Chen Yifei (Chinese: 陈逸飞; April 12, 1946 – April 10, 2005) was a known Chinese classic-style painter, art director and film director.
Chen Yifei is a central figure in the development of Chinese oil painting. He is also considered one of China's most renowned contemporary artists. Although he was denounced for "capitalist behavior" Chen's work with oil painting earned him recognition from Chinese authorities. Chen soon became one of the leading painters of the Cultural Revolution. He was famous for his big Mao Zedong portraits and depiction of grand heroic events of the modern Chinese nation. After the Cultural Revolution, Chen became the forerunner of a new age in Chinese aesthetics, promoting a new sense of modernity and lifestyle in his paintings as well as in fashion, cinema and design. In his oil paintings Chen abandoned his uncritical glorification of the party to blend realistic technique and romanticism with Chinese subject matter, especially melancholic and lonely women in traditional dresses. His characteristic "Romantic Realism" paintings use dark and dense colors and convey a sense of richness and integrity.
In 1980 he became one of the first artists from the People's Republic of China permitted to study art in the United States. Wally Findlay Galleries was the first gallery to grant Chen Yifei an exclusive contract. Chen Yifei enrolled at Hunter College and later found work as an art restorer. In 1983, before he attained his master's degree at Hunter, his solo exhibition at the Hammer Galleries was a great success. Later, he established as a contract artist for the Hammer Galleries.
Chen returned to China and settled in Shanghai in 1990. He painted Impressionist landscapes of Tibet and his native Zhejiang Province. At the same time, he had also transformed himself into a style entrepreneur, creating fashion brands, decorating hotels and selling high-end clothing and chic home furnishings. He also supervised one of the country's biggest modeling agencies. Some critics said he turned increasingly commercial.
In 2005, while working on a feature film, "Barber," Chen fell ill and died. His early death left intellectual circles in shock and highlighted his major role in the Chinese contemporary art scene.
Chen was born in Ningbo of the coastal province of Zhejiang. Later, the Chen family moved to Shanghai and Chen began his studies of Russian artists and Socialist Realism to promote his talent in a lucrative field.
Chen graduated from the High School for Art in Shanghai in 1964, then graduated from the Shanghai Training School of Art (also called the Shanghai College of Art) in 1965 and soon after began focusing almost exclusively on oil painting. Within a year, as the Cultural Revolution gained steam, Chen caught the attention of Communist officials for his propaganda works that frequently glorified soldiers of the Communist party and portrayed grand images of Mao Zedong. Chen was soon viewed as "one of the leading artists at the state-financed Shanghai Institute of Painting." Chen was fortunate to gain notoriety early in his career. As the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976, Chen continued doing oil paintings, now shifting his focus to a more romantic and European style. Many admire that Chen was "one of the first artists to bridge the gap between the art of the Cultural Revolution and Western contemporary art".
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