2010 November | Artco Monthly Magazine – Story About the Ordinary – Discussing Cen Long’s Art Purgatory

Hann Art Agency
Dec 12, 2018 8:54AM

The purgatory described within Dante’s Divine Comedy is an environment that all must suffer through before reaching Heaven. There, the human soul goes through repentance, cultivation, and purification to gain a new life and enter heaven. It can be said that all my paintings are also going through purgatory’s baptism! (Self-Portrait)


Every painting has a moving story behind it …

In “Twilight Snow” (1987)by Chinese artist, Cen Long, the painting’s protagonist is a lonely donkey in the snowy mountains of Tibet who is moving forward using much effort. The strain on the donkey caused by the harsh environment of snow and ice can practically be felt. But, the artist deliberately created the Tibetan house within the painting as if it were a castle in a dream, revealing an oasis at the end of the donkey’s path and downplaying the difficult, lonely road of life. At this point, viewers can feel the artist’s spirit of determination, one that is not resigned to fate. He attempts to utilize his inner conviction of good and beauty to resist the spirit of this world. In fact, this lonely donkey is Cen Long’s depiction of himself. As a result, this painting can not only be considered an autobiography, but also, the artistic pursuit of a consistent ideal.

At that time, he had met with great misfortune in life with no stable residence or lifestyle. Although he was suffering from asthma attacks brought on by the winter cold, he setup a small sketch pad underneath a narrow stairwell to complete this painting and participate in the National Art Exhibition. Sure enough, it received great praise and was recognized with a big award. In this tough period, his work “Mountain” won a big prize in the National Art Exhibition, also in the same year, another group of his illustrations, “The Old Charcoal Seller,” also received second place in the National Art Illustration Competition. The background for this group of painting comes from the deeply moving interpretation of Tang Dynasty poet Ju-Yi Bai’s poem, “The Old Charcoal Seller.” Although the old man was hostilely oppressed by the bureaucratic system, the old man refused to give up his hopes in life. He continued to ask the heavens to make the weather colder and snow more so that he could fetch a higher price for selling charcoal and thus, buy food and clothing for himself. Although the story’s background comes from a Tang Dynasty poem, it is a true reflection of the state of his mind.

Throughout his life, he had endured much pain, and therefore, early in his life, he became accustomed to suffering, using a calm state of mind and a broad view to observe the world. He discovered that many people around him were the same as him, or even worse off than he was. However, these people held a very optimistic and tenacious attitude to live day by day. They were very ordinary people living very ordinary days, ceaselessly struggling against bad luck continued from generation to generation. In Cen Long’s view, this is the greatness of humankind. Therefore, he admired them, and carefully described what he saw with his own eyes and his mind thought to attempt to show the world ordinary, yet familiar situations of life in his works. He tries to let viewers feel the greatness that occurs in ordinary life, which is really humankind’s and, thus, the viewer’s own greatness.

In a scene filled with pink flower petals, the old woman within “Spring’s Paulownia Trees” spends the rest of her afternoons in loneliness. She had lost her beloved husband in World War II. She is a commoner, forever continuing to hold his memory silently in her heart as she waits for that final moment. How do you view her life? And in “Shanxian People,” a farmer is crouching on a rock with cigarette in hand. He is also a commoner. However, his face reveals a smile filled with confidence and joy? In fact, these people have worked plain, but hard lives. They are great people. .

Humans are not the only beings living ordinary lives. The protagonist of “Small Farm House” is a trailer. To the residents of Shan County cave, located in north-west China, this vehicle is essential to their existence. Originally a cold, unfeeling machine, it shows a tremendous vitality amongst the thick fragrance of the earth. This seemingly insignificant trailer is strongly and firmly holding its position, which people cannot help but respect. In “Mother and Daughter,” the calf is tenderly trying to prop herself up on its undeveloped legs, leaning against her mother while intermittently looking at viewers. Cen Long not only wants to portray the ordinary, but eternal love between mother and daughter, he also deliberately expresses his respect for cattle. Although cattle are a rustic animal, they are the most loyal human companions in his mind, good friends accompanying humans on this mother earth.

He paints those who seek relief from the realities of human suffering, but who do not live in fear. He also paints those who are unable to achieve their goals, and thus become long-forgotten people. Cen Long became deeply moved by the behavior of these people, driving his hand to paint and portray them. Moreover, he does not like the pretense of painting techniques. To pursue the realm of simple and ordinary, his images at first glance appear to be rustic. However, if studied closer, one can discover the meanings conceived behind his amazing drawing skills. The content presented holds elegant atmospheres that have withstood the test of years, and are precious souls worthy of respect.

His triptych painting, “Purgatory,” portrays a monk lighting a small oil lamp in the desert night, as well as a sailor lighting a lantern on a boat that is floating desperately in dark night on a windless sea. These lights amidst a vast night appear to be extremely small and insignificant. However, in the minds of people who have a firm belief in the truth, this represents hope and consolation. Belief is the bright fire that is initially very weak, but ultimately a great time for it to burn brilliantly will come. And, the old tree in the middle represents the endless, eternal truth about all the objects in the world.

Everybody knows that good art must be able to stimulate the mind and raise people’s spirits, but its highest value lies in its beauty’s ability to transcend time and space. But, I always thought that the work of a great artist is not just able to do those things, but also depicts the pursuit of truth. As a result, his work would become a way of disseminating truth, awakening humankind’s innate goodness and love. And I deeply believe that art which follows these conditions can achieve the eternity and universality that all artworks should hold. After all, life ultimately returns to its essence as it pursues everlasting truth.

This type of purgatory…let Cen Long’s work’s explain it!

Author / Metra Lin

Hann Art Agency