Chen Yu (1969 - )
Born in Guizhou Province, China in 1969, Chen Yu paints his experience of being a son, husband, father and the ever-changing society in China. Influenced from a background of print-making and publishing, Chen’s paintings have monotonic and photocopy elements.
Chen paints repeated portraits who all appear disconnected to one another except for one portrait. The standalone usually possess a humorous quirk of fate. Chen quotes, “in life, if you peel away the aesthetic layer, you will get to the genuine things. This is my understanding.” He indicates in his paintings the layers in life, society and the multiple identities that need to be fulfilled. Though only one role can be carried out at a time.
“My experience of life has become more complex. By myself, I can escape a lot of things. After marriage, the amount of things one can avoid diminishes. After having a child, the number of things one can avoid reduces even more. People change as they need to tackle a lot of things. Once you have children your mindset changes as well. As a man your identity changes from being a husband to being a husband and a father. You have your parents as well, so you are still a son.
Your identities are multiple. How do you fulfill all these identities and balance them? In my paintings I try to express them. In front of my parents, I am a son, so when I speak to my parents, they are the centre of my attention. When facing my child, I focus on him. When my wife is beside me, I focus on her. If my whole family is around, elders and children, how to make sense of all the different roles? You are constantly switching. So how and when does one play different roles in life?
China is similar to a person. Being a part of a country is like being a part of a family, China has a lot of problems that it does not know how to tackle. Because things are always changing. In a family, children are growing, everyday one has to buy things, money is spent and earned. Then parents are getting old. How does one take care of a family? The same goes for a country.”
Chen creates the duplicated human heads in the artworks but always has one on them showing an individuality from the others, the only one who would have their eyes open. The repetition of the heads questions the place given to individuality and its expression, which is reminiscent of the Cynical Realism movement in China in the 1990’s. The movement criticised the lack of individuality and repression of society in China at the time.