Tommy Chen was born in 1931 in Jinan, Shandong and at the age of 18, he moved to Taiwan with his family and began studies at the National Taipei University of Education. Dissatisfied with the school's stifling education system, Chen sought guidance in Li Chung-sheng's studio and developed a unique and personal painting language, as well as became friends in art with other LI's other students such as Huo Gang, Xiao Qin, and Hsia Yang, who together founded Ton-Fan Art Group in 1955. In the 1950s, Chen specialised in sketches that streamed the natural expression of consciousness as a response to the post-war international pulse of abstract painting. During the 1960s, Chen began to experiment with many types of media to express a bleak post-war struggle situation. His images have broken away from symbols to rely on points, line, and texture. His paintings were mostly gray and brown toned, and he would mix copper grease with oil paints to produce rich textures that would shine and flicker under light. In the 1970s, Chen was busy with international activities, such as the Sao Paulo Biennale in Brazil, where he received the First Prize, International Youth Exhibition in Paris, and the Asian International Art Exhibition in Hong Kong, where he received high honors.
His style changed after 1980 to contain more fluidity and large untouched blank spaces on the canvas to allow the mind to freely wander in time to pursue a vivacious spirit. He also sought to express the nostalgia for the vast plateau landscape in which he spent his childhood years. The fluctuations in color as well as the sculptural texture of Chen's works are reminiscent of the jumping beats of a beautiful melody. Usually people feel a need to control colour and technique, but Chen focuses on the creative process, wanting to unleash the unconscious into the conscious. He says, 'The works are records of the activity of my inner spirit. The principle is abstract, and I express my inner life with as little interference as possible – the beautiful, the ugly, they are all independent and full of life. I just use my language to expose these feelings.'
Press release courtesy Eslite Gallery.
Director of Eslite Gallery, Emily Chao, Taiwanese art history researcher Kaiwei Wang and Tommy Chen 's son Leon Chen talk about Tommy Chen's abstract art.