Lorland Chen has worked as a fantasy artist for game and publishing companies, as well as teaching at the Chengdu Academy of Fine Art in Sichuan, China. He’s now a freelancer.
Times have changed,” insists Wei Chen, the Chinese artist also known as Lorland Chen. “We shouldn’t hold on to the old ways forever.” Chinese art is more than the traditional ‘ink and wash’ technique. “We should search for more new ways to express the Oriental spirit.”
Lorland’s own work, built from a palette of subtle painterly tones and powerful fantasy themes, begins to address this problem: “Oriental style is not just a way of painting. It should be a spirit that stands for Oriental philosophy.” Lorland, and many artists like him, want to show us a new side to Chinese art.Naughty boy
In Chinese, the name ‘Wei’ means ‘Only one and the best one’. “I am the only son in my family so I got this name from my parents,” says Lorland, who admits that when he was younger he didn’t live up to his name: “When I was younger I was a very naughty boy,” he admits, somewhat shamefacedly.
“I would get into fights and make trouble.” But art was his saving grace.
“My mother decided that I needed some additional education to calm me down,” says Lorland with a wry smile. The most placid infant, she believed, is the one with a crayon at the ready – when you’re scratching away at the page, there’s no time for fisticuffs. Lorland became that child when his mum took him along to the Children’s Skill Training Centre in their home town, Pan Zhihua.
The first teacher who made sense to young Lorland was the editor of Pan Zhihua Daily, a local newspaper. “He was a really friendly man,” Lorland explains. “But he was very strict about our learning. He taught me the basic skills of drawing and sketching.” Today, Lorland is a teacher himself and he is equally strict. Students in his CG art classes at the Sichuan Fine Art Academy must grasp the essentials of drawing before they touch anything digital. Novel dreams
Teaching isn’t exactly glamorous but has its perks: “I have a lot of time to myself, which makes up for the low salary. And there’s always freelance.” Life is easy, but Lorland resists the temptation to idle away his time. Instead he’s busy polishing his skills ready to produce a fantasy-themed graphic novel, The City of Flower Rain.
“The word ‘future’ is an attractive one for me,” says Lorland, who can’t wait for the day he holds in his hand the first freshly printed copy of his book. “But change is always one step ahead of me.” And since daydreaming isn’t his style, Lorland must be ready to grasp his moment. “Only practice can bring me closer to my creative goals,” he says.
So practise he does, honing his brushes ready for action.
All of this constant striving to improve his work must be hugely tiring, but Lorland is pragmatic. Practice makes perfect, he says, and to illustrate why he works so hard he tells a story from his time at the Training Centre. “I had two friends back then,” he recalls. “One was a boy whose only purpose in life was to eat four baozis at once.” The baozi is a kind of Chinese fast food bun stuffed with meat or vegetables.
“My other playmate was a girl,” continues Lorland. And this girl did have ambition; or at least her father did. He was a keen amateur artist and he wanted his daughter to grow up to be a ‘proper’ artist. But no amount of ambition on the part of the parents is going to forge talent – ambition has to come from within. Unsurprisingly, “He failed; his daughter now works in an office.” And the flipside to this story is that Lorland’s ambition and talent have grown despite his parents having no interest in any kind of art. “I have a lucky career,” he says.Shock and awe
Lorland may be doing okay, but the same can’t be said of Chinese CG more generally. “In 2000, I came to the Sichuan Fine art Institute,” he says. Lorland was looking forward to a career in animation and he was passionate about his subject matter.
But he and many other students had a rude awakening waiting for them. “None of the teachers were trained in CG art.” Even the director of Lorland’s department was a traditional painter with no appreciation, or even liking, for digital art. There followed a four-year period of very poor attendance.
During this time Lorland was confused and disillusioned: “I just played computer games like StarCraft all day.” But after several months he came to his senses. If he was going to become an artist there was only one person he could rely on: Lorland Chen. “So I moved into new lodgings and began to study.” When the doors opened on Lorland’s work at the ChongQing Fine Art Exhibition four years later, visitors were amazed. “I graduated with honours from the Sichuan Fine Art Institute,” he concludes.Immortal feelings
Determined to maintain these standards, Lorland won’t even consider using a set process for his new images. “That would only make me tired of painting!” he exclaims. “I like to challenge myself,” he says. “The only habit I have is trying new methods and styles to express my feelings.”
This refusal to become regimented doesn’t prevent Lorland’s work from having a certain ‘spirit’, a signature style. This he sums up as, “Western style sharpens Eastern feeling.” His style follows the classical tradition and he backs it up with a healthy dose of aestheticism – the devotion to and pursuit of the beautiful. The acceptance of artistic taste and beauty as a fundamental standard: “Aestheticism has been around for a long time. It encapsulates many styles, but the standard of taste has not changed since ancient times. Why is that?”
“Maybe,” he suggests, “every human being has an in-built feeling for what is beautiful inside themselves.” This notion of ideal beauty gives us all something to strive for. It can’t be seen directly, but we build up a picture of it by recognising it in the external world. The more we see it ‘out there’ the more we feel it ‘in here’.
However lovely that idea is, ‘proper’ art has taken a step away from it. “And maybe other artists won’t like my work,” speculates Lorland. If they don’t, that’s okay with him because: “Many people will like the graceful poses I try to attain, the beautiful faces, and the realism of my style,” he suggests.Utilitarian philosophy
In keeping with his aesthetic outlook Lorland has a smart way of thinking about technology. “It doesn’t have to be a choice between traditional art and digital,” he says. “It’s about finding a balance.” Traditional techniques here, digital there, it depends on your work. “Traditional art can make your work soft and harmonious, and digital art can help you work quickly. Mix them up to get the outcome you want.” It’s a utilitarian philosophy: “Everything as you need it.”
But Lorland is a lone voice: “Chinese institutes lack any real understanding of CG. Many teachers think technology is everything and just follow it blindly.” According to Lorland, politics are getting in the way of good sense. “CG is just a tool; a tool to express what you are thinking and feeling inside. It is not a god to govern people’s souls.”
Lorland struggles a little with the technology: “I teach my students to find the most simple way to finish a CG work.” It doesn’t matter if it’s 3D or 2D – the goal isn’t to learn how to use software, the goal is art, pure and simple. “Technology will be improved and changed as time passes, but only the soul of art is immortal.” You just need to practise till your fingers bleed. “Learning fine art means practice.”
This aside, digital technology is perfect for fantasy art and Lorland embraces its potential: “Whatever we imagine, we can create.” Lorland takes technology and uses it to construct a dream-like vision drawn from both western and Oriental fantasy themes. “I’ve striven to master this feeling,” he says, as earnest as ever. “Realism and fantasy harmonised in one picture. If every part of your image speaks with one voice, and expresses the same thing, your picture will tell a story of its own.”