Shanghai Art Gallery - Chinese Contemporary Art

  The Memoirs of Chen Jiao’s ‘Perspective’
by Ellen Manning

The artistic expression of Chen Jiao is unique and inspiring. The artist grew up in a suburb area called “Satellite City” where many large factories still operate. As a result, Chen Jiao claims that “all memories of my childhood are related to industry”. Her work evokes recollections from her past in an almost nostalgic way, yet they are much more than just places from her childhood. She offers an imaginative perspective in her work. Buildings, windows, blackboards, Chinese characters and even nature are stylized like a drawing plan or a perspective.

On close inspection of the paintings, one can see that Chen Jiao marks some of her objects with measurements. She also includes mathematical calculations, such as division tables that are randomly spread around the empty space of her canvases. Interestingly, Chen Jiao has not studied architecture so these are not building plans or blue prints. In fact, these measurements are a fine artist’s calculations of the proportions of the structures. In one of her paintings, she even applies such mathematical precision to a wonderful tree, which would at first seem contrary to the concept of nature. The artist could easily do her calculations on a little pad of paper and not on the canvas, but she chooses to write the mathematic equations on the canvas and leave them there to give the pieces a more “raw” feel. Since the numbers are an integral part of the creation of her paintings, Chen Jioa probably feels that this makes the work even more authentic. Indeed, all artists use mathematical proportions along with their creativity because they are integrally linked; Chen Jiao chooses to display that.

Chen takes photos of buildings so that they can provide her with details but most importantly so that she can recall the buildings and their “atmosphere” from within her memory. Chen Jiao is more interested in the history – the details or stories – that have marked these ‘places’ from her past.

The artist does not see the necessity of depicting surroundings in her work or adhering to the rules of perspective drawings. She places buildings on a canvas with space around them to emphasis “accessible” or continual space leaving little details elsewhere. Chen Jiao feels that “the most powerful expression is the true depiction of the object itself”. She focuses the viewers’ attention purely on the buildings or objects, almost as if her own memory can only see the item, while the space around the object are unclear and hazy. The colors around her objects are all painted in a wavy, non-solid light-shaded colour.

Even though some of Chen Jiao’s paintings closely resemble perspective drawings in her use of spatial foreshortening and vanishing lines, she playfully works against the conventions in many of her scenes. As perspective drawings typically assume that the viewer is a certain distance from the drawing, objects are usually scaled relative to that viewer. In some of Chen Jiao’s pieces however, she includes subtle imbalances. For example, a disproportional lamp or a window shutter that appears to be opening the wrong way.

In another series of work, Chen Jiao has recently started painting blackboards. Certainly such an object evokes nostalgia as it reminds the artist of her childhood. To enhance the realism however, Chen uses special techniques to create several layers of mixed media to make the work look realistic. She includes torn pieces of paper, paint and different colors of chalks. She even paints chips on the blackboard to give it a weathered and time-worn appearance, and subtle hints of children’s graffiti can be seen, too. This technique makes it seem as though the blackboard has really been used. On the blackboard, Chen Jiao includes teachers’ writing and numbers on a table to show the scores in a competition between classes which most Chinese children have experienced. This all serves to be extremely reminiscent of all Chinese children’s education, and indeed the education of most children around the world.

Chen Jiao’s expression is not only intelligent, but also her comprehensive use of mixed media offers an exceptional composition that attracts many viewers internationally. Her work is mostly composed of black, white and grey, but sometimes she includes splashes of yellow, pink or green. Chen Jiao uses her palette to “build up atmosphere in her paintings”. The light, fading colors and old buildings seem to be in harmony on canvas. It is also refreshing to see pencil sketching, tape, paper and chalk overlapping oil paint. Most intriguing, is how she achieves the look of chipped paint on some of her buildings and walls. Chen Jiao’s background – a Masters Degree in oil painting – paired with her creativity and unique approach to art, has resulted in the artist winning the Golden Dragon Award (first prize) of the Dragonair Emerging Chinese Artist Awards 2006. Since then, Chen Jiao’s career has gained great momentum. She has been featured internationally, and most notably, at the globally important Art Cologne show in Germany in 2007. She has also exhibited in Washington DC and Miami, USA. Whether or not one is an admirer of architecture, urban landscape or nature, the artistic expression of Chen Jiao is bound to appeal.


© Art Scene Warehouse and Chen Jiao
Images of art by Chen Jiao may not be reproduced without the prior
written presmission of Chen Jiao or Art Scene Warehouse, Shanghai.