompanying artist statement. I first wrote in Chinese and translated them into English, and then asked my daughter Julie Chen to do the editing (She was born in the U.S. and is an amazing creative writer.) (I graduated from the department of Foreign Languages at Taiwan University and got an M.A. in French Contemporary Literature, my studies in literature has enriched my artistic thinking and productivity. Up to date, I have published more than 20 art books, academic and literary works.)

To paint in celebration of the Olympics, I read a lot about it and got very much enlightened and inspired. I was especially thrilled to find that Lord Coubertin, the founding father of the Modern Olympics, officially announced the revival of the Olympics and the launching of IOC at the Amphitheatre of La Sorbonne. It is the very place where I once took classes and initiated “the five universal cultures” in theory! There seems to be a thread interweaving around the history and time. Coubertin advocated the Olympic spirit in which sports, rather than for sports, are meant for the humanity. Similarly, my Neo-Iconography invokes the art for humanity, not for art’s own sake.

8. Tell me about your favorite piece of the Olympics Series.

The artworks are just like my children, so it’s very difficult to tell which one my favorite is. Let’s just take “From Athens to Beijing” as an example. In the painting, the seven gentlemen, either sitting or standing, are the members of the first Olympics committee who were in the photograph taken on June 23rd 1894 in memory of the meeting. The man signing a statement is Baron De Coubertin; the man in the center is the Greek representative Demetrios Vikelas, who was appointed the president of the first IOC while Coubertin as secretary. Subsequently the IOC made the decision of holding the first modern Olympics games in Athens, the capital of Greek.

It’s been 112 years from the revival of the modern Olympics in Athens in 1896 to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The Olympics has always been a vehicle of communication, fair competition and a facilitator of world peace and a brighter future. Today the Olympics finally traveled from the heart of the western civilization to the center of eastern civilization. Thus, I juxtaposed the Greek temple with Beijing Temple of Heaven as from the west to the east; and replaced the original background— the exterior of Le Sorbonne Amphitheatre with the red wall and golden bricks of the Forbidden City. Soaring above in the sky are five white doves symbolizing peace and harmony.This 130cm x 194cm color painting was modeled on a 5cm x 5cm black and white photograph. Against the ancient Eastern style background, with the Greek temple and the Chinese temple of heaven positioned respectively in the west and the east; the black tuxedos the gentlemen are donning make a pleasant contrast to the ruby red wall behind. From the west to the east, the composition seems to flow with the row of golden bricks. The ancient and the modern, the east and west, and the time and space are all merging into one visual fantasy with multilayered narratives. Dr. Chen’s Neo –Iconography at this point has transcended the artistic style itself and become a way to channel the ultimate human spirit. It perfectly represents the conception of the New Beijing, New Olympics, which is to build a world harmony.

Hopefully some day it will be incorporated into the collection at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland□.

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