I was scurrying along the Underground station at Victoria the other day when suddenly a horse with a flaring mane reared in the corner of my eye. It was a swift painted steed, all flow and motion. I knew this horse immediately for a beast sprung from the fingers of Qian Chen. In its vigour it heralds the Chinese New Year celebrations in Soho on 2nd February.
Qian Chen is a respected artist from Hunan who has settled in London. He trained for many years to become adept in the classic brush techniques of the notoriously difficult Chinese water and ink painting. His obsession is the equine form and, thus, his horse is the centrepiece of the London poster. It takes much skill and daring to control the running inks; to give both the essential fluidity and grace of the Chinese horse.
I have seen many of his paintings. Some are serried herds, seemingly caught in stop motion, so that the horses all seem like splashes of the same galloping animal. Others are quiet mares, who have come to drink at the dawn-glimmer pools of Qian’s watery conjuring. His page is always a misty grassland from which the deft flanks and sprung necks of the horses emerge with certainty and flair.
The fact that Qian Chen is also the Senior Vice Chairman of the China UK Business Association comes as a surprise, since art and commerce do not often inhabit the same person; at least not in Britain. However, Qian sees these aspects of his life as binary facets, rather than oppositional fractures. In this Qian’s attitude is quintessentially Chinese. For instance, he has met David Cameron and Boris Johnson in recent weeks, both as a businessman and as a painter.
Moreover, when I spoke to him yesterday I found his confidence remarkable. He told me that the good relationship between Britain and China is framed perfectly by the Year of the Horse. He explained that this context has given an impetus to the Chinese community in Britain. With Chinese investment growing they are establishing themselves in an increasingly self-assured and colourful aspect of our cultural and commercial lives. Qian’s horse paintings reflect this enthusiastic vitality.
The Chinese horse epitomises a fiery nobility and strength. In Qian’s sweeping brush strokes can be seen a twining of the personal and the public. His paintings offer the promise of an energised year and a celebration of the restless, joyful spirit of the horse.