Chen Ruo Bing's painting has undergone a transformation. In his older paintings (1997-2000), forms were identifiable which from a distance reminded one of landscape elements such as mountains, trees or perhaps even human figures. In the sensitive ink drawings in particular we encountered ensembles of abstract figures who had a certain inherent communicative structure. In Chen Ruo Bing's painting color did not to any extent dominate the picture. It was rather a question of forms in pictures, which derived from a pool of memory and which were there as a repertoire which could be drawn on. If one was in search of a far-eastern element in the early works of Chen Ruo Bing, it was here that one was most likely to find it.
It is always challenging to talk about color in painting, both for the person who is speaking and also for the listener or reader. Colors in painting emerge from the application of pigments, in other words, they are material things. What effect they have on us, however, is not objective, but to a large extent subjective. And it is from this subjectivity that one of the – paradoxically – most sublime levels of perception develops: that of the power of color. It is this effect which touches the very essence of the human being and his perception. Color reaches the depths of our emotions and is thus also always stimulating.
What we can do with color is describe it and define it. But there is always something left which cannot be described, which is only for the senses.
In Chen Ruo Bing's artwork, for the past few years color has been completely detached from any associations with the world beyond the painting. The movement impulses, triggered by the forms which somehow conveyed these associations in the past have been replaced by a more complex order in the picture. This order allows us to penetrate to the heart of the picture, beyond the effect emanating from the color.
It is clear that the painter today prefers forms which suggest a geometric language although they do not appear as pure geometric elements. The basis of the picture is made up of layers of color and generally provides a monochrome platform on which the picture can develop. Today Chen's paintings can best be described as color-form-compositions. The forms are parts of the painting, to a certain extent "forms of motifs" which stand in certain relationship to each other. Every picture reveals a new relationship, every picture is – as Theo von Doesburg would have it – a new thought in color. For the creative process, this means that the painter pursues a pre-defined goal right from the beginning. He knows how the painting will be arranged. To what extent the experience of the effect of color is known in the early stages, however, is probably not clear at the outset.
Chen's color-forms develop their effect in the relationship between the parts and the whole. Every shape is placed in relation to anther and at the same time to the whole. If this were not the case, if chance played a role in the way they were placed, the painting would fail as a compositional work. The relationship between the parts and the whole particular structure rather than another is irreversible.
Thus Chen Ruo Bing creates paintings which in their being and their entity are completely European in concept. The art historian Theodor Hetzer's description of the "picture body" which describes the unity of the web of relationships between the motifs presented in a painting and the edge of the picture applies to Chen's work. The objects in the painting, the inner structure, the edge – are all categories which characterize western painting. To distinguish themselves from this tradition of a "relational" painting, American artists have adopted the concept "non-relational", which says that the picture no longer draws its strength from heterogeneous elements which require each other, but as a result of homogeneous ones. Symmetrical paintings or picture-objects such as those in the early works of Frank Stella demonstrate this aim clearly.
States of tension and energetic processes characterize the relational painting of Chen Ruo Bing. The forms in the pictures are not merely subject to a fixed order, they enter into a dialogue with each other. The dialogue is expressed in the way they behave towards each other. As in all works of Concrete Art, it is in fact non-verbal – unlike the picture with figures which tells a story.
Color, as Chen Ruo Bing well knows, is not an arbitrary medium. Painting in color has its origins in a tangible store of experience. Anyone who can put color into painting so confidently shows an undeniable sensitivity in his perception of the world. It is up to the observer himself whether and how far he wishes to follow along the path of the color and its order, or to what extent he wishes to benefit from it.
One of the key themes of the 1979s was "heightening of awareness". What this means was the heightening of our awareness of things outside our everyday experience. Art which is devoted to color with such mastery is an excellent medium for heightening our awareness and our soul. Here, the far east meets the west. This is the field of tension in which the painting of Chen Ruo Bing has developed.
Krems an der Donau, November 2003