February 21, 2016


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Lot 85: George Chann

Lot 85: George Chann


c. 1969
Oil on canvas
Signed with monogram lower left
Canvas: 16" x 12"; Frame: 18.75" x 14.5"
Estimate: $8,000 - $12,000
Price Realized: $31,250
Inventory Id: 21084

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George Chann (1913–1995) was the first widely recognized Chinese-American artist to paint in a modern eastern style. His life and career form a remarkable artistic journey. Born Chen Yinpi in the Chinese province of Guangdong, he emigrated with his father–an herbalist and practitioner of traditional medicine–to Northern California in 1922. Chann showed an early interest in art and painting, but was largely self-taught until moving to Los Angeles in 1942. There he studied at the Otis Art Institute (now the Otis College of Art and Design), taking a master's degree in fine arts in 1945.

There are two distinct periods in Chann's work. His early figurative paintings suggest the influence of the Post Impressionists and feature robust stylized forms reminiscent of the work of Thomas Hart Benton and George Bellows. Chann's subjects include landscapes, nudes, and still lifes, but he had a particular affinity for depictions of marginalized peoples–particularly the poor, the elderly, and children. In the early 1940s his work was frequently exhibited in California, including solo shows at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco and at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

In search of his cultural roots, Chann returned to China in 1947. He stayed for three years, taking lessons in calligraphy and studying classical Chinese art and antiquities. When Chann returned to the United States in 1950, he quickly embraced innovations in American art. This second distinct style merged the energy and emotive brushwork of Abstract Expressionism with traditional Asian symbology. Chann would develop a singular technique in which individual Chinese pictographs were pasted onto a prepared canvas, rubbed or scratched, then overlaid with gestural paint strokes. "Chann achieved a balanced combination of formal visual components and textural physical patterns, to effectively tap the charm and tension inherent in each material and the myriad associations triggered by various written characters and symbols," wrote the curator J.J. Shih. "George Chann's later abstract paintings demonstrate his keen sense of color and capacity for creating order out of chaos, while at the same time proving the meticulous yet nevertheless lyrical artistic qualities of a pure abstract painter."

Shih, J.J. "George Chann (1913–1995)." Taipei: Lin & Keng Gallery, 2000: 34-37. Web. 22 Dec. 2015. Wong, Jean, and Grace Fu. "Chann, George – Selected Document – Artasiamerica – A Digital Archive for Asian / Asian American Contemporary Art History." Artasiamerica, n.d. Web. 22 Dec. 2015.