Since the 1980s, Shen Chen has been recognised as a pioneer of Chinese abstract painting and experimental ink painting. He is known for adapting materials and processes found in traditional ink painting into large-scale tonal arrangements.Read More
Born in 1955 in Shanghai, Shen Chen studied at the Shanghai Art College and the Shanghai Theatre Academy, where he earned a BFA in 1982. While a student, Shen Chen organised Wild Rose (1978), the first experimental exhibition at the Shanghai Academy of Theatre. After graduation, he moved to Beijing.
In 1988, Chen travelled to the United States on a fellowship at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. Later that year, he moved to New York to study at the Studio School of Painting and Sculpture before earning an MFA at Boston University in 1991. Chen has lived and worked in New York since 1991.
Shen Chen's acrylic paintings combine traditional Chinese painting brushstrokes with contemporary techniques. Aggregated on the canvas, the mark-making results in lush tones and expansive, meditative layers. Central to Chen's practice is the desire to break away from traditional conceptions of ink as material and work beyond its limitations.
Chen's practice developed in tandem with The Shanghai Experimental Art Movement1 in the 1980s, which preceded the 85 New Wave Movement that marked the transition from early abstractionism to contemporary art making in China.
Chen's tonal paintings are a study of brushstroke, colour, and tone located at the intersection of materials and ideas. Painted using different Chinese brushes, resulting in subtle but nuanced arrangements, Chen's paintings appear contemporary, while remaining reserved and elusive.
To replicate the deliberate brushstrokes in Chinese ink paintings and calligraphy, Chen's paintings are made from the studio floor, with layers of paint applied progressively to the surface of large canvases from top to bottom, building up colour gradually using vertical motions.
Through the process of 'stroke-layering', Chen replicates the stream of consciousness associated with meditation, as in the 'Untitled' series, which exudes the artist's state of mind with acrylics on canvas of varying sombre hues.
Discrete horizontal lines are left over on the surface, hinting at the location the brushstroke began. The rigorous process creates meticulous tonal paintings from resonant hues, while reflecting the artist's disciplined approach to his painting practice.
Shen Chen has exhibited widely across Asia, Europe, and the United States.
Select solo exhibitions have been held at Axel Vervoordt Gallery, Hong Kong (2021); Canvas International Art, Amsterdam (2016, 2013); Galerie Frank Schlag & Cie., Essen (2014); Elisabeth de Brabant Art Center, Shanghai (2012); Sanshang Museum of Contemporary Art, Zhejiang (2010); Today Art Museum, Beijing (2008); Gallery 456, New York (2006); and National Art Museum of China, Beijing (1988).
Shen Chen has been included in group exhibitions at Eli Klein Gallery, New York (2020); Tokyo Gallery, Beijing (2016); Epoch Art Museum, Wenzhou (2016); Galerie Frank Schlag & Cie., Essem (2015, 2013); Pearl Lam Galleries, Shanghai (2015); Museum Hurrle, Durbach (2014); Yuan Art Museum, Beijing (2012, 2010); and Museum of Chinese in America, New York (2010).
On Ocula, Shen Chen is represented by Axel Vervoordt Gallery in Hong Kong and Antwerp.
Elaine YJ Zheng | Ocula | 2021