Chen Chi-kwan was born in 1921 in Beijing (known as Beiping at the time). As a child, his father invited a tutor to instruct him and his sister in the Four Books and Five Classics. He also did calligraphy as he learned seal, clerical, regular, running, and cursive scripts to further strengthen his foundation in traditional studies. The War of Resistance against the Japanese erupted when he was a youth, and his whole family ended up moving from place to place, finally settling along with the seat of government in Chongqing, Sichuan Province, where he studied architecture at Central University.
In 1944, before graduating from university, Chen Chi-kwan was drafted and served as an interpreter in the China-India-Burma Theater of World War II. After Japan was defeated, he returned to China and worked in Nanjing, setting sail for the United States later in August of 1948 to continue his studies. In 1951 he was invited by the famous Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius (1883-1969) to work for his architectural firm, also being recommended to teach part-time at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Three years later, in 1954, Chen received a phone call from the architect I.M. Pei to go to Taiwan and work on designing the campus of Tunghai
University. In September of 1960 he would return to settle in Taiwan on a permanent basis, setting up the Department of Architecture at Tunghai University and single-handedly overseeing the design of its Luce Memorial Chapel. From then on his life was inseparable from Taiwan, and he went on to great achievements in architecture and painting, his excellence in both being known far and wide.
Chen Chi-kwan used a uniquely Western perspective to revolutionize traditional Chinese painting, employing his “mind’s eye” to view the world. His paintings have a pure and fresh quality, a style all their own. He developed innovative views on humanity and nature while achieving startling results in both modern and traditional aesthetics. Consequently, on 3 September 2004 the National Culture and Arts Foundation presented its eighth National Award for Arts in the category of fine art to Chen. The reasons were as follows:
1. With an architect’s aesthetic, Chen Chi-kwan combined abstract concepts and monochrome ink to create a new kind of painting. He used a uniquely imaginative way to express a mystical, architectural, ethereal, and pure world seemingly beyond time and space. As a result, his works exude an aura of creativity and freedom.
2. Chen fused elements of recollection and imagination, to which he added his search for “innovation” in the moment. His works have a universal quality of constant expansion through radiating, juxtaposing, and repeating forms. His creativity in art is therefore unique.
3. Chen Chi-kwan’s paintings reveal decorative colors, architectural lines, and mystical spaces, inspiring viewers to look beyond their surroundings in a completely new way. Thus, his style is both cumulative and inspiring.
These three reasons for presenting the award in many ways sum up Chen Chi-kwan’s lifetime of achievement in painting.