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The Power of Persimmons

The odd composition of several oils on paper caught my attention. They were variations of a still-life by Chen Li, but it wasn't like any still-life I had seen before.

   
  
 
  
    
  
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     Chen Li, 2006,  Still-Life Variation II , oil on paper, 34cm x 34c

Chen Li, 2006, Still-Life Variation II, oil on paper, 34cm x 34c

What struck me was the odd linearity of the fruit on display and the extraordinary texture. Chen Li (b. 1971) is one of the artists from Southern China whom I represent and whose works I showcase, so I set out to learn more about the context of these works.

Soon afterwards, I came across a extraordinarily powerful and deceptively simple work by Mu Qi, a 13th century Zen Buddhist monk.

   
  
 
  
    
  
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     Mu Qi (c.1210-1269),  Six Persimmons , ink on paper

Mu Qi (c.1210-1269), Six Persimmons, ink on paper

The apparent simplicity of the work is incredibly moving and was clearly an influence on Chen Li's contemporary artistic expression. Interestingly, the linearity of this 13th century Chinese work was also an influence on the Italian Giorgio Morandi, who collected Chinese art and was aware of this painting.

   
  
 
  
    
  
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     Giorgio Morandi, 1956,  Nature Mort , oil on canvas

Giorgio Morandi, 1956, Nature Mort, oil on canvas

As to Chen Li's Still-Life variations, I also wanted to find out what inspired the artist to come up with such extraordinary background texture.  Here the answer was quite different, proving yet again that necessity is the mother of invention.

   
  
 
  
    
  
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     Chen Li, 2006,  Still Life Variation IV , oil on paper, 34cm x 34cm

Chen Li, 2006, Still Life Variation IV, oil on paper, 34cm x 34cm

When Chen Li created these works, early in his career, he was poor. At that time he was also perfecting his woodcut printing techniques, and had indented pieces of paper from failed impressions. As paper was expensive, he re-used the discarded woodcut paper for his oil works, thus inadvertently providing interesting texture of which he made good effect.