The Realm of Harmonization - Li Chen's Sculpture World
Director, National Art Museum of China
We are in the middle of a highly developed era and an iconographic world, the influences of which have permeated the formal language of many artists. Many of these forms we seem to have seen before, and we pass them over without leaving any deep impressions. But after only one glimpse at Li Chen's sculptures we cannot forget them. Their extremely characteristic faces and intense mannerisms make people exclaim over their perfection, just as they come from the outer reaches of space crossing through their vision, or as they were scriptures from remote antiquity that stand unique and outside of the world.
I have had many opportunities to enjoy Li Chen's works over the years. Every time while appreciating the works, I simply feel the joy of them appearing again, instead of spending time to deeply research the reasons behind how the artist has developed his style. Although he has just reached middle age and even retains young appearance, Li Chen's style appears innate and naturally mature. I do not know how other artists feel when facing his work, but I am convinced that he is an innately talented artist and one that is in pursuit of a perfect world. His sculptures possess self-sufficient world, and that is what causes his works to be so full and rich in form, mellow in line, and entirely integrated in concept.
If we consider it closely, an artist's success inevitably exists in their methodology of finding the solution to a problem based on a foundation of lofty aspirations, allowing the language of perception and method of reasoning to achieve a high level of unity, so that the method can result in a creatively imbued image. From my point of view, Li Chen's sculptures have found solutions to problems facing the creation of contemporary sculptures in at least three ways. That is to say, there are three ways in which his sculptures resolve many contradictions within one unified element, thereby conceiving and hastening the birth of a new kind of achievement.
First, in their characteristics, his works are founded on the transcendent, but they are combination of the worldly as well as the transcendent. Most of Li Chen's art is selected from the material of Buddhist subjects or Buddhist thoughts. This indicates his presence in the space of common life and also his yearning for the spiritual appeal of a world beyond mortal life. Clearly all of his large Buddha series, bodhisattvas and images of disciples are dignitaries that have surpassed this world. They are free and natural figures, to the point that one is able to describe all of his Buddha-themed sculptures as "Sakyamuni." Yet he is not a Buddhist artisan, but rather an artist with a profound understanding of Buddhism who has immersed himself in the world of Buddhist studies. As a result, his sculptures are unique and his vision exceeds form as he reaches Buddhist subject with natural and cosmic themes, making works that are like the "Sakyamuni" of divine creation and of the heavens and the earth. What is interesting is that the forms of Li Chen's sculptures show a kind of shape that is both worldly and transcendent. these Buddhist figures possess the forms, expressions and details of ordinary life, and therefore making people feel as if the figures are close to the world of human emotions, giving the forms a natural twofold connotation.
Secondly, his sculptures are aesthetically dominated by the eastern and yet integrate the western and the eastern together. The molding of three-dimensional forms is the most significant subject that needs to be solved when sculpturing, and the western sculptural history has provided rich experiences for it. In the modeling of sculptural form and in many other aspects, Li Chen's works reflect his understanding of the capacities of western sculptural language. But they reflect his intense interest in and profound understanding of eastern philosophy to an even greater degree. Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist thoughts meld harmoniously in his works and create a personal feeling of unity with the world. This is exactly what is praiseworthy about Li Chen's works. Through his inner aestheticism, Li Chen becomes a completely distinctive artist with his own subjective consciousness, emphasizing the quintessence distilled from the legacy of Chinese culture and civilization. While pursuing the inner character of the works, Li Chen rationally searches for logic between eastern and western, and represents an inner and outer spiritual realization in the unification of eastern and western rather than sacrificing the aesthetic form. His works form a dual composition through this merging of the vivid artistic conception and great solemnity of life.
Thirdly, the language of his sculptures moves from the materials towards the spiritual, and yet is a unification of materials and spirit. Li Chen is an artist who has a heightened sensitivity towards materials and especially excels at the use of material language. All of the materials he selects are entirely pure with a particular integration of color and luster. They also undergo a very skilled forging that endows the materials with aesthetic appeal. For instance, his use of black, grey and white colors system based on eastern aesthetics emphasizes the subjects of his art in an extreme manner. The thick bronze and heavy stone materials become light and delicate through his ingenious skill, as if floating on air, and yet it is permeated with the ‘transcendental interest' of the artist. Through the choice and management of materials, Li Chen transforms sculptural materials into spiritual language.
The works of Li Chen have had extensive coverage overseas and at home, and this exhibition of his works at the National Art Museum of China will provide more opportunities for the public to appreciate his art. On behalf of the National Art Museum of China, I sincerely welcome this exhibition and wish it the greatest of successes!