Michael and Susan Gassaway were first introduced to Chen Yan Ning during a business trip to Guangzhou, in the Peoples' Republic of China in 1984.
Although Michael was a director in the oil industry and had no close connections with art at that time, it proved a serendipitous event with long term implications. Expecting to meet a painter of tourist pictures, we were taken instead to the Guangdong Academy of Fine Art in Guangzhou, were we met the youngest ever President of that major institution, Chen Yan Ning. Although still in his thirties at the time of his appointment, he was one of the most acclaimed artists in China.
We were welcomed into his home and shown two of his published books, one of Western style oil paintings and another of traditional Chinese Brush paintings (of which he is also a master). Astonished by his prodigious talent and concerned that an artist of his quality and standing had never been to the West to see works by the European painting masters he so admired, we promised to try to arrange a visit for him.
In 1986 Chen Yan Ning arrived at our home, Syllavethy, for a frenetic month, visiting Scottish public galleries and giving painting demonstrations, culminating in a four day trip to London, literally running round national art collections searching for favorite artists. It was a momentous visit for us all, and the start of an enduring friendship.
Chen Yan Ning and his family moved to America later that same year, funded by an American businessman interested in introducing Chinese contemporary art to the USA Having attended Yan Ning's first one man exhibition in New York, and a Leonard Bernstein concert that same week, Susan determined to have the young genius artist paint a portrait of the veteran genius musician...her spontaneous first sally into the world of art promotion. Against incredible odds, Yan Ning's work was soon in front of the maestro, who immediately agreed to the project! Sadly last minute changes of Bernstein's schedule, multiple commitments to music, and an untimely death, meant that the painting was never to be.
Gradually the American gallery lost momentum, so we decided to try promoting our friend in Britain. Michael's background in marketing linked with Susan's degree in Graphic Design were the flimsy grounds for the formation of Syllavethy Gallery, but they were enough! With early encouragement as a result of considerable patronage by a very special client, we began to introduce Chen Yan Ning's work in Britain. His first success was winning a national portrait competition held by Alexon Fashions and the British Federation of Artists. Yan Ning was ultimately commissioned to paint two portraits which were reproduced in a special supplement of Vogue magazine and displayed at a prestigious event in The Mall Galleries, London. He has since had his work exhibited at the Federation of British Artists' annual Royal Society of Portrait painters' exhibitions, and was commissioned by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery to paint a portrait for their permanent collection. (Continued next page)