Written by: Sierra M. Bretz
Behind the Art: Meet Elyn Chen
Elyn Chen, French-Chinese painter of powerful, dream-like abstract expressions, is living her dream in Le Luberon…the land of light, color, and culture. Elyn is originally from Shanghai, where she was raised in a traditional Chinese family living within a society strongly influenced by the dogmas of the ruling party. Growing up, she was faced with the challenges of an extremely selective educational system and two physician parents who dreamed she’d follow in their footsteps. Yet, it was in this environment of tradition and conformity that Elyn developed her strong sense of rebellion and nonconformity…and her desire to create. Read on below for more information about the woman behind the art and how she became a rising star in the South of France.
Q: Tell us 3 words to best describe you.
A: Rebellious. Sensitive. Caring.
Q: Do you have any particular eccentricities that you’d like to share with us?
I am fussy.
I am honest.
I cannot fall in love.
I am passionate about justice!
I am unable to live with a man.
I am obsessed with freedom.
I am calm, but I can be driven crazy if someone lies or is inconsistent.
Q; Can you tell us something we may not realize about your art?
A: Many of my paintings can be viewed in any direction, so they can be signed on any side.
Q: Tell me about your typical day?
A: During the day I prepare the frames for my paintings, but I also mow the lawn and garden…I have a normal life. At night, I create.
I paint in the evening at nightfall. I was born at midnight. I come alive at night…like the moon. The night calms me down, it calms down the thousands of ideas that go through my head. I paint until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning while drinking Burgundy wine and listening to music (which also calms me). I never know in advance how long I will paint.
Q: Can you tell us about your childhood and background?
A: I had a difficult childhood. I am an only child (because of the one-child policy in China) and was often all alone at home when my parents were working – even at the young age of six. I could have gone to my grandparents’ house, but I chose not to…I preferred to stay at home alone.
I was always very independent. I started to cook by myself at 8 years old. My mother wanted me to spend my time studying and would unplug the TV when she left. But I would plug it back in when she was gone – I was already a rebel.
At a young age, I didn’t want to go to school. My classmates insulted me. There were many children of “red families” (families of the communist party), and even a few descendants of important people of the party. There were great injustices between reds and non-reds – I hated this and completely refused to accept it. My mother was devoted to politics, the State. As for me, I didn’t want to submit.
At school they made us write: “I love my country, we are the small flowers of our country, I am happy because of communism.” But I was not happy…I knew they were creating division among the people! One day, in elementary school, I was punished for this division, and pushed on the floor. My head hit the floor and I was bedridden for an entire month!
In elementary school, my math teacher used to take me to her house during the vacations. She made me love math (I’m really good at math!), and she protected me well. Sadly, she committed suicide when I was in high school. However, shortly before she died, I contacted her to ask her if she thought I could go to art school. She said yes! She felt that my life would dramatically change…and she was right.
In my childhood, I was busy cleaning, cooking, and doing the household shopping. Nonetheless, I went to a professional art school at the age of 12 and started painting when I was 13. At the art school, the teacher was very surprised by my talent and said I was gifted. He gave me confidence to continue.
While I studied fine arts in high school, I took the competitive exam to study interior design in Shanghai. The reason: my mother didn’t want me to go to Beijing to study fine art.
Q: Tell us more, about your life as a young adult?
A: After my studies, I created a company to sell the works of my interior design teacher. It was then I met my husband and married him so that I could leave my parents. We had a son, but I quickly realized that we were completely different and divorced in 2008.
After my divorce, I was pushed by my mother to become a civil servant. While serving, I succeeded in many things, including the creation of the map of the Shanghai World Expo 2010. However, it was at that time that I had relationship difficulties with my colleagues – I was very different from everyone around me.
Finally in 2011, I needed change So I followed my dreams, learned French at the Alliance Française, got my visa, sold everything, and moved to France. I first lived in Anger and then Aix-en-Provence, and I immediately fell in love with the region.
Q: What was your new life like in France?
A: In France, I didn’t know anyone but I was happy.∙I perfected my French and painted occasionally, but∙I had to work to live. I made good money in business (and even managed to sell 8 boats!), but I truly didn’t like the field of business. So, I left.
After buying my first apartment, my son joined me in 2015. It was then that I realized that I had lost 8 years with him, and it made me very sad. I started to express my uneasiness by painting.
Q: Can you tell us about your development as a devoted painter?
A: At first I painted everything and nothing to find my style. I am rather shy, but a friend once told me: you can be a real artist because you express yourself through your paintings. While my son was at school, I would paint. Parents of my son’s friends started asking me to sell them paintings, which gave me new confidence in myself! Now, although I have found my place as a painter, I am still am involved in various other creative pursuits including gourmet cuisine and graphic art, designing books, magazines, and interior design plans.