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Jazz with Luis: Retrospective of Paintings by Luis Chan

Exhibition details

Start:
17 February, 2017
End:
25 March, 2017
Event Category:
,
Website:
http://www.hanart.com

Hanart TZ Gallery is pleased to present Jazz with Luis, a major retrospective exhibition of works by Hong Kong’s legendary and uniquely eccentric painter Luis Chan, including a selection of rarely seen masterpieces. The exhibition will be presented in two parts:

Part One:  Landscape Fantasy
17 February – 4 March, 2017

Part Two:  Urban Figures
10 – 25 March, 2017

Special Events:
25 February 2017 (Saturday)
Art Talk and Tea with Dr. Lee Sai Chong, Jack: 2 – 4pm.

20 March 2017 (Monday)
Jazz Night (Art Basel Hong Kong VIP Programme): 6 – 9pm.
*Special thanks to Parsons Music for sponsoring the musical instruments (Kawai Upright Piano, Ludwig drums and Sabian Cymbals)

Venue: Hanart TZ Gallery, 401 Pedder Building, 12 Pedder Street, Central, Hong Kong
As the iconic Hong Kong artist and bon vivant Luis Chan once said ‘One must never serve friends moon (‘boring’ in Cantonese) cakes!’. In the spirit of Luis Chan and all other true bon vivants, we extend a special invitation to you to join us!

 

Curatorial Statement

‘Dancing with Life: The Art of Luis Chan’
CHANG Tsong-Zung

To walk into a room full of Luis Chan’s paintings is to cross the threshold of a special world—a world that is at once strangely familiar but also transformed. Here, objects and images we ordinarily take for granted assume a magical significance, while ambiguous shades of emotions which often remain unidentified take on exact forms and colours. In the world of Luis Chan, we enter a new realm where mundane life is purified by the power of artistic imagination. Throughout his career, Luis approached art with the same combination of impeccable technique and improvisational freedom that characterizes jazz music: for him art was a way of dancing with life. His wonderful sense of humour and playful spirit, his tolerance and open-mindedness, his fantastical creations and his irrepressible creativity have kept his paintings fresh and relevant for us today.

Of all the great Chinese modern masters, Luis Chan is perhaps the only one who fully faced up to contemporary culture and its challenges. An urban man through and through, Luis was also a thoroughly Hong Kong artist. Born in Panama in 1905, he moved to Hong Kong with his family in 1910, and for the next 85 years he made it his home, enjoying, exploring and painting all the different layers of life he encountered here—physical and emotional, psychological and spiritual. Luis Chan’s career as an artist can be looked at in relation to the growth of Hong Kong itself. From his first one-man show in 1935, up to the 1950s, Luis was primarily a watercolour landscape artist; he was also one of Hong Kong’s leading realist painters, working equally well in oils and acrylics. Luis was also an ardent promoter of art: He taught art classes, wrote books and articles, and mounted exhibitions. For many years, in fact, Luis Chan embodied the modern art scene of Hong Kong.

Until the 1950s, Hong Kong was a quiet place just beginning to embark on rapid socio-economic development; it was very much the place depicted in Luis’s early dreamy and pleasant landscapes. But radical changes came in the late 1950s, both for Hong Kong and for Luis Chan. Thus it is not surprising that one of the most intriguing aspects of Luis Chan’s artistic journey was the dramatic transformation in his painting style that occurred in 1960, when the artist was fifty-five years old. The paintings Luis created in the three decades prior to this watershed year and those he created in the three decades after are so dramatically different that they seem virtually unrelated. The impression created is almost as though the psyche of this one man was split into two distinct personalities rooted in two completely alien worlds.

During this period, when many different schools of art were vying to establish new approaches and directions, the dramatic changes in Luis Chan’s art appear extreme and absolute. These revolutionary changes ultimately were not reflective of the influence or strategies of any particular new trend or school, but rather of an internal change in the artist himself. During the decade of the 1960s, he had experimented with all the major avant-garde styles and schools of the period, trying them on and then casting them off, absorbing all the while the freewheeling spirit that characterized this era. The end result was a kind of personal liberation that allowed him to discover the pathways to his own unique art. From a successful landscape artist recording the world around him, Luis Chan transformed himself during this period into an artist of the fantastic, recording the visual emanations of hallucinations and dreamscapes.

Luis Chan witnessed Hong Kong’s transformation from a peripheral urban backwater into a major international metropolis, and saw its way of life change from one steeped in local culture and tradition to one more characteristic of a Western industrialized society. In addition to the aesthetic charm of Luis Chan’s paintings, with their fantastical subject matter, unique compositional structure and wonderfully fresh and luminous palette, his works also have an unmistakably contemporary quality, founded on his ability to create images that are effective depictions of the ‘inner psyche’ of urban life. Among his generation of artists, he is absolutely unique in this sense. Considering that Luis was born in 1905, it is perhaps not surprising that few if any of his contemporaries in the art world underwent the same level of dramatic change in response to the freewheeling climate of the 1960s, or entered so enthusiastically into the spirit of the times.

Yet in creating his art, Luis Chan avoided the complexities of self-analysis and transcended the boundaries of theoretical discourse. He simply took in everything and gestated the experience, seemingly without prejudice. His art reflects the complicated cultural fabric of urban Hong Kong life, the interplay between East and West, the clash of old and new lifestyles. The challenge and the allure of his paintings was that having taken in all these things, he never placed them in the usual categories or relationships; rather, he absorbed them into a realm outside reality, and assigned them new places and new relationships within his own mythological ordering.

One can, however, approach Luis Chan’s works from the perspective of the subconscious. In the 1960s Luis developed a painting technique in which he first painted arbitrary marks or smears of colour on the paper surface and then gradually developed these mark into paintings based on the free-form associations that came to mind. Luis continued to use this technique all the way through to the end of the 1980s, when he stopped painting altogether. This technique of subconscious association shares a certain common ground with the methodologies of clinical psychology (the Rorschach Test, for example) and is of the utmost importance to the artist for finding inspiration. Luis himself often said that if he didn’t begin with these pre-existing marks he would virtually be unable to paint.

The unique way in which Luis creatively used and interpreted these random marks allowed him to transform the ‘real’ landscape of the physical world into the landscape of his imagination. That is to say, he embraced all the flaws and discords of the real world and brought them into the complete, interior ordering of his own world, assigning each to its appropriate place. The hallucinatory world depicted in the psychedelic paintings of the 1960s constitutes one long boundless dreamscape that often takes on the appearance of nightmare. By the time Luis arrived at his fantastical landscapes of the 1970s, the strange creatures that inhabited those earlier works were now being placed within the context of an ordered landscape encompassing heaven and earth. This cosmic landscape is, for the most part, positive in nature, rather than nightmarish: Despite the fact that within the mountains and under the sea are concealed ghosts, spirits and entities of every description, the overall effect is of one of luminosity and spiritual clarity. After 1979, Luis Chan’s landscapes and undersea worlds once again grow darker in tone and the complexities and passions of the human world emerge once more as the central focus of his imaginings. By the late 1980s, however, these emotional landscapes of the human heart are once more elevated to mythic status.

For those of us living in the hyper-commercial environment of contemporary Hong Kong, Luis Chan’s colourful paintings introduce an irresistible joy of life and continue to construct for us a mythical universe that ultimately serves as a metaphor of the everyday world. Luis found flavour and meaning in every aspect of the world around him, even in the most mundane popular amusements and most vapid commercial spaces. For him, the interesting things in life and art were inseparable, and he moved fluidly between his creative life and his daily work. This is how Luis Chan plunged into the heart of life, and it is also where he found truth.

(Translated by Valerie C. Doran)

Luis CHAN (CHEN Fushan) (1905 – 1995)

Luis Chan was an eccentric Hong Kong genius who, as one of the first generation of Chinese modern painters, has become legendary in the history of Chinese contemporary art. The full corpus of Luis Chan’s work in his long artistic life is breathtaking in scope. Chan was born in Panama in 1905 to Cantonese parents, and settled in Hong Kong with his family in 1910. As a landscape painter from the late 1920s to 1960, Chan developed a lively English landscape style and used to go on painting expeditions around Hong Kong, sketching watercolours that captured the rich and varied life of the enclave. By the late 1930s Chan had become known locally as the ‘King of Watercolour’. Together with artists Lee Byng (Li Bing) and Yee Bon (Yu Ben), he was also hailed as one of the ‘Three Masters’ of Hong Kong painting. In the 1950s, Luis Chan abandoned his orthodox style and entered a period of intense experimentation with a wide spectrum of international avant-garde styles, from Abstraction to Pop and Psychedelia. In the late 1960s, Luis Chan underwent dramatic transformations in his visual rhetoric; inspired by the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong life, his landscape fantasies reach into the deep recesses of the subconscious collective mind of the city. This intensely idiosyncratic and creative outburst continued through the 1970s and 80s into a whole range of late paintings that are fantastic and cosmic in scope, with a wild visual logic all their own. Luis Chan was also a widely published art critic and writer, a renowned social figure and a seminal catalyst in Hong Kong’s art circle. From his first solo debut exhibition in 1933 until his final show in 1993, Luis Chan presented 47 solo exhibitions over his long career and published countless articles on modern art.

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