Kai Chen: Love, Pride, Deep-fried Chicken: Kai Chen Solo Exhibition

3 July - 29 August 2021

Dense and intricate dots of colour dance across the canvas; the magic of light and shadow is hidden beneath the lush colours, creating diverse vibes and textures observed from various distances - Kai Chen's abstract pointillism works make good use of abstract elements such as material,light,and space to construct a grand visual carnival under the canopy of imagination, which lead to countless possibilities for interpretations.


The sustaining attention to and subtle manipulation of colour has become a central trademark of Chen’s work. The combination of colours is not simply a matter of blending and overlapping, but more the impact of light and shadow plays on human vision. The colourful dots, through the method of optical colour modulation, give rise to an ineffable third colour and ever-changing, atmospheric layers of hue, if gazed from different distances and perspectives. The artist classifies himself as an Optical Pointillist Expressionist in jest, which aptly sums up the unique features of expressive form in Chen's works. What is even more fascinating is that these layers of colour and complex dots weave a space of synesthesia beyond the boundless visual atmosphere - the dots on the canvas, just like the leaping notes of Philip Glass' minimalist music, bring out a regular rhythm, which constructs a third sensorial field. Simultaneously, they break down the boundaries of three-dimensional space, mapping out an assembly of time in which the artist himself spent with these colours with every single brush stroke.


Chen's works are deeply rooted in his rich understanding of art history, drawing heavily from the aesthetics of Impressionism and the development of abstractionism - from Georges Seurat's colour theory and Claude Monet's techniques of light and shadow to Jackson Pollock's 'violent' deconstruction and the 'microcosm' under Agnes Martin's lines. The subtle influence of the aura of art history can be easily seen in Chen’s works. Yet, they are ultimately free from the constraints of previous conventions and rigid theories, turning away from straightforward, sharp abstract expressions and towards more delicate ones.


Instead of making cathedrals out of Christ, man, or life, we are making it out of ourselves, out of our own feelings. 1 Like the artist's reverence for Barnett Newman's notion, to Chen, creating means starting from the scratch, engaging himself in a dialogue with his inner world and blankness of the canvas. In his works, the delicate layout of the abstract dots, and the patience and endurance demonstrated in the unbelievable hard work of painting them repetitively, represents a return to a state of tranquility, which tells the story of the complexities, contradictions and fragility of human emotions. By doing so, Chen’s works open up a more exquisite dimension of sensation.


It is true that in terms of concept and technique, Chen has spared no effort in exploring the ultimate meaning of abstract painting. However, he himself does not want his work to turn into esoteric paintings for the elites, or to be caught up in the debate of identity politics and abstractions.


The name of the exhibition, Love, Pride, Fried Chicken, is derived from the song Drops of Jupiter, which the artist came across while painting. In the song, it sings Did you make it to the Milky Way to see the lights all faded, and that heaven is overrated...Can you imagine no love, pride, deep-fried chicken? Chen's paintings are also like love, pride and deep-fried chicken, the trivial things that give meaning to life, symbolizing the earthly yet sublime beauty, just like the piece of Madeleine cake that brings reassurance to Proust in the midst of hardships3. Behind the millions of colour dots that bloom like stars above, is the artist's sincerest wish of tracing back to truth and reconstructing hope.


1. From The Sublime Is Now, 1994

2. From Drops of Jupiter. The lyrics were inspired by a dream of the band's lead singer Pat Monahan, in which his departed mother came back to him from the universe across countless planets, telling him that heaven was not as perfect as he had imagined, and that he had to love the life he had now.

3. Proust's Madeleine cake is an expression used to describe a smell, taste, sound, or any feeling that reminds you of your childhood or just brings back emotional memories from a long time ago.