Ask Morgana 104: Chen Yanning

If Chen Yanning (1945-) is not the only artist to have ever been commissioned to paint ‘socialist realist’ pictures of Mao Zedong, and a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II in the robes of the Order of the Garter, then I would be mightily surprised. He is one of the most prolific Chinese realists, and his work is impeccable. I will explain simply why I have selected him as an erotic artist: Firstly, if there is nothing erotic about exquisite female beauty in itself (painting 4 below) then I’ll eat my hat; and Chen paints many, many beautiful women. Secondly, the fact that he hardly ever paints and exhibits nudes, means that that sparingness is in itself exciting, as is the coyness of the unseen faces and the hint of a smile in the seen; in paintings 1 and 3 below, moreover, are the subjects robing or disrobing? Thirdly, he knows damn well that clothes do not have to come off for a woman to be sexy; see 2 below – a detail from a larger painting – the girl in gold is vulnerable in her reverie, and one hip is peeking through the slit in her cheong sam

Realism can seem a cold form, a matter of mere depiction, irrelevant since the invention of the camera. A great realist, however, knows that there is more going on than that, that expression is not an abandoned irrelevancy, and that interpretation by the viewer is an integral part of the creative process. These pictures engage.

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Images reproduced under ‘fair use’ provisions.

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