b. 1955 in Fushun, Liaoning province, lives and works in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province
Chen Haiyan, over the past thirty years, has used her artistic practice to integrate the ephemeral, deeply private, fantastical world of her dreams within the fabric of contemporary China's rapidly-changing social reality by recording and publicly disseminating her dream reality through the dual traditional media of carved woodblock prints and brush and ink painting. Uniting traditional Chinese elite aesthetics with a rough vernacular quality, style and medium work seamlessly together as Chen Haiyan renders her subject matter — dream images from her unconscious — with an unparalleled sense of emotional directness. Situating Chen's work between dream and reality, the critic Amjad Majid writes that "while in Kafka's work the fantastic is employed to address the quotidian horror of everyday life, in Chen Haiyan's work it is used to shed light on its quotidian wonder."
After growing up in China's industrial northeast, Chen Haiyan graduated in 1984 from the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (now the National Academy of Fine Arts) in Hangzhou where she had studied woodblock printmaking. Quickly, she began to exhibit abroad and was included inBeyond the Open Door (1989) at the Pacific Asia Museum in Southern California, the first exhibition of contemporary Chinese art in North America and in Modern Chinese Painting (1989) at Marlborough Fine Art in the UK. She was also an important participant in the seminalChina/Avant-garde exhibition held at the National Art Museum of China, Beijing (1989). As a recognized member of the China Avant-garde movement, Chen participated in international shows at the Pacific Asian Museum (1991), the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (1992), and Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (1993) that first documented the movement in the West. Chen participated in prominent post-1989 shows at Marlborough Fine Art (1994), Räume der Hessstraße, Munich (1996), the Portland Museum of Art, Oregon (1996), the British Museum, London (1996), and the Art Institute of Vancouver, Canada (1998). Over the last decade, Chen has begun to attract deeper attention in her native China with two exhibitions at China National Academy of Art, Hangzhou (2003 and 2011), the Shanghai Art Museum (2004), where she participated in The Shanghai Biennale, the Chongqing Art Museum and Sichuan Fine Arts Institute Art Museum, Sichuan (2007), the National Art Museum of China, Beijing (2010), where she participated in The Fourth Beijing International Art Biennale, the Zhejiang Art Museum, Hangzhou (2011), and the Lingnan Fine Arts Museum, Shenzhen (2011).
In addition to her accomplishments as a woodcut printer, Chen is also widely recognized as one of the most important women artists in contemporary China. Beginning in the mid-1990s, Chen Haiyan featured in exhibitions that directly concerned her identity as a woman including group shows at Reed College, Oregon (1996), Aicharch, Germany (1997), Tehran, Iran (1997), the exhibitions Die Hälfte des Himmels: Chinesische Künstlerinnen (1998) at the Frauen Museum, Bonn, and more recently Vision Féminine (2007) at the Fondaco dell'Arte in Venice. In 2014, Chen was featured in the China Focus Section of The Armory Show, New York, curated by Phil Tinari of the Ullens Center, and enthusiastically reviewed by Ken Johnson from the New York Times who singled out Chen's "big, beautiful, expressionistic painting on paper of giant caterpillars on broad leaves." (New York Times, March 6, 2014).
Chen Haiyan had her opening exhibition at Ink Studio in September of 2013 where she showed a selection of her most important woodcut prints from the middle 1980s, her most recent series of large-scale woodcut prints, and a selection of her monumental brushing paintings in traditional ink and acrylic on paper. She says, "My works entail transforming rice paper into wood with the help of the Chinese brush. I first use an expansive freehand style of painting on the wooden block and later when I am carving I more carefully actualize the picture that is in my heart and give shape to it."
Chen is currently a senior professor in the Print Department of the National Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou. Chen is featured in the documentary film, The Enduring Passion for Ink, and her work is the subject of the forthcoming scholarly monograph Carving the Unconscious, edited by Dr. Britta Erickson and distributed in the United States by D.A.P. Her works can be found amongst others in the collections of the British Museum in London, the Museum of Sydney, the Portland Museum of Art, the Pacific Asia Museum in Southern California, the White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney, the Shanghai Art Museum, the Tianjin Art Museum, the Lingnan Fine Arts Museum in Shenzhen, the Guangdong Museum of Art and the National Art Museum of China in Beijing.