Chen Ruo Bing is a Chinese painter who works on the color concepts based on the theory which can be traced back to Aristotle and Albers, and meanwhile he lets his consciousness to dig into his emotional Chinese blood. He was born and raised up in the legendary Hangzhou area, one time the capital of 12th century China, and he had practiced the traditional Chinese scroll painting techniques including tons of rough paper writing of Chinese calligraphy before he went to Germany for a Kantian philosophical inspiration. His life in Germany has made Chen Ruo Bing one of the new Chinese artists whose attitude to the theory and practice of color has been making a meaningful change in the history of contemporary Chinese art.

The celestial characteristics of an old Chinese master has a reflection on Chen Ruo Bing among few of Chinese born artists who work today with abstract language. Plus, their attitude toward life and art can never be separated in a way which we distinguish the so identified contemporary art today. They live first, and then make art; this art can only be a part of his spiritual, emotional and metaphysical life rather than his material aspect such as the financial situation. Chen Ruo Bing will never try to deny his ideal based upon either his cultural roots or genetic origin. In art, he expresses freely like a Chinese more than an international painter. With the sufficient knowledge of color and the interaction of color, Chen modernized the face of a painting done by a Chinese, comparing the old masters’ endeavors, while he is clearly trying to explore a new look of Chinese zeitgeist in contemporary art.

Josef Albers has said “a color has many faces”. And he made a great effort to inform all the artists the relativity of color and the spirituality of color. Therefore, in the development of the visual art in the west after World War II, the concept of color has been improved due to the profound writings of people like Albers. All the artists had argued why the traditional Chinese painting is lack of color and they are curious about why China had never developed a technology of color making, which could not be necessarily as same as the western one. When a regardless point of view had controlled the education of art in such times like the 14th and 16th century China, literati painters paved their aesthetics into an almost monochromatic world indicating sometimes a metaphysical mood. Following the first generation of Chinese colorists, who had mainly studied in Japan and France in the early 20th century, Chen Ruo Bing has represented himself as one of the new pioneers of color, whose effort must make a meaningful difference of paintings created by Chinese.

Throughout all the explorations of modern painting language, Chinese painters like Chen Ruo Bing are able to work out a possible aesthetic of color in which we can read in a way not only reminding so much of the Greek spirit but also the intangible expressions related with the Zen style of thinking and living a everyday life. Those so-called Hard Edge and Color Field artists of the 20th century deserve a tremendous homage from artists like Chen Ruo Bing, just like Mark Tobey and Franz Kline had been grateful to a Suzuki book written in English but lessoned the American intellectuals a different world of irrational logic. The relativity of color hints a relativity of visual perspective, maybe more about options of seeing; the way of seeing in the west has penetrated the way of seeing in the east. Both of them integrated and ready to be seen in art works created by the 21st century artists. The syntax in an abstract color painting only works when its painter senses the vitality of syntax from different cultures. Chen Ruo Bing is mature enough to handle the interaction of this syntax and is becoming masterful with his compositions and colors.

The Subtlety and elegance of color play a major part of subconsciousness for the immediate viewing of people in front of his painting. “Color is stronger than language. It is subliminal communication.” Chen Ruo Bing quoted Louise Bourgeois in a catalogue of his work published by the onemoon gallery in Beijing. His subacute, gallivanting brushstrokes always match the subcritical color tunes in painting. With a great sense of scale, proportion and equilibrium, Chen orchestrated his canvases in a wise, wit and vigorous way. The viridescent areas challenge the gold; and the red is always hardly read as a positive or negative role. Indeed, the stronger is the color. Stretched out with saltires, crosses, squares and stripes, Chen Ruo Bing’s color is eloquent with so many expressions.

“The edge is both fantastic and real, but most of all, it is a threshold to move through and beyond the superficial non-edge of (digital) existence.” Robert C. Morgan reviewed the Op Art retrospective entitled “The Optical Egde” he had curated for the Pratt Institute gallery in Manhattan in the spring of 2007. Edges in Chen’s art work the same way. By using his judgment ability, Chen Ruo Bing lets the field of color expand and the size of canvas response. The non-edge of existence is experienced.

I am glad to see the Wellside Gallery representing the colorful world of Chen Ruo Bing in Shanghai and Seoul. The artist must feel an intimacy when the viewers of his art come to read him in an Asian city. The reason is that his life and work in Germany is just a half part of his meditation, and his observations from places like Düsseldorf and Salsburg must be mixed into a syntax with his existence of being a Chinese.

Ni Jun

February, 2008