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Luis Chan, a visionary and imaginative painter
Gerard HENRY
at 5:09pm on 18th May 2017

1. 陳福善,《無題》(歸帆)(局部), 1960, 油彩 木板 / Luis CHAN, Untitled (Junk Boat with Red Sail) (detail), 1960, oil on Board

2. 陳福善,《無題》(奇幻風景與動物), 1964-1982, 彩墨 紙本 / Luis CHAN, Untitled (Fantastic Landscape with Animals), 1960,  Ink and Colour on Paper

3. 陳福善,《無題》(海堡的奇幻風景), 1970, 彩墨 紙本 / Luis CHAN, Untitled (Fantasy Island with Turreted Towers), 1970, Ink and Colour on Paper

4. 陳福善 ,《石魔》, 1972, 彩墨 紙本 / Luis CHAN, Rock Monsters, 1972, Ink and Colour on Paper

圖片:漢雅軒提供  / All images courtesy of Hanart TZ Gallery


The painter Luis Chan (1905-1995), whose work was the subject of a retrospective in a Hong Kong gallery in February and March 2017, embodied throughout his life the qualities that deeply shock Hong Kong in the twentieth century by his very distinctive work that opens a world of fantasy and finds its roots in both Eastern and Western cultures.

Born in Panama in 1905 in a Cantonese family, Chan arrived in Hong Kong at the age of five and stayed there until his death. As a self-taught artist, his training came from correspondence courses taken at the Press Art School in London: "One could, he used to say, express all his emotions with colours." This becomes truly evident in his work. From 1925 to 1960, he devoted himself, like most local painters, to landscape, painting tirelessly on the motif and all aspects of landscape. His watercolours show a great originality in the treatment of the subject and the colour: Chan captures the intense light that drenches the landscape, turning the sky to yellow and the vegetation cover in very dark, almost black green plunging the scene into an immobility where not a breath of air passes, creating a sense of arid solitude, a suspended time where any form of human life would have vanished. Chan was also a very active and passionate person. In addition to being remembered as an educator, he had his first solo exhibition in 1935, founded the Hong Kong Artists' Guild and published a large number of essays on the art of drawing, watercolour, portraiture and contemporary painting.

The daring and fantasies of an unbridled imagination

Chan's style transformed completely in the 1960s when he was in his fifties. He experimented with all the techniques of Western art: oil, collage, acrylic, freeing himself from all constraints. Immersed in his own world, he delivered to viewers all the daring and fantasies of his imagination: A liquid and aerial universe in bright and provocative colours - turquoise blue, water green, rose, dotted with islets, rocks encrusted by condensed humanity and often reduced to grotesque or tormented faces, with large areas of colour of fishes swimming in the air or beneath the waves.

The meeting with Jacques Halpern, French artist who was mysteriously poisoned in Vietnam

In 1961, the Alliance Française and the Hong Kong City Hall jointly presented an exhibition of the French surrealist painter Jacques Halpern. Halpern was born in 1925 and much appreciated by André Breton who associated with Tristan Tzara, Christian Dotremont and Raymond Queneau, among others, to the movement of Revolutionary Surrealism. Chan was one of the most enthusiastic supporters of "automatism" between the age of 45 and 50. He recalled how Halpern's exhibition had profoundly inspired him at a time when he broke the fetters of tradition and freed himself from all obstacles, creating his own world of imaginative and visionary landscapes, sometimes with surreal overtones. He attended a demonstration by Halpern who transferred his colours from a zinc plate onto the paper, utilising in his painting the power of the unconscious, a technique which Chan later mastered exceptionally well until his death in 1995, without adhering to Surrealism but allowing him to engulf in his own imaginary world. According to a Hong Kong source who knew Halpern well, this travelling French painter had a tragic destiny. After an exhibition in Saigon, Halpern settled down in Vietnam where he opened a gallery, but tragically died mysteriously shortly after being sent to the hospital. There was a rumour from agents of Diem spreading around that he was poisoned, probably due to his sympathies for North Vietnam. This is of course difficult to verify the facts today.

A painter who shows his joy of painting and living

Chan emphasised on a higher harmony and tried to create a global picture of the world where water, air and sky are constantly mingling with on another, where animals and humans, encrusted in the rocks, become the very substance of the islets, but incapable of aspiring to the freedom of the fishes. His later works become more abstract and meditating.

Chan was a man of great energy. He genuinely took a great deal of humour and joy in his life and painting, and remains a representative of Hong Kong culture, which is reflected in his ability to quickly absorb new influences and create unique work when compared with his contemporaries in China. Chan's works are now in private collections and a large number in the Hong Kong Museum of Art, which is now closed for a major renovation.

Link: 'JAZZ WITH LUIS:Retrospective of Paintings by Luis Chan' @ Hanart TZ Gallery

This review was originally published in French in Courrier International, France on 16 February 2017


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