Cheng Lian ~ March 2016 Artist of the Month
When asked what is his favorite tool for pastel, Cheng can rattle off pastel brands from almost every country. He started with resources from China, as his father was instrumental in developing the Chinese materials. His father was founder and first chairman of Shanghai pastel association 31 years ago. And so he started using pastel from that time forward. For a while he used Russian pastels; they had 200 colors in the box but they were too hard for use on pastel paper and Cheng felt the quality was not up to his standards. Today, he uses Rembrandts and is quite happy with their texture and softness.
Interview written by Margaret Sinclair and edited by Cheng Lian.
It isn’t often that you get to meet a complete artist. One who has a true gift, enjoys lifelong study and, incredibly, paints every day. Now many of us work very hard at painting every day and studying intensely, but for Cheng Lian, study was not the issue. Cheng LIVED art.
Those of you who have been raised here in Houston are quite familiar with the term “mud”. It is common cultural knowledge for you. You were surrounded by the terms of the oilfield and drilling as you grew up. The information seeps into your consciousness without your consent or awareness. This was the reality of Cheng Lian’s life, too. Art was everywhere: spoken about, created and dispersed.
Born in Shanghai, in 1955, he was the second child of a famous painter. His father had graduated from the prestigious Academy of Fine Art and been accepted as an instructor there. As a result, Cheng and his brother were immersed in art on a daily basis. When they were bored, they painted or drew. They went on walks with Father and painted and drew the outdoors.
When Cheng was older, he participated in an International Cultural Exchange Program and resided in Michigan. During this time, China had some difficulties - Tiananmen Square Incident. As the political situation in China became less stable, the United States offered to let the students stay and study for a period longer. So, at this time, Cheng decided to stay in the U.S.; he returned to China and reunion with his family much later when his father was ill and until his father's passing. He currently visits every year and is intimately connected with his family. His brother, an exceptional painter as well, traveled to France, and studied there, but returned to China to live and paint as a professor of a prestigious art school.
Next, he settled in Chicago and wanted to find work. He didn’t speak any English and the Chinese community in Chicago was limited. So he worked as a laborer for a furniture company. One day they delivered the furniture to a huge house which belonged to a rich man who lived in Chicago downtown with an incredible art collection. Coincidence or destiny? Even better, his furniture company boss was the one to explain to the rich man that Cheng was a superb artist. Ultimately, Cheng showed his work to the rich man and was hired on the spot to copy all the old master pieces from museum albums like Rembrandt and Rubens, including "The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp."
As with all fairy tales, this one had an end. After copying some four or five magnificent paintings, Cheng became bored. So he scouted the area for a good looking, appropriate gallery to approach. The first one told him to clean up his act, return in a suit and then they would consider his work. On to the next one, Billy Hork Galleries. (Now, this is the big time.) Cheng showed his one copy and his one original to the associate, who immediately hopped up the stairs to get Billy. “Bring whatever you’ve got and I’ll buy it”, says Billy. “You’ll be a Gallery Artist.” Billy Hork Galleries resold their artwork to over ten additional galleries all over the U.S.
Cheng’s wife was hired as and still is an IT specialist for Continental, (now United) and moved to Houston and Cheng lived in Chicago. Needless to say, they had quite a long commute back and forth between Chicago and Houston for these 2 years. Finally, Cheng moved to the warmer, sunnier climes of Houston.
While living the artist’s life, Cheng studies all mediums and works primarily in oil, pastel and charcoal. His studio is an “additional house”, in his backyard. He is active in The Woodlands Art League and works with several groups on Figure Drawing, Portraiture and Plein Aire.
Cheng says, “As I get older and older, everything is simple. Simple is best.”
Cheng's favorite subjects are portraiture and plein aire. As a youngster, he was required to study outdoors for a month, twice a year. However, he says that then, more abstract work was in vogue and he is a self-proclaimed “Traditional Impressionist”. And his best painting is “the next one”!
Cheng feels that as he matures in his life and art, his goal is to get better and better, to enjoy the process and improve the results. He is amazed that he has been able to make a living painting. In fact, he does not truly know the number of paintings he has produced. Currently, he is not represented by any gallery but has a large group of private collectors with whom he stays in touch.
Events and awards 2015
• Signature member, OPA
• Honorable Mention, 2015 Artist's Magazine All-Media Online Competition
• One of the judges of signature member selection committee for California Plein Air Painters
• Best figurative award, Best of America 2015, National Oil and Acrylic Painters Society
• Invited as an Inaugural Signature Member of the California Plein Air Painters (CPAP)
• 24th Annual National Juried Exhibition, Oil Painters of America
• 2015 Juried Salon Show, Oil Painters of America
• Western Regional Juried Exhibition, Oil Painters of America
• Invited to demo at 53rd Lone Star Art Guild Convention and Art Exhibition
• Honorable Mention award, NOAPS Master/Signature Artist Invitational Show