Vines crawl along the walls framing a cobblestone, mossy street in Tunchang County. Lanterns sway gently in the breeze as kids play and parents pull unused carts full of the day’s groceries. Wide doors along the road open like portals into rooms filled with paintings, each representing a frozen moment in Hainan’s life. Tunchang County’s unique “Oil Painting Street” is lined with artist studios who have set up shop for a slower artistic lifestyle.
Here, minority artist Li Chen Yijun captures the dazzling beauty of the countryside in oils and watercolors: cows graze under red flowering trees, old houses hide in wild vegetation, and birds. waves of sloping rocks fly over. Chen Yijun’s paintings, along with those of many of the other 30 artists exhibiting on this street, reveal a deep reverence for Hainan’s natural wonders.
The lush, rolling hills of Tunchang County are teeming with beetle nuts and rubber trees. Since childhood, Chen Yijun enjoys the outdoors and farming alongside his family. He started studying painting in 2005 under the tutelage of Chen Youjun. When he was not a farmer, he would sit with his teacher in the library, trying to reproduce on canvas the fear he felt for the verdant landscape around him.
The Research Art Gallery collective opened in 2010 and in 2019, its artistic career had stabilized. Chen Yijun then turned to community service and got involved in various voluntary organizations. Among other things, he worked with the children of the community library, encouraging them to discover the world and, he says, “sometimes teaching them to paint.”
Although Chen Yujin has received several awards, he seems to avoid praise and thinks the best answer to art is silent reflection. He argues that the process of creation is essentially a process of meditation.
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“I long for peace. Art brings me a peaceful and stable environment. Art gives me a quiet place to rest, ”he says.
Chen Yujin is inspired by the works of a plethora of Chinese and Western artists: “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci, “Night Café” by Van Gough and “Guernica” and “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” are among his favorites. .
“Works of the soul,” says Chen Yujin, “works that capture the essence of the artist. That’s what I love.”
Li Zijian, a Chinese painter who created the famous “Nanjing Massacre,” captivates Chen Yujin with his stunning realism. “The Nanjing Massacre” is a strong departure from Li Zijian’s other works, which generally revolve around themes of love and humanity. Intricate details showcase a reluctant sentimentality with scenes of children embedded in nature, old couples smiling quietly in the doorway, and farmers engaged in daily chores. Chen Yujin particularly likes Li Zujian’s “Stay Behind” and “Maternal Love” series, which he describes as “deeply moving”.
In painting, Chen Yujin is also influenced by his love for nature.
“Life in the alleys and in various villages, the fruits and flowers under the scorching sun, the Sansha people who love the warm breezes and the clear summer, the calm and cool sea breeze, the spring countryside of Tunchang… hope.” he says.
Chen Yujin believes that artists should support and encourage each other in an attitude of common progress. He defends the freedom of artistic expression, without criticism or political goal. In his gallery, he paints every day and frequently organizes free sketch exchange activities during the holidays.
“I’m still learning. I’ve always learned through painting,” Chen Yujin says.
Chen Yujin gives one last pearl of wisdom before the end of the conversation and invites everyone to his studio. He talks about the best advice he has ever received as an artist.
“Only that: to paint more beautiful things. “
Daily, 9 am-5pm. Tunchang County, Xingye Lu, Oil Painting Street. . See the list.
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Angela M. Dekenah is a writer and teacher interested in environmental conservation, the creative arts, and social issues. Follow her on Instagram @angiedeks.
[Images courtesy of Chen Yujin]
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