Editor's note: The following essays were published on January 20, 2015 in Resource Library with permission of the authors and the Monterey Museum of Art. The Monterey Museum of Art provided other source material published with the essays. If you have questions or comments regarding the essays or other source material, please contact the Monterey Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:



 

 

Warren Chang: Plowing the Fields of Tradition

by Charlotte Eyerman, Ph.D.

 

When I first encountered Warren Chang's art, it was in the context of the Museum's annual Miniatures in 2013. He contributed a gorgeous little painting that riffed on one of my all-time art historical favorites, Las Hilanderas (The Spinners), 1657, by Diego Valázquez, painter to King Philip IV, which lives at the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain. Chang focused on a detail of that magisterial painting, creating a small but mighty work in his own lyrical voice. Despite the many tickets I deposited into the box, another lucky Monterey Museum of Art supporter won that work. They have a treasure.

My background is rooted in the study of European art, particularly 19th-century French art in terms of my scholarly training. As a college professor twenty years ago, my courses ranged from the early Renaissance to yesterday. My curatorial work over the past twelve years focused on modern and contemporary art from the 19th century to the present. The visual memory I have gathered is enlivened by new discoveries, and particularly new dialogues between artworks made at different times and cultures.

Warren's work invites new dialogues and discoveries for any and all viewers of his work, regardless of previous experience with art or art history. For a viewer like me, steeped in and fascinated by art history across centuries, the resonances and references abound.

As a painter, Warren Chang manages to infuse his works with the freshness of the contemporary moment, as well as reverence for past traditions. Never derivative, Warren brings fresh eyes to his subjects and highly developed technical skills in rendering contemporary workers in the specificity of the Monterey County landscape. He works in a "realist" mode, astonishing us with his seemingly alchemical ability to render the seen world in the humble materials of oil on canvas. Importantly, Chang is a studio painter, opting not to create "en plein air" (outdoors).

In this regard, Warren is both heir to and standard-bearer of great painters of common folk and workers. Those that immediately come to mind are Pieter Bruegel the Elder (such as The Harvesters, 1565, Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was painted for a wealthy merchant); the aforementioned ázquez (who worked peasants into mythological scenes, such as The Triumph of Bacchus, 1628, Prado, painted for the King); and the Le Nain brothers in 17th-century France. Of course, his work resonates with the great 19th-century painters of peasants and workers in France, notably Jean-François Millet and Gustave Courbet, as well as Edouard Manet, Gustave Caillebotte, Berthe Morisot, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Georges Seurat, and Vincent Van Gogh to name a few.

Chang's painterly style, palette, compositions, and narrative pathos resonate most directly with Millet and Courbet, champions of Realism when it first emerged in mid-19th-century France. Two notable works are, respectively: Millet's The Gleaners,1857, Muséd'Orsay, Paris, and Courbet's The Stonebreakers, 1849-50, destroyed near Dresden, Germany, by allied bombers in World War II. A champion of workers in his art and in his politics (despite or because of a thoroughly middle-class upbringing -- his family wished for him to become a lawyer), Courbet believed that painting can only capture the "real." According to Courbet, art should focus on the realities of modern rural and urban life, thoughts expounded in his "Realist Manifesto," 1855. He famously quipped, "I have never seen angels. Show me an angel and I will paint one."

Fortunately for us, Warren Chang is not waiting for angels. He discovers his subjects in the people and places of Monterey County and reinvents centuries-old traditions. Chang's art helps us see the land and those who work it with fresh eyes and new perspectives on our interconnectedness: past, present, and future.

We are proud to present Monterey Now: Warren Changat the Monterey Museum of Art.

August 15, 2014

Monterey, California

A Portrait of Our Region

by Karen Crews Hendon


Warren Chang has come full circle. Growing up in Monterey and reading the novels of John Steinbeck granted him an appreciation for the magnetic, natural beauty of our landscape. Experiencing life in and around our nation's leading agricultural economy, it seems organic that his visual interests gravitated toward figurative work and portraits. Chang recognizes how the farming economy has played a key role in maintaining a vibrant culture, but his interests lie with the people who live by the land and have a direct relationship with nature.

The pursuit to understanding man's struggle within his environment is a subject that has spoken to a long lineage of poets and master painters who elevated the common man in celebration of his humble work. Artists such as Jean-François Millet (1814-1875), and Winslow Homer (1836-1910) are some of his most influential artists. Chang's approach, like the Barbizon tradition, is rooted in a deep admiration for naturalism. Though many European artists have painted romantic agricultural scenes with shepherds tending their flocks, farmers who sow the fields or gleaners who gather after the harvest, Chang prefers the unidealized interpretation and paints what he sees by observing his surroundings.

Drawing and painting in a realistic manner came through his artistic path first as an illustrator. This allowed him to hone his skills and achieve a technical sophistication seen in the details of his portraits. After his success in the commercial realm, he turned toward an inner perspective. Taking on a personal approach, his self-portraits were an impetus for new aesthetic directions. Self-portraits often induce dialogues of origin and document a biographical or spiritual journey. Like the great Dutch painter Rembrandt (1606-1669), Chang embarked on several self-studies and produced a narrative about his family and friends. In his Self-Portrait, 2009, Chang directly confronts the viewer with sincerity and honor as he presents himself as a working artist standing by his canvas in his studio. His painting Figurative Arrangement, 2012, is part of a broader series titled Biographical Interiors and further sets the stage by giving the viewer a window into his daily life. Positioning his supporters around him, he expresses the past, present and future, painting three generations of his family with his youngest son at his feet and his father entering the room. Reconnecting with his roots and raising his family where he began brought an unforeseen body of work that celebrates a true portrait of our region.

Choosing a limited palette of carefully controlled monochromatic tones, Chang is not interested in creating work that looks contemporary but rather using centuries-old revered techniques in oil painting that create a conceptual relevancy for our current audience. The social conditions that are apparent in his work are implied through the diverse populations that he paints. The field- workers, fishermen, street kids and the homeless are represented, and all build a powerful perspective. In Harvesters Resting, 2008 -- an homage to Millet's 1853 painting -- in Fall Tilling, 2010, and in his most recent work, Checkers at Custom Plaza, 2014, Chang embraces the many individuals who share our community and uses the landscape for a network of reasons. Whether it is defined through companionship, survival or an established shared social environment, the concept of being connected through a common ground relates to all of us and tells a story about who we are. For some, the subjects in his artworks are windows into an isolated reality, yet for others they are so integrated into the social structures of daily life that they are often overlooked.

Millet once said, "It is the treating of the commonplace with the feelings of the sublime that gives to art its true power." As an artist and observer, Warren Chang asserts himself within our cultural fabric and elevates a beautiful ambiguity that parallels our lives. His paintings are a witness and document the soulfulness of our times. Placing his viewers in a position of awareness, he responds to what it means to co-exist and the importance of connecting our present with the roots of our past.

August 15, 2014

Monterey, California

 


About the authors

Charlotte Eyerman, Ph.D., is Executive Director, Monterey Museum of Art.

Karen Crews Hendon, is Chief Curator, Monterey Museum of Art.

 

Information about the related exhibition

Monterey Now: Warren Chang is on display at the Monterey Museum of Art October 23, 2014 through April 6, 2015 at MMA La Mirada. (right: Warren Chang, Figurative Arrangement, 2012, oil on canvas, 40 x 60 inches, courtesy of Winfield Gallery)

Warren Chang, born 1957, is nationally recognized for his realist paintings of biographical interiors and local field-workers of the Monterey County area. Influenced by masters such as 17th-century artist Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), and 19th-century artists Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875), and Winslow Homer (1836-1910), among others, Warren Chang creates subtle narratives that celebrate the human spirit. A native of Monterey, his work is also inspired by the novels of John Steinbeck and the magnetic beauty of the region.

Coming full-circle experiencing life in and around our nation's leading agricultural economy, Warren Chang gravitated toward figurative work and portraits. Chang recognizes how the farming economy has played a key role in maintaining a vibrant culture. His interests focus on the people who live by the land and have a direct relationship with nature. Connecting with his roots and raising his family where he began has resulted in a body of work that reveals a multi-faceted portrait of our region. Chang embraces our diverse community and posits the landscape as a complex social and natural system. As an artist and observer, Warren Chang sheds new light on the social  fabric of the region with sensitivity to the complexities his work evokes.

Organized by the Monterey Museum of Art and curated by Karen Crews Hendon, Chief Curator, this exhibition presents oil paintings and color studies of the artist's recent and celebrated work of the past decade. The Monterey Now series honors local artists who make significant contributions to the visual arts in the Monterey Bay area and beyond.

MMA is presenting a talk, slideshow, and book signing with Warren Chang on January 29, from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm at MMA La Mirada. Fee.

 

Artist statement

My work can be divided into two categories, one I describe as "biographical interiors", which focus on myself, family and friends within my home, studio or classroom environments. The other, quite opposite, are paintings documenting the life of field-workers who live and work in the surrounding Monterey County area.

The interiors, inspired by past great masters of art, such as Velasquez (1599-1660), Rembrandt (1606-1669), and Vermeer (1632-1675), are introspective for the most part. Looking inward, they concentrate on expressing mood and emotion through the manipulation of light, shadow, color, and value.

The paintings of field-workers are a more outward view of the world as I see it, such as with outdoor scenes of field-workers in their struggle with life and work in nature. These subjects are a metaphor for all humanity. My paintings follow in the foot steps of artists painting field-workers since the sixteenth-century, with Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-1569), Francois Millet (1814-1875), and Winslow Homer (1836-1910) in the nineteenth-century and more recently Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975).

The majority of the works in this exhibition represent the latter painting of field-workers and the varied subjects of the Monterey surroundings. With the excepti

I invite you to view these paintings with the knowledge that there is no secret meaning that is reserved only to me. Your interpretations are as valid as my own, and ultimately can inform and add to the meaning of my works.

Warren Chang
Monterey, California
October 2014


(above: Warren Chang, Lunch Break: Homage to Pyle, 2013, oil on canvas, 24 x 40 inches, courtesy of Winfield Gallery)

 

(above: Warren Chang, Approaching Storm, 2006, oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches, private collection)

 


(above: Warren Chang, Fall Tilling, 2010, oil on canvas, 34 x 40 inches, courtesy of Winfield Gallery)

Resource Library editor's note:

The above essays were published on January 20, 2015 in Resource Library with permission of the authors and the Monterey Museum of Art, granted to TFAO on November 17, 2014.

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