It's Skyler's first show, an exciting event for any upcoming artist in the city of art. A selection of 11 works of mid to small scale hang on the white brick walls. Pictures of imaginary characters that inhabit Chen's Republic of Norman.
There was a great turn out. The vibe was upbeat, and the event soon turned to a birthday party, as Chen brought out birthday hats he hand painted. The same kind of hat represented in his paintings. "The royalty wants everyone to wear hats. It's a classification system" Chen explains about life in Norman.
Republic of Norman is a project Chen started working on over a year ago. It's a place that comes out of his experiences and emotions. As the artist goes through life and faces different interactions, Norman changes and grows with him. This doesn't mean that the images are autobiographical, they're a way for Chen to expose to the world what's inside him.
Norman, a country that has never been to war, is a place where freedom reigns supreme. But it's very important to distinguish that Norman is not Utopia. There's no such thing as the ideal love and peace society since total freedom can also create chaos. The people of Norman have the advantage to experience love, lust, insecurity and other emotions without the scrutiny of others. There are no restrictions when it comes to feelings.
When I first encountered Chen's work last year, an introduction made through his blog, I was left intrigued. There was a level of crudeness and simplicity I was not used to. Although the figures are very flat when speaking in formal terms, they are so dynamic and powerful. They are very upfront about what they are and what they are trying to say. Since last year Chen's work has evolved to a more complex series of images. The application of paint is more confident and the the figures have become more delicate.
What appealed most to me about the new paintings is the use of gold backgrounds. Whether the artist is aware of it or not, this element is a connection to Icon and Renaissance painting. The use of green and red, along with the mannerist two dimensionality of the figures all add to the similarities of art from the past. What is more delightful is seeing the work being created, from start to finish. Through the use of video in his blog, Chen has been recording the process of painting and of becoming an artist in New York. To watch him in his private studio space is a treat, and a good insight to the man behind the work.