(Note: Lawrence Jeppson has been a renowned international art consultant, historian, curator, writer, editor, publisher, lecturer, and appraiser for nearly half a century. He is America’s leading authority on modern French tapestries, as well as expert on several painters, including Dr. T.F. Chen, about whom he has written several books. Through the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, the American Federation of Arts, NY’s Museum of Modern Art, and his own Art Circuit Services; Jeppson has been a contributor to more than 200 art exhibitions around the world. He is co-founder and director of the Collectors’ Investment Fund and owns AcroEditions.)
Dr. Chen’s first exhibition in the U.S. at the Art Alliance in Philadelphia, 1978. Mr. Lawrence Jeppson (far left) coined the term “Neo-Iconography” for Chen’s artistic style and wrote extensively on it.
|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 1973 at an exciting turning point in both our lives. Chen had just spent a dozen years in Paris where he had obtained a Ph.D. in Art History from the Sorbonne and had just created a new art style 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 was just beginning this 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 imme-diately recognized his great talent, bursting on so many levels. Chen came onto 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 (whose work has sold for about $40 million, prints sold for $1.7 million) or Jasper Johns (whose work has sold for $80 million). 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-list Robert Rauschenberg (whose work has sold for $40 million), then 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 Global New Renaissance in Love 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 L’École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-arts for 7 years.
In 1975, Chen and his wife Lucia moved from Paris to NYC and became US citizens. In1983, they moved to the SoHo art district of New York City. Chen 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 and former director of the Van Gogh Museum in Holland, called Chen “the reborn Van Gogh.”
Chen’s homeland 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” and collecting his art work.
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 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.
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 “Arts 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 22 books in English, Chinese, and French. Chen’s art has been featured more than 300 textbooks, magazines with other master artists, such as the university art history textbook, Arts & Ideas.
Some critics consider him among the 20 most influential artists in the world today. Others place him in the top ten. This is not too much praise.