Encountering Dr. Tsing-Fang Chen
By Lawrence Jeppson
Lawrence Jeppson is an art consultant, organizer and curator of art exhibitions, writer, editor and publisher, lecturer, art historian, and appraiser., He is expert on the works of several painters, including, Tsing-fang Chen, about whom he has written several books. Through the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, the American Federation of Arts, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and his own Art Circuit Services he has been a contributor to more than 200 art exhibitions in the United States, Canada, Japan. He owns AcroEditions, which publishes multiple-original art, and was co-founder and artistic director of Collectors’ Investment Fund.
As an international art critic, consultant, and market appraiser, I have placed my reputation and advocacy fully behind Dr. T.F. Chen for more than thirty years.
I first met Dr. T.F. Chen in 1975 at an exciting turning point in both our lives. Chen had just spent a dozen years in Paris obtained a Ph.D.(1970) from the Sorbonne and had just created a new art style (1970) that reconciled the many and often contradicting paths of Oriental and Western art. I was an organizer of traveling art exhibitions, friend of many French and American artists, writer, lecturer, and scholar/curator/expert on certain artists and forms of art.
Chen has been his momentous, creative melding of those technical and philosophical differences between Western and Eastern art. He was doing this by carefully taking images from these disparate cultures and marrying them with paint on canvas. The images were quotes, but the way he reconstructed and juxtaposed them and the way he manipulated brush and pigment were all his own. I immediately recognized his great talent, bursting on so many levels. Chen came on the New York scene shortly after Pop Art had blossomed and taken root as one of the new American gallery dramas. The classification of Chen as Pop falls farthest from the tree when comparison is made to Andy Warhol or Jasper Johns,. For all his posturing with Marilyn Monroe and Campbell’s soup cans, Warhol was a thin, self-promoted talent. If Chen is considered along with Pop-ulist Robert Rauschenberg, there is some justification, since both use complex manipulation of many images.
However, instead of calling Chen a Pop artist, I prefer to call Chen a Neo-Iconographer, a style unto himself.
I began writing my first book about the artist, The Neo-Iconography of Tsing-fang Chen , to elucidate Chen’s concept of a new renaissance drawing together Eastern and Western art into a shared common visual language. An oft-cited quote: “In Chen’s hands this recycling of images is not an imitation or a theft but a stroke of cunning.”
Chen is an illustrious painter who thinks and a profound thinker who paints. His visionary brush opens canals between huge and forbidding cultural oceans and digs deep into the telltales of time. Dr. Chen was born in Taiwan in 1936, when the island was part of the Japanese empire, and Taiwan was a cultural desert. Chen recalls, “I remember as a young boy memorizing every worn page of the 50 art books that a local dentist had smuggled in from Japan. At 14 years old, upon seeing the art of Vincent van Gogh for the first time, I wept and set my will upon going to Paris and becoming an artist. I consumed everything relating to fine art, literature, or music in that impoverished time and fed my soul with their beauty . . . Immersing myself in even the little bit of art that was available at that time made me into a passionate, intelligent, creative man with a great love and keen sensibility towards our humanity.”
Dr. Chen graduated in 1950 from the National Taiwan University, where he was president of the Association of Fine Arts. Realizing his dreams, he went to Paris in 1963 on a coveted fellowship from the French government. He spent the next 12 years studying, painting, and exhibiting in France. He obtained a master’s degree in French contemporary literature and a doctorate, summa cum laude, in art history from the Sorbonne. During this deeply intellectual period, he simultaneously studied at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts.
In 1975 Chen and his wife Lucia moved from Paris to NYC and became a United States Citizen. In1983 and 1984 Chen moved to the SoHo art district of New York City. He says, “With a mixture of Asian, European, and American influences, I grew up very conscious of being a ‘World Citizen’ . . . This kind of conscious awakening in the individual paves a way for a Global Culture based on Love, Peace, and Tolerance for all.”
Dr. Chen has a vision of world civilization arriving at a harmony of peace and understanding, but he also sees a world beset with problems that first must be overcome. He seeks to harmonize Western logic and science with Eastern intuition and simplicity. In doing so his images emerge as a rapturous, turbulent integration of the visuals of Formosan folklore, Chinese culture, Oriental art, and at least five centuries of unrolling, often conflicting Western traditions.
Dr. Chen has created such a large, varied, and powerful body of art that he can stand alone as one of the most significant painters in the world today, which he is. He has created several thematic series of paintings, such as The Spirit of Liberty in 1986, a 100-painting commemoration of the centennial of the Statue of Liberty; then in 1991, Chen’s Post – Van Gogh Series, another 100-painting series, whose exhibition in Holland brought Chen enthusiastic raves. The ex-Minister of Culture in Holland, who is a notable Van Gogh expert, called Chen “the reborn Van Gogh.”
Chen’s homeland of Taiwan has also recognized him as a national treasure and arranged for his artwork to tour noted Taiwanese museums and cultural centers from 1984-2003. In 1990 the Taiwan Museum of Art acknowledged Chen’s growing importance on the international art scene by giving him a monumental show: “The Art of Dr. T.F. Chen: Neo-iconography.”
Chen established a unique cultural view, “Five-Dimensional World Culture” — an “Art for Humanity’s Sake,” to recognize and encourage our new global village, concepts which can best be realized artistically through the encompassing arms of Neo-Iconography. This style inspired him to paint many series of paintings, not only The Spirit of Liberty and Post Van Gogh, but also East-West, Venus, Card players, Napoleon, Princess Diana, Jade Mountain, 9/11, and Las Vegas.
In 1996, Chen and his wife Lucia opened the non-profit T. F. Chen Cultural Center in SoHo , NYC to promote a “Global New Renaissance in Love” and East-West cultural exchange. At this time Chen completed one of the most monumental outpourings in post-modern art, Towards the 21st Century, Symphony in World Culture, on seven huge panels of acrylic on canvas with a total measurement of 9’2″ high by 46’8″ long — a powerful amalgamation of dozens of cultural and historical icons that marked our century.
Chen is also frequently invited to speak and exhibit at many international conferences, such as the prestigious State of the World Forum in 1998 and 2000. In 2001, the Friends of the United Nations honored Chen as the first artist-painter to receive the Global Tolerance Award, and designated him a Cultural Ambassador for Tolerance and Peace. At the Awards event, Dr. Noel Brown, President of the FOUN, said, “In taking this decision to honor you, the Board was impressed by your art and multiculturalism and a lifetime or work dedicated to peace, tolerance and love and for creating a body of work expressing a shared vision of humanity.”
Subsequently, the Chens established the T.F. Chen Art for Humanity Foundation to advance art education and a global culture of peace, as well as launch a five-year “Art For Humanity World Tour” of Chen’s most powerful artworks, accompanied with cultural events and educational programs focusing on peace, tolerance, and cultural harmony.
Chen has been the recipient of more than 200 one-man exhibitions, has published more than 20 books in English, Chinese, and French; and has had his artwork featured in more than 300 textbooks, art histories, and learned journals. Some critics consider him among the 20 most important artists working today. Others place him in the top ten. This is not too much praise.
As an international art investment consultant, and appraisal I would like to write about my view on his market appraisal:
Year after year intelligent investment in art usually has proved to be a sound investment. Sometimes profits are spectacular. Art investment tends to be recession resistant and can outpace inflation.
Chen has done a lot of work making multiple original, limited-edition prints using various processes. An Andy Warhol print recently sold for $17.4 million, an unbelievable sum. (In May, 1986 New York Magazine featured Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and Dr. T.F. Chen’s painting, Sunday Morning Liberty.) only Chen’s art price not in the range of 30 millions but under the 500,000. To me Chen as great as they are, in fact Chen has the highest art degree and east and west culture…. I expect chen’s prices to increase dramatically over the next few years, especially with the focus on Chen’s ongoing Art for Humanity World Tour.
Within this art market there is an exceptional opportunity for a collector/investor who has the vision to take a major position in the acquisition and promotion of Chen’s paintings.
A creative artist is not a mass producer and can create only so many paintings in his lifetime. “Stocks may be split,” says a New York dealer, “but there are only so many Cezannes.” In the same vein, there will be only so many Chens. paintings in his lifetime. “Stocks may be split,” says a New York dealer, “but there are only so many Cezannes.” In the same vein, there will be only so many Chens.
If I had that money invested in chen’s 100 paintings, here are some of the steps I’d undertake . I would be to see each of those paintings eventually average $1 million dollars per picture.
- Form art professional teams to cooperate with the T.F. Chen Cultural Center to support the “Arts for Humanity World Tour.” While cooperating with other agencies, they would strive to make its images the most famous modern paintings in the world.
- Support more specific exhibitions of Chen’s series paintings, e.g. The Spirit of Liberty Collection, the Van Gogh Collection, etc. and promote their worldwide showings in as many museums, cultural centers, galleries, and other venues as possible.
- Publish and merchandise limited-edition prints; publish the art in film, educational TV, etc.
- Work closely with international critics, curators, auction houses, museums, and media, and in all kinds of reciprocal promotions.
Consider and evaluate all other promotional options. They must preserve Chen’s time — so that he may be allowed to continue to create.
For collectors there is the opportunity to realize substantial profit -– and to enjoy social status and business opportunities from being significant contributors to the world art scene and human culture. Closely associated with the artist, purchasers, too, will become an important part of art history.
I have placed my reputation, advocacy, and assistance fully behind Dr. Chen. I recommend that you purchase his paintings now for three sound reasons.
- For esthetic pleasure
- For sound investment
- For better understanding of East-West culture
Esthetic pleasure is a very personal thing, and some of you may find a few of his paintings too strong for your tastes; and yet it is this very strength that makes the world art community pay attention. This strength, this power, will be the foundation of his reputation.
As for investment, I believe there is a strong probability for future profit in any purchase of Chen’s paintings. As an artist becomes more widely recognized, his prices usually jump.
In this era when every nation is searching for the spiritual inspiration from all corners of the world, it’s the creation and promotion of fascinating and uplifting art that highlights the dedication of better cultural understanding between the West and the East.
As an international exhibition curator, appraiser, art writer, and consultant in art investment for nearly half a century, I recognized Chen’s genius decades ago. My early judgment has been fully justified, and I have no hesitancy in continuing to place my reputation and advocacy behind him and his work.
Lawrence S. Jeppson