Blending East, West

"I come from the East -- China/ I am making a living in the West -- America/ With the Eastern Mind:/ Peace, freedom, harmony, tranquility/ Joy, humility.../ I paint...."Chen Chi, 1980
HOWLAND -- Some 21 years ago, Chen Chi wrote the poetic verse to accompany his watercolor painting "Spring Arriving on Jiang-Nan River."
Recently, the 89-year-old artist said that although his style and subjects may evolve, his artistic intention remains the same.
Last week Chi supervised the installation of 41 of his paintings at the Butler Institute of American Art Trumbull branch, 9350 E. Market St. "Chen Chi -- Sun, Moon and Clouds," which includes some most recent works, will be on exhibit through Oct. 28.
A 40-foot custom-designed table displays a 39-inch by 144-inch horizontal painting that is connected to panels of Chinese calligraphy. Chi explained that the English translation, also part of the work, resonates his artistic philosophy.
His style: Typically, Chi's exhibitions blend ancient Eastern traditions with more modern Western culture. New York cityscapes, seasonal Chinese landscapes and floral paintings may combine representational, impressionist and abstract styles.
Most paintings include Chinese alphabet characters. At the exhibition, these words are translated into English poems and displayed next to the artwork.
"You can read the words first or look at the painting," said Chi. "The painting echoes the words and the two should be interpreted in combination."
Chen Chi was born in 1912 in Wusih, Kiangsu, a small community near Shanghai, China. In 1926, he moved to Shanghai and was employed in an oil press factory. In 1931, he enrolled in art school that emphasized Western techniques, rather than traditional Chinese painting.
The artist came to the United States in 1947 and became a U.S. citizen in 1964. He found inspiration in his adopted home, New York.
Two paintings of the Metropolitan Opera house -- one painted in 1958 and another in 1995 -- are displayed side by side in the exhibition. A stellar performance by a lead opera singer inspired the first work, Chi explained.
"I wanted to capture the glory light on the stage," he said. Rich yellow, orange and red hues direct viewer's eyes to center stage. A luminescent figure glows from the center of strokes of yellow paint.
Chi offers another perspective of the new opera house at Lincoln Center. While the older painting is realistic, the newer work is more impressionistic, he noted. The most recent painting concentrated on the color and movement of the audience as the artist's subject.
Happy themes: Chi said he combined realism and abstraction to express his feeling in his most recent paintings of the moon, sun and sky.
"I wanted to use the moon as a theme to encourage people to symbolically reflect happiness." The series of the elements of the sky were created for the First World Cultural Summit in Versailles, France, in June 2000.
He said that he hoped in this new millennium filled with conflict, leaders would use art to help achieve peace. "We have to use art to think of humanity," he said. "Don't think of Eastern or Western tradition, but the whole of East and West."
Chi said the moon symbolizes beauty and the sun represents everyday renewal.
What Zona said: "As artists move into later years, many tend to get more spiritual and more romantic," said Lou Zona, executive director of the Butler.
"Chen Chi seems to focus on the sky, sun, and moon. These are forces of the cosmos that are so much bigger than us. It seems he is looking beyond this world."
Chi has a positive history with the Youngstown art community, according Zona. In 1955, he exhibited his paintings in the annual Butler Mid-Year show. Chi later was invited by Clyde Singer to judge subsequent midyear shows.
Zona said this is Chi's fourth exhibition at the Butler during the last 20 years. Four of Chi's works are part of the museum's permanent collection. Many private collectors in the area own his paintings, Zona said.
Chi's work has been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Corcoran Art Gallery, The Whitney Museum of American Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among others.
XThe exhibition is sponsored by a grant from Burger Travel Service and Foundation Medic.

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