Flowers, Insects, and Bird Paintings

Chang Li-chen (b. 1939)

Hanging Scroll, Ink and Color on Rice Paper, 54 x 27", (137 x 68.5 cm.)

Chu Griffis Collection #109In the era of new literati painting in China, traditional painting, considered obsolete since 1949 is alive again. The preservation and innovation in brush-ink painting can be seen in this painting by Chang Li-chen, chairman of the Department of Chinese Painting at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.

In the past millenium, brush and ink have been the basis of Chinese painting. Individual artists interpret and apply these, changing form and content, yet the fundamental theories, principles and rules of this painting style have stood firm. Mr. Chang is convinced that there are good reasons for keeping this tradition at a time that many other art forms are popping up like mushrooms after rain, as a Chinese proverb says. He has said that he does not want to be a peddler of some of the old methods that restrict his mind. He insists upon three things: 1. Aquire technique; 2. Experience life; 3. Exploit the power of art. Only after one becomes experienced with these three things can one forget the Tao of painting and oneself. He constantly keeps these rules in mind and thus teaches his students.

Chang Li-chen is a man of character, enthusiasm, courage and sentiment. In this painting, reeds in wind, black butterflies over a pond are reminders of Changs' childhood home in South China. The wind may bend the reeds, but not break them. That might be a subtle implication of his own nature. Technically, one sees the dashing leaves, swinging stalks and splashed dots of different sizes and densities harmoniously composed. They are all done in the style of cursive writing.

Where does Mr. Chang get the inspiration for his creative style? He often mentions his favorite literati masters in the Ming (1368-1644) and Ching (1644-1911) periods such as Hsu Wei, Chen Lao-lien (Ming), Pa Ta and Shih Tao (Ching). The most direct influence comes from Mr. Pan Tian-shou (1897-1971), former president of The China Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou, Chang's teacher through his college years. All these have indeed influenced him, but not restricted his own creativity. He should be proud of his accomplishment. In this traditional style of painting, one of the three perfections is poetry.

The inscription translates as follows:

Look at you fluttering after the fresh rain,
wild cat-tails swaying in the wind
over the autumnal pond. Li-chen, 1996

This painting was purchased in 1997 with funds provided by A. Wang.