Painting peace from bloody history of Manhattan street

Updated 2018-10-02 09:30:05

Artist Chen Dongfan's (middle) artwork transforms streets into vibrant public spaces during warm weather when people use them the most.

Artist Chen Dongfan's mission in life is to let more Asian voices be heard through art, so he spent eight days painting an asphalt mural directly onto 445 square meters of Doyers Street in Manhattan's Chinatown.

Early in the 20th century, Doyers Street earned the nickname of the Bloody Angle because of the street gang violence and murders that took place there.

Chen read one description that said residents had to wash the blood off the street with water every morning.

"That's impressive," he said. "Now, after all these years, I'm using color to create art there. It's dramatic, also romantic."

The artwork is called The Song of Dragon and Flowers to pay tribute to the history of Asian-American immigrants.

"Dragon as a visual embodiment of this area and Chinese cultural heritage, and flowers are a symbol of peace, also representing the richness of Chinatown's history," Chen explained.

An artwork in Hangzhou created by Chen in 2011.

"The song refers to the style and art-making process of my space painting."

Chen's artwork is part of the New York City Department of Transportation's Seasonal Streets program, which temporarily transforms streets into vibrant public spaces during warm weather when people use them the most.

The Song of Dragon and Flowers was selected by the DoT from about a dozen candidates because of its outstanding visual presentation and the meaningful connection with the historical significance of Doyers Street and its Asian-American heritage.

"The plan sounded crazy, since the busy street had to be blocked from both vehicles and pedestrians while the painting was going on," said Chen, who painted the finishing stokes on July 20.

"It was also challenging personally as I had to paint nonstop to make sure the project was completed on schedule. I could hardly stand up over the last few days, my back was killing me.

"But everyone couldn't have been more excited to see the completed work."

Chen Dongfan's artwork The Song of Dragon and Flowers at Doyers Street in Manhattan's Chinatown.

Space tells own story

Unlike other graffiti street artists, Chen said he always builds a close connection with the space where he creates his art. "I believe that space tells its own story," he said.

Chen said he has no draft in mind before he paints. "Before I start to paint, I immerse myself in the space, wait for the right moment, and then let my brush guide me through my improvisational action painting," he said.

"Through the explosion of abstract lines and vivid colors, I wanted to bring an Eastern charm into my work by composing a song with exuberant and dynamic rhythms."

Born in Shandong province in East China in 1982, Chen earned a bachelor's degree in experimental art from the China Academy of Art, Hangzhou, in 2008.

Chen's work has been exhibited in the United States and China and he has participated in a variety of public art projects and large-scale space paintings in New York, Hangzhou, as well as Turin, Italy and Athens, Greece.

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