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Chen Li: Paintings from the Heart

Once in a generation, there comes an artist who shakes things up. Chen Li is one such artist and he does this without recourse to new materials, for he breathes new life into an existing medium. 

Chen Li lives and works in the spectacular beauty of Kunming, the capital of China’s remote Yunnan Province.

He reaches out from within the cultural context of his native Kunming in a way that speaks to universal experiences whilst conveying the very essence of Chinese traditions.

   
  
 
  
    
  
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     Chen Li,  Wild Landscape with a Brook , 2008, oil on linen canvas, 130x97cm

Chen Li, Wild Landscape with a Brook, 2008, oil on linen canvas, 130x97cm

I paint to fully express my ideas, my hopes. I paint what I feel in my heart.”

Inspired by nature, poetry and music, and rooted in Eastern philosophies, he creates a new visual language by melding the abstract and gestural qualities of Chinese ink painting with the colours and textures of Western oil painting.

   
  
 
  
    
  
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     Chen Li,  Untitled (Spirit of Dawn) , 2014, oil on linen canvas, 85x85cm

Chen Li, Untitled (Spirit of Dawn), 2014, oil on linen canvas, 85x85cm

Chen Li is an artist’s artist, praised for his innovative technique and unique style. Yet, he refused to exhibit his paintings until he was 46, waiting until he was satisfied with his ability to convey genuine emotion through paint on canvas.

   
  
 
  
    
  
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     Chen Li,  Contemplative Mood , 2015, oil on linen canvas, 100x131cm

Chen Li, Contemplative Mood, 2015, oil on linen canvas, 100x131cm

Always marching to the tune of his own drum, Chen Li is a master of Eastern and Western techniques, yet he purposefully isolates himself from the artistic community to pursue his own vision.

Chinese art and Western art have different views about reality. But when I paint, I ignore both man-made and natural rules to create living artistic images.”

   
  
 
  
    
  
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     Chen Li,  Windswept , 2015, oil on linen canvas, 132x100cm

Chen Li, Windswept, 2015, oil on linen canvas, 132x100cm

His expressive and innovative oil paintings defy any one style.

Just like writing a love letter, content is the key; what pen you use is not importantI never think of formal styles or schools of painting …. and this gives me unlimited possibilities.”

Even Chen Li's woodblock prints are unusual. For his prints, Chen Li uses a rare technique known as Yunnan woodblock reduction printing. Through a series of steps, the process uses a single woodblock to print all of the colours.

Each step along the process destroys the previous one, so all prints made in this way are single edition limited prints. The technique uses thick oil-based colours that give the prints a captivating relief-like texture, similar to an oil painting.

Prints produced this way are unique. Only a single edition of limited prints can be made and the process can never be repeated.

   
  
 
  
    
  
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     Chen Li,  Universe (Road to Exploration) , 2007, reduction woodblock print, 50x40cm, edition of 50

Chen Li, Universe (Road to Exploration), 2007, reduction woodblock print, 50x40cm, edition of 50

Chen Li's solo exhibition, "Chen Li: Paintings from the Heart" is on at the Coningsby Gallery, 30 Tottenham Street, London, W1T 4RJ, until 1 July 2017. From 10am - 7pm.