Sun, May 18, 2003 - Page 19 News List

'Forgotten artist'

George Chann is only just becoming recognized for his contribution to the artistic canon

By Vico Lee  /  STAFF REPORTER

PHOTO COURTESY OF CITY GALLERY

When the 75-year-old George Chann held his solo exhibition, which proved to be his last, at a Los Angeles gallery in 1988, the local newspaper called him "a forgotten artist."

Indeed, Chann, the proprietor of Farmer's Market Art Gallery, who toiled a full eight hours every day at the easel in the back room of his shop for 40 years, hardly sold any work during his lifetime.

It was only after the Chinese ex-pat died in 1995 that his paintings slowly gained appreciation in the academic field and on the art market both here and abroad.

After Chann's first posthumous exhibition, in Taipei in 2000, the life of the recluse began to unfold and his name started getting mentioned alongside those 20th century Chinese artists who were recognized much earlier, such as Sanyu (常玉), Yun Gee (朱沅芷) and Chen Chen-po. (陳澄波)

In Chann's current exhibition, simply titled, "George Chann, Solo Exhibition" (陳蔭羆個展) at Lin and Keng Gallery (大未來畫廊), a consistent selection of 22 works is on show to provide a rare glimpse of Chann's works.

These Chinese calligraphy-incorporated abstract expressionist paintings are what Chann is most remembered for.

Chann started working in an abstract expressionist vein in the 1950s, when the school had become the mainstream of American modern art.

Although Chann once admitted in an interview to his admiration for abstract expressionist pioneers such as Mark Tobey and Jackson Pollock, he also realized that he had to explore different subjects and material if he was to develop his own style.

Chann did not have to look that far for inspiration, since his own art gallery -- not simply a display room for his own works, but a jewelry and Chinese artifacts shop -- had ample supply of calligraphy prints and rubbings taken from oracle bones, bronze vessels and steles.

According to art critic Wang Chia-chi's (王嘉驥) essay on Chann, the painter first soaked calligraphy scripts in water and then trampled or shredded into various different pieces.

In many works, Chann made collages using these rearranged scripts on canvas. It was on these collages that the painter applied oil colors or, in some cases, wrote more calligraphy.

As if to create historical relics, Chann integrated fine sands on the painted surface to subtly imitate the time-worn veneer of artifacts.

These procedures resulted in some enchanting aspects to Chann's works.

While viewing an entire painting is enchanting, a closer look at the delicate traces of paint and the half-hidden elusive scripts, is as delightful as perusing a finely incised and naturally corroded Shang vessel. And in fact, the kind of azurite often found in the patina of Shang bronze is often an underlying color in Chann's paintings.

At the age of 12, Chann emigrated with his father from China's Guangdong province to California and was enrolled at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angles eight years later in 1934.

With a solid training in Impressionist techniques, Chann was an enthusiastic painter of the poverty of the blacks, Chinese and Mexicans, especially of the aged and orphaned among them.

Before Chann set up his art shop, he had good connections with several Los Angles dealers, and these works of social realism were frequently exhibited in his early years.

A less well-known line of painting Chann worked on involved scenes from the Bible. A Christian all his life, he donated 250 works to the Crystal Cathedral, near Los Angles, where they are now on permanent display.

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