Supernova | Kai Chen Solo: Hong Kong

13 March - 5 May 2021

Leo Gallery is pleased to present Supernova, the debut Hong Kong solo exhibition of emerging Chinese artist, Kai Chen. Featuring a new series of abstract paintings.

Throughout the six years in San Francisco and Shanghai, brushstrokes flowed, melted, and deposited; atoms were in motion, dissipated, and combined in the painting. When the electronic fluorescent screen flickers day and night, we view the painting silently, picking up a sense of eternal solidification from the fleeting brushstrokes. In the solo exhibition, "Supernova", everything is transformed into stardust, wandering between the"moonlight and snow", converging with clear and chaotic traces, veiling the countless lights and annihilation of stars after they explode. "Days/Nights" series and "Untitled (Supernova I, II)" are selected from Kai's egg tempera and oil paintings from recent years. The formation of the work continues from 2016 to the present, starting with a series of coloured pencil drawings - the fragile paper and the subtle layers of colour represent a direct way of self-expression. From the works of coloured pencil to those of egg tempera and oil paint, Kai’s painting methods and researches of materials are based on the classical historical imprints of oil painting, which are his attempts of transforming scales, color layers, strength of the brushstrokes, sensitivity, diversity, richness and the texture. Painting is akind oftraining of imagination, which accommodates the boundaries of self-knowledge in modernity.¹


Kai's coloured pencil drawings and oil paintings are filled with complex stippling, dances of colors, layers overlapping and intense brushstrokes. His creation processis attributed to the intimate coexistence of the painter and the painting materials, constructing the uncertainty of each stroke that cannot be copied and the visual atmosphere that extends the boundary of the frame. Just as theflow of a personal signature portraysthe uniqueness of the individual, the tiny dots, rich textures and details presented by the stippling brushstrokes are completely different from the geometric forms of mechanical reproduction. Tracing back to Georges Seurat (1859-1891)'s exploration of pointillist techniques, the balance, difference, and structure of tiny colour dots, apart from the technical development, Seurat depicts the characters and landscapes with an exquisite and calm environment and a solidified and orderly atmosphere. In the "Day/Night" series of small-sized abstract paintings as well as "Untitled (Supernova I, II)", Kai uses classical liner brushes, stippling techniques and colour dots to condense an infinite posture and essential energy:


"For me, the power of stippling and brushstrokes lies in its tension. The similar brushstrokes vary greatly due to the strength of my hands, the shape, size, and texture of the dots. The countless bright colour dots are the same, but yet they are different, as they condense into a strong visual tension ontothe dark canvas." ²


Compared with the colours and layers in a painting, the rendering of photography and digital screens cannot fully present the accuracy and texture of a scenery seen by the naked eye. Not only are the dense color dots forming warmer or colder tones on the color layer, but the color and spatial texture in the paintings need to be refined and grasped. For the paintings featuring in this exhibition, the main colors and pigments used by Kai come from metallic minerals, such as cadmium red, cadmium chromate, cobalt blue, cobalt green, ultramarine, lead white, etc. These very toxic, bright and immersive colors visualize the first ray of sunlight in the morning, the sunset at the end of the evening, the dark clouds in the storm, or the invisible light and shadow in the viewer's memory. The emotions injected into the brushstrokes are subtle, abundant, fragile and vivid. They come with flickering illusions, such as a calm river merging into a sea of stars, reflecting in "a twinkle of stars and tears in the night".


The expression of abstract painting is inseparable from Romanticism. The visual acceptance of colors triggers a poetic sensesimilar to dreams. We can easily associate the symbolic images with the milky way, the stars, the shade of summer and a garden full of flowers. For example, American painter,John Zurier (b.1956) emphasized the natural emergence in the expression of color and color gamut composition in hismonochromatic abstract paintings. The so-called“abstraction” is a markof the instant growth and eternal flow on the surface of the painting. Agnes Martin (1912-2004) is another "late Abstract Expressionist" who has inspired Chen Kai's creation.Her precise and simplex abstract paintings use repeated lines and nets. The soft colors of grid and trembling respond to the fragile beauty and calm restraint of life. Agnes Martin once said, "Anyone who can sit on a rock in the wilderness for a while can appreciatemy paintings."³ In the creation of the "Untitled (Supernova I, II)" series, Kai responded to what Martin said "The magnificent waves of a thread":


“The origin of my color dots series might be influenced by Agnes Martin. A line she drew with a pencil became a trail of dots due to the rough surface of the canvas. The inspiration for this new way of viewing was the different beauty discovered by a deeper gaze. From this point of view, I wanted to know what is the difference and tension between point to point, and what is the image and power condensed by thousands of points. Beginning with small paper works of micron pens, after two years of experimentation, I created these two paintings from the "Supernova" series.” ⁴


Abstract painting has a distinctive complication and decoration in the history of contemporary art. Under the aura of modernity, the narrative of creative concepts largely supports the meaning and value of the artist's works. Chen's complicated and intimate creative process is a clarification of the essence of painting. If you remove theconcept story behind the value of contemporary art, what remains is a candid statement of the essence of painting creation — color, chromatography, material, visual choice, and pure creation time, perception and unconsciousness of life experience. The condensed and ecstatic. An artist should, or must be able to perceive the sincerity of his/hercreation.In most cases, artistic creation is filled with the absolute time in life, it is a state of freedom, it is a process that extends the entire length of life, which nourishes and derives the iterations and changes of the artist's creation in various periods. A viewer's thoughts and accumulation of time can accommodate and expand the interpretation, reflection and imagination of the artist's creation. Chen‘s paintings can be regarded as an index and extension of the history of contemporary art, and his exploration of painting itself can also be understood as being not for the meaning added to it. The frankness of creation, perhaps Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) in the "Book of Disquiet" treats the distance of everything in a hidden posture, or the painting just brings "a hint to the viewer", Some dew, a speck of dust" ⁵


The Fall of a Speck of Light

  Text by Weiying Yu, 2021


 ¹ “Know Thyself” mentioned in the Delphic Maxims
² Excerpts from Kai Chen 2021 notes
³ Holland Cotter. The Joy of Reading Between Agnes Martin’s Lines, Oct. 6, 2016. 

The New York Times,
⁴ Excerpts from Kai Chen 2021 notes

 ⁵ “Don’t Give Me The Whole Truth” By Olav H. Hauge