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Art Watch : Chen Yu

Chen Yu is our Art Watch Artist for today. This section is brought to you by Art From Us and Divvya Nirula. The Artists we spotlight here can be from any field, across any discipline, and using a variety of media. We share here why we think they are important and worth watching. Be it genius creators of eras gone by. Or the upcoming contemporary artist who is yet to have their first show. All come under the purview of Art Watch.

Yu’s training is in printmaking. He graduated in 1993, from the Central Academy of Fine Art, Beijing, and has been focussed on exploring the human form and its ever-changing conditions through his portrait paintings, using the medium oil on canvas. In a video interview he was asked about his paintings, he responded by saying : “For many years I asked myself why I paint. Later I found out an answer: I don’t know how to do anything else. I only know how to paint.” Yu uses his knowledge and technique as print-maker to recreate bodies, faces, and gestures. His inspiration began with Pop-Art and Andy Warhol, and talking about his inspiration and the screen-printing process he employs, he says – “ I realised this technique was an easier way to create artworks, so it suits my personal feelings. As it does not require brain work and you can produce many copies in a short period of time.”

Why Chen Yu?

Chen Yu, always wanted to be an artist, he created his own world, thus from printmaking in university, he moved to the publishing industry, and finally onto a painter. Chen’s works incorporated the photocopy monotonic quality in his paintings, being influenced by the art of printmaking.  Chen’s work is an attempt at expressing, through his paintings, the social and political tensions of the era.  The subjects are usually all cloned characters of similar facial expression, with an exception of a character in one of the odd, whose is doing something else under the spotlight, has become his signature. The characters in the paintings depict a sense of loneliness, and mental disconnection, which strongly demonstrate the uncertainty of Chen’s feelings towards this ever-changing society in China.

Moving away from the fields that he trained in, Chen Yu chose to become a painter to focus on creating a world of his own and to work by himself among his works, almost like traditional Chinese painters.

Apart from the repetition and the monotony that he depicts, the artist’s sense of humour is perceptible in the way he illustrates individuality. Through hilarious gestures or expression, the characters are singled out.

 He works in a single motif absurdly, which floats in the composition, breaking this monotonous pattern by bringing the attention away from the human subjects. His style and technique have matured into more realistic aesthetics, over the years.  His renderings are more accomplished, and a more subtle colour palette has been employed.

In his more recent works, the artist explores individuality in different ways, the difference between the characters are shown in gender, outfits, and facial expressions. The figures appear to be less isolated and more related.  If one individual is distinguished, the others seem to interact with him or her – their eyes are open.


For more Artists handpicked by Divvya Nirula – explore the ART WATCH archive.

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