Chinese artist Chen Dongfan creates large scale space paintings around the world

Chen Dongfan is an artist born in Zibo, Shandong province, now living in New York.

He obtained his B.F.A. in Experimental Art from the China Academy of Art, Hangzhou. He has been actively participated in various public art projects and created large scale space paintings in New York, Hangzhou (China), Turin (Italy) and Athens (Greece). As well he has exposed his work in artgallery shows and exhibitions. Chen Dongfan won a competition to paint a giant mural ( 4800 square foot) in Chinatown’s Doyers Street : “The Song of Dragon and Flowers” where viewers could interact and be involved with the painting.

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China-Underground: What motivated you to become an artist, how did you start your artistic career?
是什么促使你成为一名艺术家的,您是如何开始你的艺术生涯的?

Dongfan Chen: There’s a Chinese proverb that says “At three seeming grown, at seven seeming old”. For me it really makes sense. If I think back, what made me become an artist probably came from when I was young and my father would hang my pictures on the wall. Those were I guess my first exhibitions. Someone only needed come visit and my father would proudly make his statement. After that, whether it was a holiday or an older relativeʼs birthday, I would always take it upon myself to think at length of what to paint by way of a present ―- I realized that what I was best at wasnʼt only fun for me; it could also move those around me. This compelled me from an early age to hone my skills and seek a way to create art freely.

答:中国有句古话三岁看大,七岁看老,我觉得还是蛮有道理的。现在回忆起来,促使我成为一名艺术家,应该是从小时候父亲将我的画挂到墙上开始,那应该算是我人生中的第一次展览吧。只要家里有客人来访,父亲都会自豪的讲解,之后无论是逢年过节、还是长辈过生日,我都会主动花时间去构思画些什么作为礼物——我发觉自己所擅长的这件事,不但自己乐在其中,而且还能让周围的人开心感动,这也激励了我从小就不断磨练技艺,也自此开启了追求自由艺术创作之路。

What does art represent for you? What is your artistic philosophy? What do you want to tell with your artworks?
以您个人来说,艺术是代表什么?您对艺术的理念是什么?您通过您的创作想要转达什么?

Art is my way of being with the world; it represents everything and is my everyday.

I like things that are positive, aspirational and happy; art that is pragmatic, pure and vivacious. There isnʼt really anything I want to express through the work. In the making process I do my utmost to get close to something real and lasting. Although itʼs but an instant in time, still, to be able to bask in that strange and sacred aura makes all the labor worthwhile.

答:艺术是我与世界相处的方式,艺术代表一切,也是我的日常生活。
我喜欢积极向上美好的事物,纯真、纯粹的和富有生命力的艺术。
我并不想通过创作来转达什么。我试图在创作过程中尽力去靠近真理和永恒,虽然那是稍纵即逝的时刻,但是能够置身神圣而又神秘的圣光之中,所有的劳动付出是值得的。

What are your sources of inspiration?
您的灵感来源是什么?

Everything in everyday life can become a source of inspiration for me. Music, movies, reading, travel – all these enrich my life.

答:日常生活里的一切都可以成为我灵感的来源,音乐、电影、阅读和旅行会丰富我的生活。

Are there any of your works related to a significant moment in your life?
您的创作当中,有没有和您这一生比较重要的阶段有关的作品?

Every stage in life is important. It will also never be repeated. In my 2017 solo exhibition in Hangzhou “Heated Bloom” there was one work, a large painted installation piece showing a reclining figure, a bouquet of flowers at their breast, flowers which from their blooming at the start of the exhibition had withered by its end. The title, “Heated Bloom”, comes from my fatherʼs catch-phrase in Chinese “Duan-lian”(to toughen, temper; work out, hone OR: train ones skills). He died from cancer a year ago and itʼs still hard for me to come to terms with. Before the exhibition, I covered the gallery facade in colored eyes. I hope that in the different stages of our lives, the warmth of gazes gone by never extinguishes and dissipates.

答:人生的每个阶段都很重要,而且不会再重新来过。2017年我在中国杭州的个展锻炼,其中有一件巨大的绘画装置作品。画面是一个平躺的人,胸口处有一束鲜花,直到展览结束,花从盛开到枯萎。锻炼是父亲的口头禅,他在一年前因癌症去世,至今我仍然很难接受。展览前我将画廊的外墙涂满了彩色的眼睛,我希望在我们人生的不同阶段中,背后温暖注视的目光都永不消散。

Can you tell us about your massive mural artwork in Chinatown? How does the idea come to life?
您可不可以跟我们讲一讲您在纽约华人区绘制的巨型壁画作品?您是怎么把您的想法实现出来的?

Doyers Street is the oldest and most notorious street in Chinatown and is the earliest place to have been referred to as that. More than a century ago, faced with unfair regulations on Chinese immigrants, the Chinese community fragmented and rose into various factions, conflict and bloodsheds between whom continued unabated. Although the street itself isnʼt that long, there are numerous twists and turns, corners where the armed factions would lie in wait to ambush their opponents. The street once had the highest murder rate in the whole of the United States and it is said the areaʼs business owners had to wash the streets outside their shopfronts clean of blood each morning. Doyers Street was referred to as the “Bloody Angle” and even today is infamous in its Hollywood portrayals.

Making a painting on Doyers Street was something no one had ever done before. Whether one thinks of the area as a cultural backdrop or the topography of the street itself, for me a dragon seemed the image most apt for the purpose. I wouldnʼt however go and paint a figurative Chinese dragon, but rather sought to preserve its “Qi”, the vital rhythms and spirit, combining this with floral emblems, something of love and peace, the abstract and the Pop. It was as if a dragon had ensconced itself, stretching from one end of Doyers street to the other. By realizing this public art project, I hoped to contribute something to my community and get more people to take notice of Chinese immigrant culture and its history, the injustices of the past and the peaceful shiftings of the present. Art can break the barriers between cultures, whilst at the same time touching the hearts and minds of the people.

This was a project supported by New York Cityʼs Department of Transport (NYC DOT) in conjunction with the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation. My proposal was received by ArtBridge with the support of Fou Gallery to be ultimately passed unanimously by a committee of judges and then realized without hitch in July.

答:Doyers st是纽约中国城最古老的传奇街道,是最早的唐人街。一百多年前,由于针对华人不平等的移民政策,致使华人帮派林立,帮派之间争斗流血事件不断。这条街道虽然不长,但有好几个转角,帮派埋伏在拐角处,手持斧头等候袭击敌手。这条街道曾是全美凶杀案发频率最高的街道,传说商家早上不得不清洗街道地面上的血迹。Doyers st被称为血腥之角(Bloody Angle,至今在好莱坞大片中,Doyers st也是恶名昭著。

要在Doyers St上画画是前无古人的,无论是文化的背景还是街道的形态上,我认为龙是最合适不过的意象。但我不会去描绘具象的中国龙,而是保留中国龙的气韵和精神,再与花的象征相结合,爱与和平,抽象而波谱。从街头到巷尾,宛如一条盘踞的长龙。我希望通过实现这个公共艺术项目,为自己的族群做一点事,让更多的人来关注华人移民文化的历史,过去的不公平待遇和现在的和平变化。艺术可以打破文化的隔阂,并感动人心。

这是纽约市交通局(NYC DOT)联合华埠共同发展机构(Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation)公开征集的公共艺术项目,我在ArtBridge和否画廊的协助下递交了提案,最终评委全票通过,于七月顺利实施。

Graffiti Artist Chen Dongfan
Where is the happiness 幸福在哪⾥里里
©Chen Dongfan 陈栋帆
Hangzhou, China 2011
10000 sq.ft.
With the process of urbanization in China, and the gentrification of communities brought by highend residential, what is the position of the indigenous community culture? To properly renovate the villages at this transitional phase, the government was actively seeking creative solutions and practicing experimental policies. To this respect, the Hangzhou grassroots government invited artist Chen Dongfan to participate in the renovation of the street. His public art project consisted of four murals, each on one building, respectively named after the four seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter, depicting the life of living and working in peace and contentment. They also symbolized the search for “what is a happy life”.
中国城市化进程中,⾼档住宅的兴起,当地的本⼟⽂化将何去何从?中国政府采取积极的政策,在这个阶段的村落改造是⾮常具有实验精神的。杭州基层街道政府邀请艺术家陈栋帆参与街道的改造。公共艺术项⽬共四栋楼,艺术家分别以春夏秋冬四季为每栋楼的主题,象征安居乐业的⽣活,也是对“何为幸福⽣活”的追寻。

How long did it take to complete the whole project? What are the main difficulties you encountered?
您花了多长时间才完成了那次项目?绘制过程当中有没有遇到什么难点?

I was painting for a total of eight days. However, each day I had to work eight hours, hunched over in the hot sun, hence exhaustion was a problem. I improvised on site and there was no draft to speak of, a little like action painting. For this reason my mental state and responses in situ were both vital, but also open to influence from ambient distractions. There was a lot it was impossible to control in the making process. This made the whole thing an adventure as anxiety ridden as it was invigorating. There was one time Iʼd been standing with my paintbrush at a corner when, dazzled, I felt time and space somehow slip. From the glinting of blades, shadows, the ground awash with blood, to today and the whole street an artwork in multicolored splendor. I suddenly felt very movedthis is New York!

答:我总共画了八天,但每天要在烈日下弯腰曲背工作八个小时,体力消耗是个问题。我是现场自由即兴的创作,是没有任何底稿的,有点像行动绘画。因此现场的感受和状态很重要,也会受外在干扰的影响,创作有很多不可控的因素,整个过程紧张刺激而冒险。有一次我提笔站在街头的拐角处,有一种时空错乱的恍惚。从刀光剑影的鲜血满地,到如今满街五彩缤纷的艺术作品,突然很感动,这就是纽约的魅力吧。

Graffiti Artist Chen Dongfan
Uncertain 忐忑
©Chen Dongfan 陈栋帆
Hangzhou, China 2010
This old block locates in the bustling city center of Hangzhou, and the local government invited artist Chen Dongfan to participate in its street renovation. Chen applied the theme of “love, happiness, and sharing” to paint colorful murals on the two buildings at each end of the street, echoing one another. The murals stood like mirages in the city, illustrated an innocent fairy tale with figurative and abstract forms such as starry sky, mermaid, sleeping cat, fireworks, and playing children. This was the first urban mural in Hangzhou that has been widely discussed and well known through social media, television, newspapers, and radio.
这条⽼街区位于繁华的城市中⼼,当地政府邀请艺术家陈栋帆参与街道改建。陈栋帆以“爱情、幸福和分享”为创作的主题,将街头巷尾的两栋楼绘满彩⾊的壁画,两栋楼遥相呼应。画⾯⾥出现了星空、美⼈⻥、睡觉的猫、烟⽕和游戏的⼩⼈等具象和抽象的图形,成⼈童话般的隐喻,纯真⽽⾊彩绚丽,宛如城市⾥的海市蜃楼。这是杭州第⼀个被⼴泛讨论的城市壁画作品,当年经由社交媒体、电视、报纸和⼴播等被⼴为⼈知。

During the creation of your artwork in Chinatown, you were close to the Chinese-American activities. What are the main differences you’ve seen between them and the Chinese in the mainland?
华人区绘制过程期间,您有没有跟当地的华人居民成为朋友了?他们跟大陆人相比主要在哪里不一样?

Everyone was so enthusiastic, many brought their kids specially to see my piece. Now Iʼve moved to the LES trayʼve all become my neighbors.

Nothingʼs different, but Chinese abroad have a greater sense of cultural identity; they have a strong appreciation of how their community has progressed and prospered.

答:大家很热情,很多人还带了孩子专程来看我的创作,如今我搬到了下东区居住,大家如今也成为了街坊邻居。没有不同,海外的华人反而有更多的文化认同,会看到自己族群的进步有强烈的共荣感。

Graffiti Artist Chen Dongfan
Fairy Tale 童话
©Chen Dongfan 陈栋帆
Hangzhou, China 2009

Living in America has changed your way of seeing the world and making art?您在美国生活的经验有没有影响到您的世界观以及艺术实践?

Living in New York may have enriched my experience of life but it hasn’t impacted on my worldview. My artistic practice will not change because of the city. Life in New York is both heaven and hell and my lifestyle here has been altered dramatically. The biggest thing Iʼve gained is a settled life and inner calm― I know this is unbelievable but thatʼs really the way it is.

答:居住在1纽约会丰富我的生活经验,但不会影响我的世界观,我的艺术实践不会因城市改变而变化。纽约生活是天堂与地狱的两极,我的生活方式有了翻天覆地的变化,最大的收获的是生活的安静和内心的平静——我知道这是不可思议的,但的确如此。

Can you share with us any story behind your art project?
您能不能跟我们讲一讲您的艺术项目背后的故事?

Taking the bus with my wife, two elegant blonde ladies said hi to me, a mother and daughter. Theyʼd dressed up specially that day and come from the upper east side by bus to visit Chinatown and see my work. It turned out it was the Motherʼs eightieth birthday. Sheʼd learned about my work from an article in the New York Times. Going specially to see my wok had been her eightieth birthday present to herself.

答:我和太太坐公交车时,有两位优雅的金发女士跟我打招呼,是一对母女俩,他们今天特意着装打扮,从上东区坐公交车来中国城看我的作品。原来今天是妈妈八十岁的生日,她因纽约时报的报道知道了我的创作,今天专程来看我的作品是她送给自己八十岁的生日礼物。

What is your experience as an artist in the era of social media? Do you think the benefits are more for the artist or for the users?
作为一位身处在社会媒体时代的艺术家是什么样的体会?以您个人来说,好处哪一方,社会媒体使用者或者艺术家?

When it comes to public art projects, social media is a really good reference tool. It’s are a great means of documenting peopleʼs interactions with the work and broadcasting this to the outside.

It was because of the rise of Wei Bo (the Chinese blog site) that my 2010 public art project came to be widely known. It was amusing when a friend told me excitedly that I was once of most searched topics on the site, even though I didnʼt actually own an account. Last yearʼs project was also photographed by many visitors who uploaded the images onto Instagram. Instagram is a social media platform on which users mainly share images. Iʼve seen a great number of very creative things there. I was very excited to see the way these works functioned to instigate public participation in the piece and I plan to make a collection of all the images from social media and produce a small publication about the recreation of my work on social media.

答:对于公共艺术项目来讲,社交媒体是很好的参与工具,它能将人与作品的互动很好的记录并传播出去。

我在2010年的公共艺术项目就是因为微博在中国的兴起而被广为人知的,好玩的是朋友兴奋的告诉我上了微博热搜,但我并没有微博账号。去年的项目也被很多人拍照分享到Instagram上,Instagram是图片分享为主的社交媒体,我看到了很多有创意的图片。我很惊喜看到作品能引发公众集体参与创作,我计划把社交媒体上的图片收集起来,做一本关于这个项目在社交媒体上再创作的小册子。

Graffiti Artist Chen Dongfan
©Chen Dongfan 陈栋帆
Chen Dongfan Studio 2018

Can you share with us some information about your upcoming projects?
您能不能跟我们分享您以后的项目相关的信息?

This year I started making one small artistʼs book a week, each on average around 20 pages. By the end of the year there will be a total of fifty two volumes. Right now Iʼm up to number twenty nine.

答:我今年开始每周画一本手绘艺术家书,每本书大概平均20页左右。到今年的年底结束,总共会有52本,现在已经画到第29本了。

Photo courtesy of Chen Dongfan
Special thanks to Fou Gallery

Dominique Musorrafiti
Dominique Musorrafitihttp://www.china-underground.com
Ciao! My name is Dominique. I’m Italian and I’m proud to be a mix. My father was an Italian chemical engineer and high school teacher, with Greek and Polish heritage. My mother is Haitian, she was high school language teacher, with Dominican, Spanish, French, Portuguese, African and Native American heritage. Being a mix makes me appreciate to want to understand different cultures and lifestyles. I grew up in Italy, lived few years in Haiti, travel around main European capitals, lived seven years in China, six in Spain and UK. Traveling makes me feel that we can learn something from every situation in every part of the world.

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