Chen Lianqing’s Forbidden City

Chen Lianqing, "Flooding in the Forbidden City II," 2006, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 250 cm. Image via Yan Gallery.
Chen Lianqing (b. 1967, Chongqing, China) creates highly polished, often humorous paintings of culturally significant monuments and buildings submerged in water. Using a limited palette of grey, red, and the occasional pop of orange, his work limns a response to the natural and man-made disasters that have scarred the Chinese landscape in recent years. Born and educated in Sichuan province near the Yangzi in southwest China, Chen had a childhood shaped by the river’s seasonal flooding, the regular immersion of buildings, and the quiet leisure of workers relaxing along and in the river waters. Unfortunately, with the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in 1994, his family was forced to relocate along with thousands of others, effectively washing away the setting of Chen’s youth. In a thoughtful and technically accomplished artistic riposte, Chen submerged in dark grey waters the most iconic architectural manifestation of political power and control in China – the Forbidden City in Beijing. 

Chen Lianqing, "Fun in the Forbidden City II," acrylic on canvas. Image via Pinewood Design.
In sharp contrast to media coverage of more recent natural disasters, like the earthquake that stunned various parts of the country, Chen’s deluge of the emperor’s seat is serene and peopled by tiny figures enjoying the scenery and floating nonchalantly in the water. In many of his paintings, Chen’s characters, which appear almost like vermin, are mischievous: crawling up roofs, diving off pavilions, and pulling things down. His minute depictions of human flotsam can be seen to represent the Chinese people en masse; their indifference and buoyancy toward the penultimate symbol of authority are signs of the changing times.

Chen received his BFA in 1989 from the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute. He went on to work in interior design and architecture, a skill reflected in his meticulous depiction of monumental architecture. His experience in construction and his intimate knowledge of the blue-collar worker lend his paintings a sense of honesty, humor, and groundedness. Chen is recognized as an active member of the Neo-Pop movement in Chinese contemporary art and has exhibited widely in China and Europe. He lives and works in Beijing.

Chen Lianqing, "Emperor’s Hill," 2010, acrylic on canvas, 112.5 x 112.5 cm. Image via artnet.com.

Chen Lianqing, "Earthcube," acrylic on canvas, 150 x 125cm. Image via Yan Gallery.

Chen Lianqing, "Dragon Boat," acrylic on canvas. Image via Pinewood Design.

Chen Lianqing, "Sweeping Tiantan," 2006, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 200 cm. Image via Yan Gallery.

Chen Lianqing, "Swimming in the Forbidden City," acrylic on canvas. Image via Pinewood Design.

This is the second in a series of posts surrounding Professor Jonathan Hay’s Fall 2011 Green Beijing colloquium at the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU. The Green Beijing Series is organized by MA candidate Elizabeth Lee.

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