Vines crawl up the walls framing a mossy, cobbled street in Tunchang County. Lanterns swing gently in the breeze while children play and parents pull idle carts filled with the day’s groceries. Wide doorways along the road open like portals into rooms filled with paintings, each one a frozen moment of Hainan life. Tunchang County's unique 'oil painting street' is lined with studios of artists who have set up their shop for a slower, artistic way of life.
Here, Li minority artist Chen Yijun captures in oil and watercolour the vivid beauty of the countryside: cows graze under red-blossom trees, old houses hide in wild vegetation, and birds fly over waves of lapping, sloping boulders. Chen Yijun’s paintings, as well as those of many of the other 30 artists exhibiting on this street, reveal a deep reverence for Hainan’s natural wonders.
Tunchang County’s lush, rolling hills overflow with beetel nut and rubber trees. Since childhood, Chen Yijun has loved the outdoors, and farming alongside his family. He started to study painting in 2005 under the tutelage of Chen Youjun. When he wasn’t farming, he sat with his teacher in the library, attempting to replicate on canvas the awe he felt for the green landscape around him.
The Research Art Gallery collective opened in 2010 and by 2019 his art career had stabilized. Chen Yijun then turned his attentions to community service and involved himself in various volunteer organizations. Among other things, he worked with children in the community library, encouraging them to learn about the world and he says, “occasionally teaching them how to paint.”
Although Chen Yujin has been the recipient of several awards, he seems to shun away from praise and believes that the best response to art is quiet reflection. He holds that the process of creating is in essence one of meditation.
“I yearn for peace. Art brings me a peaceful and stable environment. Art gives me a quiet place to rest,” he says.
Chen Yujin draws inspiration from the works of a plethora of Chinese and Western artists: Leonardo’s ‘Mona Lisa’, Van Gough’s ‘Night Café’ and Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ and ‘Les Demoiselles d'Avignon’ feature amongst his favorites.
“Soul works,” Chen Yujin says, “works that capture the essence of the artist. That’s what I like.”
Li Zijian, a Chinese painter who famously created world-renowned ‘The Nanjing Massacre’, captivates Chen Yujin with his stunning realism. ‘The Nanjing Massacre’ is a strong divergence from Li Zijian’s other works, which typically revolve around themes of love and humanity. Intricate details draw forward an unwilling sentimentality with scenes of children enshrined in nature, old couples smiling quietly in doorways and farmers engaged in everyday tasks. Chen Yujin specifically enjoys 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.
“The life in the alleys and of various villages, the fruits and flowers under the scorching sun, the Sansha that like warm breezes and clear summer, the quiet and fresh sea breeze, the early spring countryside of Tunchang…these bring me a feeling of hope.” he says.
Chen Yujin thinks that artists should support and encourage one another in an attitude of common progress. He stands for the freedom of artistic expression, without criticism or political purpose. At his gallery, he paints every day and frequently organizes free sketching exchange activities during the holidays.
“I am still learning. I have always been learning on the road of painting,” Chen Yujin says.
Chen Yujin imparts one final pearl of wisdom before the conversation
ends and he invites all to his studio. He speaks about the best advice he has ever received as an artist.
“Only this: paint more beautiful things.”
Daily, 9am-5pm. Tunchang County, Xingye Lu, Oil Painting Street. 海南省屯昌县延益画廊油画一条街兴业路. See listing.
M. Dekenah is a writer and teacher interested in environmental
conservation, creative arts and social issues. Follow her on Instagram
[Images courtesy of Chen Yujin]
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