30 X 24 INCHES

Dickens Chang


Born 1948


Chang was born in Honan, his name was Zhang Jianguo before he came to the United States.


Among Dickens Chang's accomplishments were posters he designed for the 1984 Olympic in Los Angeles.


The following is from an article in the Los Angeles Times tells the story of this exceptional artist, published January 4, 1999:


Consider the pressures of a name: Call your child Patience and she can never be hurried; choose Joy and she can never be sad.

But imagine the pressure if your name is Jianguo, Chinese for “establishing a country.”

So it’s no wonder that Dickens Chang, born Zhang Jianguo, sees himself as an artistic ambassador, a painter on a mission to blend centuries of Eastern tradition with the newer techniques of the West.“The Eastern hemisphere and the Western hemisphere eventually will come together,” Chang said. At 50, he is predicting a revolution in his own style that will represent that cultural fusion. “Eventually,” he said, “it’s going to be a territory or a kingdom that nobody has ever been to before.”

Ventura and New York are Chang’s bicoastal bases for his crusade. Having just returned to Ventura after 10 years in the Big Apple, however, Chang has no interest in erasing that divide.

“This is so quaint,” he said recently. “It’s so comfortable, this place.”

Born in China, raised in Taiwan and educated in California, Chang moved to Ventura in 1980, renovated a Victorian house on Ash Street and began making a name for himself in the Southern California art world. He designed a series of posters for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Needing to stake his claim among big-time artists, Chang bought a New York City loft in 1987. Shortly after his move, the stock market plummet and ensuing recession crippled New York’s art market. Chang continued to sell his art, but had to cast a wider net for buyers.

Now remarried and the father of two young children, Chang returned to Ventura a year ago to find “all the connections are still intact. . . . Nothing changes.”

The friends he left a decade ago have the same phone numbers. They work the same jobs, in a town that Chang thinks has “all the ingredients of a great city.”

But Ventura’s charming consistency has its drawbacks, he says.

“As far as I’m concerned,” Chang said, “this is still too small a place for an artist to be spiritually satisfied.”

So after settling his family here, Chang will spend most of his time in New York, where he believes the stimulation and pressures created by other artists will spur him to pursue his mission.

His paintings of the last year reflect the cultural combination he is working toward. Voluptuous nudes, updates of European masters, dance in oil-painted contortions that suggest feathery Chinese characters. Mongolian mustangs race across a field in a scene resembling the American West.

“Chang is original in the sense that he’s got an approach which is designed to build a bridge,” said Hans Schroeder, a Palm Springs art dealer who has represented Chang on the West Coast for 15 years. “He’s trying to bridge a cultural gap between China and the Western painting traditions.”

Specifically, Chang is trying to convert Asian artists, especially Chinese, from the East’s strict instructional methods in watercolor that he shunned to develop his own Western style in oil. In doing so, Chang hopes to introduce more Asian artists to the Western market. And he hopes that Western art, including his own, will gain appeal across the Pacific.

“In the past I had no desire at all to have my pieces shown there,” Chang said. But now dealers in Taiwan and Hong Kong have noticed him, and he is frantically preparing for a one-man exhibit next October at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Beijing.

“It’s probably going to be the most important thing happening in my life, that exhibit,” Chang said. “But I’m quite nervous right now because I don’t see any progress, too much of the domestic stuff.”

Chang has been distracted by moving his family to Ventura and opening a shop downtown, Timeless Beauty, with his wife, Wuping. Meanwhile, Schroeder reports, dealers and collectors are waiting for the artist to produce.

Chang’s paintings have fetched as much as $120,000 on the secondary art market, and Schroeder said he recently sold several for $10,000 each. At Timeless Beauty, Wuping Chang displays some of his smaller paintings, most of which sell for $1,850, and his bronze sculptures, most of which he did in the late 1970s.

Within Chang’s far-flung network of collectors are several locals, most of them friends since his first arrival in Ventura.

“He will only do originals, which I appreciate,” said Steven Snyder, a Ventura property manager who has six of Chang’s paintings. “A lot of the artists, they’ll do an original and they’ll do all kinds of prints, which saturates the market with their work.”

Snyder, who has collected Chang’s paintings since meeting him in 1989, said he has noticed a change in his friend’s art since Chang’s remarriage and the births of his children, now 5 and 2. Before, Snyder said, Chang’s work was full of anger and dark colors.

“Lately the colors have gotten brighter and the pictures, the paintings, have gotten more upbeat,” he said.

But Chang expects that optimism and benevolence will take a dark turn soon. For his upcoming exhibit in China, he is struggling to document a 1995 trip to India and all its misery, pungent smells and the rigid caste system of Hinduism.

“It’s been three years, and I’m still working on it,” he said.

The challenge for Chang--on top of producing enough paintings for a show 10 months from now--is not to portray India only as an impoverished culture.

“If I only depict the beggars and the suffering, I’ve missed the point,” he said. “This is going to be my contribution, and this is going to be what I’m going to leave to the world, and I don’t want to portray it in the wrong way.”

Previous trips--to China, including Tibet, and Mongolia, among other places--have not posed such difficulty. With degrees in journalism, Chang meticulously documents his travels with notes, photographs and sketches, which he uses to create a series of paintings.

“When I’m traveling, I’m quite observant,” he said. And “the more I travel, the more appealing Ventura seems to be.”