George Chann Chinese-American Artist 1913 to 1995
George Chann was born in the Chung-shan village of Canton, China. His father Chan Dian-Ching was a Chinese herb doctor and ran an herb shop. After finishing high school in China, he and his father went to San Francisco, California.
He showed talent in painting and was invited to attend Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, with a full scholarship, and later taught painting as an assistant teacher. In 1942 to 1946, he excelled in painting delicate Occidental landscapes and showed a special flair for portraits. He was said “to make the sitter’s nature an open book. He did not just apply color, he used it, as if it were a natural extension of his thoughts and feelings.”
In addition to his major exhibitions in California museums, he exhibited in New York and in many smaller galleries in the Los Angeles area. He was surely on his way to becoming a well-known artist. But his heart was in another direction. The young artist went to China to visit his mother in early 1947, and managed to keep out of the growing territory occupied by the Communists. He saw many refugees and downtrodden peoples, and used them as subjects for many paintings at this time.
He traveled throughout China and stayed for three years from 1947 to 1949. He dwelled mainly in Hong Kong, where he and his friend had a photography shop. In his travels to Shanghai, he met Yvonne Chun and married her in Hong Kong in April 1949. The two of them went directly back to San Francisco, where their daughter was born.
He taught at the S.F. Institute of Art for one year, but decided to move to Los Angeles, where there was a much larger art scene. The family moved to West Hollywood, near
La Cienega Blvd. This street was lined with many art galleries. On Monday evenings the street was quite lively with open galleries and patrons roaming up and down the Boulevard, viewing many artists’ work, including George at the Ankrum Gallery.
His artwork changed, and he began to paint serene Chinese landscapes with watercolor and sumi ink on rice paper. What he saw in China affected him deeply and he continued for the rest of his life to paint these Chinese landscapes. Only visiting China once more during his lifetime, the imagery of distant hills and waterways, Chinese boats and fisherman, stayed in his mind’s eye and supported him to paint these exquisite works.
Also during this time, Chann was passionate about his religious life and wanted to express
it in his paintings. He began reading the Bible and painting the stories from it. He created hundreds of paintings that he wished to keep as one collection. This collection was donated to a large church.
In addition, American art was moving in the direction of Abstract Expressionism. This was a novel and exciting medium to work in. George had his own method of expression. Again, embracing his Chinese heritage, he constantly worked on his Chinese calligraphy. He wrote Chinese poetry in the air as he took his daily morning walks. At night, he would read Chinese philosophy and practice his calligraphy on the daily newspaper. And during the day, he would paint – vibrant, colorful lines of calligraphic swirls made up of individual strokes. He painted with his body, and he loved the movement that he could bring to his paintings.
His abstract paintings demonstrate his keen sense of color and his capacity for creating order out of chaos. His work was meticulous and lyrical at the same time. His early abstract work was based on stone inscription calligraphy. He broke up and reorganized the structure of Chinese calligraphy. Later on, his exploration became more colorful, more free, more mature and vivid. He was a quiet, serene man, and this somehow showed in his abstract work. Even in the boldness of this style of painting, his intrinsic brushstroke brought harmony and spirituality into dynamic design. This work represents his passion and became the core of his artistic endeavors.
Like most artists, George needed a day job to insure his family’s security, and he opened a gift shop in the famed Farmers’ Market of Los Angeles, CA. Of course, he spent most of his time painting at the store. If a customer wanted to buy a ceramic souvenir or wanted their name painted on a cup or even a portrait painted on a plate, he would happily oblige. Or if a fellow artist friend came by, they might go across the parking lot to the food section for a cup of coffee and a good chat.
While he painted every day, he rarely exhibited his work. He did not need the outer admiration of others to support his motivation. He had an internal need and love of the work to give him his inspiration and desire to pick up his brush.