Chase Chen is a survivor of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. His timeless landscapes and still lifes, with their moody interplay of sunshine and shadow, evoke a sense of poignant longing for permanence in a world of relentless change. Until he was 7 years old, Chase lived happily with his parents and grandparents, all doctors, in a pleasant compound for medical people in Shanghai. His grandfather was a graduate of Harvard Medical School. All their neighbors were doctors too. “My family had never moved since I was born. Therefore everything around me was dear to me. This nostalgic sadness and happiness always grasped my heart.” He wished nothing would ever change.
But in 1966, the terror of the Cultural Revolution invaded his secure world. All professional people became suspect. They were ridiculed as “reactionaries” and deprived of their life’s work. Chase’s beloved grandfather committed suicide, as did many in their neighborhood. Chase found refuge in his grieving grandmother’s library, where he discovered art books on 19th Century French artists of the Barbizon school, Renaissance painters and postcards of Russian paintings. He longed to know more about the world of art.
His mother, father and surviving grandparents were sent to the countryside for reeducation leaving Chase and his 5-year-old baby sister, Joan, alone. Two trucks came and took away his grandfather’s books. Chase and his sister clung together. Somehow they would survive. His grandmother finally returned to take care of them, and his mother was allowed to visit each month, urging her son to continue painting.
There was no real schooling for children during the Cultural Revolution. This son of highly educated parents felt inadequate and shy. He did not talk much. He just kept drawing and painting, pouring his intense longing into touching portraits of his home and neighbors. Local people became aware of his special talent. At 9 Chase had his first show, at the Children’s Palace in Shanghai.
When he was 14, he left home to join a water polo and rowing team – a nonintellectual safe haven during the Cultural Revolution. Even though he was exhausted from his physical exertions every day, he painted portraits of his fellow team members.
In 1976, the terrible Cultural Revolution finally came to an end. At last, he could study art openly. Chase joyfully enrolled in the Shanghai Art Institute, where his amazing talent was quickly recognized. His paintings were published in Chinese magazines and newspapers and he became an instructor at the Prestigious Jiao-Tung University in Shanghai.
His life took another dramatic turn in 1978 when his mother, a distinguished Nobel-nominated neuropharmacologist who continued her scientific experiments even in the countryside, became one of the first doctors to be invited to America after the Cultural Revolution. Chase’s sister came with her. Soon after, Chase joined them in America. His exciting and unique work attracted almost immediate attention. In 1986, he had a one-man show at California State University Northridge, where he was a visiting scholar. His paintings have also been shown at Cal Arts, the Fine Arts Gallery in West Covina, Gallery Plus on Melrose Avenue and Nina Frost Gallery in Los Angeles.
Chase Chen has always been known for his landscapes, but his first figure painting, “Dreaming Season – Moonlight,” realized about $50,000 at the Christies auction in Hong Kong, well above the estimate. “Figures are a new dimension for Chase,” notes director Susan Colon, “but his success with it comes as no surprise. We see him as museum quality.” Publisher Lev Moross accounts for Chen’s distinctive style by pointing to his background. “Chase comes from Shanghai,” Moross observes, “the Chinese city with the largest international art community. His creative influences include Russian, French and American art.