November 5, 2022 - January 14, 2023
Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles
In Returnees, Chen examines themes of encounter and desire through portraiture of fragmented bodies or subjects rooted in anonymity. Building on the artist’s intention to create desire from the everyday, Chen’s paintings utilize soft color to blend and romanticize the gap between the ideal and the past.
Chen uncovers a language of intimacy that excludes the sexually explicit, and rather, paints his own vocabulary of desire: a vernacular that absorbs a viewer’s gaze. In his portraiture, the masculine traverses a terrain of liminal gender dispositions and attaches layers of meaning relating to objectification, fetishism and intimacy. Many of the paintings take inspiration from science fiction novels, especially the imagined male homoerotic relationships written by women authors. Other references in his process are derived from photographs of friends taken out of context and painted into a state between subject and object. This idea of inbetweeness carries over into his depictions of hands, feet, and sexual organs, all objectified to present an aspect of time. Chen describes this as “the time you spend looking at, interacting with the image. There is a time and an intimacy that approaches something almost erotic.” Other work in the exhibition takes on a sculptural element. In Your Tenderness is a Kind of Compassion, Chen captures a portrait of a man on a pillow utilizing the fold in the fabric, and the tension, to materialize him as an object.
Returnees addresses a person who returns to a place, not only in the physical realm but through dreams and memory. Chen writes, “It is common that people always try to remember a person, or thing, as how they truly were. But the manipulation of imagination is almost inevitable.”
With delicate color palettes that recall the work of David Hockney and Jenny Saville, Chen creates environments that house his subjects in themes of gender temperament, desire, the abject, identification and differentiation. He extends himself through surrealist color sensibility and an interdisciplinary practice of text, object, sculpture, and performance that orbits his painting practice. Equally important, is creating space for the audience to bring their own associations into the works and to build new meaning.