Art Taipei 2018
Taipei World Trade Center Exhibition Hall 1
Cen Long’s solo exhibition Ten Years at Studio 94 with The Thermos Foundation in Taipei showcased Cen’s works over the past decade side by side with Romain Rolland’s seminal novel Jean-Christophe. Its protagonist, a musical genius by the name of Jean-Christophe Krafft, has a heart of gold reflected honestly in his works. Moreover, he is a man of character and resolution that stood stoutly against a pretentious society. The whole work, ten volumes in total, is both an ode to music and a künstlerroman. It documents the perennial struggle of Art between cynicism, nihilism, and pessimism on the one hand and the affirmation and celebration of life on the other, as expressed through artistic ideologies and movements. Cen read Jean-Christophe as an young adult and became deeply enamored by the story; It made ripples through his soul that continue to resonate today, for just like Krafft, he has dedicated his life to defending what he sees as truthful in art. Cen’s artwork is full of vitality and intellectual undertones. He only paints people that he respects, hard working people who do not let the traumas of life drag them into perdition and weakness, and for whom challenges are also opportunities.
Why do I call him a follower of light? His paintings have always been suffused with an inner glow, a holy light of kindness. Cen’s earliest motif was the traveling bard, wandering amid depictions of down-to-earth scenes of Northern Chinese agriculture, cultures, and farming habits. These rustic human landscapes brought to light his most frequent theme: the harmony between man and nature lending the strength needed to survive in harsh conditions with only primitive technology. During this period, the light that permeates Cen’s art is one of gentle hope: men find a home in nature and inspire one another with love and solidarity. He paints lives, man and animal both, that live close to the sun on highlands and prairies. Around this time in his artistic career, he told me that he would be satisfied if his artwork, like the sporadic starlight one sometimes sees at night, could touch the heart of even a few.
Cen reminds me of the great French impressionist Monet. Monet was also an artist fascinated by light; he sought to infuse his works with the chiaroscuro his mind captured. From his perspective, all colors were the varying shades of light, in the sense that the intensity and luminosity of all colors are made elusive and transitory by illumination or lack thereof. Cen longs to capture light in his work as well, not only literal illumination but also the holy light, a divine gift from God, which he aspires to associate with it.
In Gazing at the Stars, a woman looks up from working the fields to gaze fixedly into the night sky. Within her arms she carries her two goats so tenderly that they seem more like family pets than owned beasts. The starlight, representing divine illumination, falls not only on but into her, reflecting from the depth of her soul. One can tell that the path Cen strives to follow is straight but difficult. He aspires to capture and represent an elusive and mysterious halo in his artwork; in terms of techniques, he achieves this by carefully composing areas of white, black, and grey tones and by an elaborate layering of paint with varying thicknesses and transparencies. The Pearl Fishers’ Rite, which was exhibited in the Church of Malta in Venice, is a very concrete example of how important the light motif is for Cen. As the pearlfishers haul their boat ashore, a woman leads the way, illuminating the path with a torch which symbolizes the steadfast faith that supports humanity in all its struggles. The double reflection of man’s history—perseverance and faith—is encoded in Cen’s works with the former expressed by his laboring subjects and the later declared by light and flame.
Now at the age of sixty, Cen is still actively developing as an artist, continually incorporating his ideas, philosophies, and experiences into the substructure of his painting. I am truly impressed by Cen’s relentless drive to perfect his art, which incidentally reminds me of a passage in Jean-Christophe—“Most men die at twenty or thirty; thereafter they are only reflections of themselves: for the rest of their lives they are aping themselves, repeating from day to day more and more mechanically and affectedly what they said and did and thought and loved when they were alive.” Cen refuses to rest on laurels and wallow in old achievements, rather, he is an artist who embraces the boldness of the present and the hope of the future.
It should be no surprise, then, that Cen’s artistic career has gone through many distinct phases. Before he was thirty, he emphasized distortion and engaged the audience with enchanting tension. When he was around thirty, Twilight Snow established a new semiotic paradigm for his artistic language. After the age of forty, he gravitated more towards painting the mundane and the ordinary, families and animals, which he came to respect almost reverently. This combination of deep reverence and mundane subjects created the artworks of the Holy Family collections. His brushwork conveyed sweet and enduring sentiments, like an autumn breeze that sweeps happiness and hope across one’s face. Since he touched the milestone of fifty, Cen embarked on yet another new path, aiming for more profound and spiritually inviting styles and topics. Over the past few years, this new direction is more and more apparent. He uses less colors and focuses on the subtleties of the multifarious shades each color hides within itself, employs less redundant and straightforward brushstrokes, and invents creative and flexible compositional structures. Cen hopes to establish an artistic language that neither excludes nor panders to specific demographics, employing universal themes and timeless images which he hopes may bring feelings of hope, love, and positivity of life to all his audiences.