Rachel Boyd takes a look at the mesmerising work of Yuxi Chen, a recent Masters graduate form the Glasgow School of Art.
Art Schools run in a line of parallels. As Glasgow’s creative thinkers venture up and beyond the floorboards of an institution so weighted with accolade and award – finalizing the transition from academia to art practice - each coming September, a new set take hold.
Chinese illustrator Yuxi Chen was once part of the chain. A year ago, she stumbled upon our city in the hope of advancing her studies. A year on, and a Masters degree (in Fine Art Practice) later, my eyes and her visuals intersect in a corner of McLellan Galleries. Her work is an adventure – filled with whimsy, abstract landscapes and a hidden narrative:
“Verne had an obsession for plenitude: he never stopped putting a last touch to the world and furnishing it, making it full with an egg-like fullness. His tendency is exactly that of an eighteenth century encyclopaedist or of a Dutch painter: the world is finite, the world is full of numerable and contiguous objects.”
This quote, taken from Roland Barthes musings on French novelist Jules Verne, best describes the ‘vehicular utopias’ which Chen seeks to emulate within the visuals she creates. One work, titled ‘Utopia’, references Verne’s passion for ships directly. Part photo-collage and part-film, Chen’s art often deals with the in-between of realism and fantasy.
Your focus follows not only a series of imagery, but a line of thought: dealing with a changing of our perceptions over time and age – from the fantasies of our childhood daydreams, to the seething teeth of adolescence. ‘Ship’ reveals bright toys and carnival scenes enclosed within streetlamps; idyllic, European-looking cathedrals juxtaposed by graffiti; subtle, lavender flowers accentuated by the endless grey of pavements. What is more, every contrast captured within the more obvious silhouette of a ship. Chen tells me:
“In Utopia Kingdom, the most important vehicle is a ship. I create ships, for citizens to travel, even to live. Travel by ship is an exploration of closure. Firstly, it comes from children’s passion for huts and tents: to enclose oneself and to settle, such is the existential dream of childhood and of Jules Verne... It contains all kind of lovely substance and colourful tone, citizens satisfied with their daily life in utopia going round and round, enjoying a happiness, and an addiction to this perfect world, but never fully knowing that the utopia world is only an illusion created by some kind of irresistible power. It could also be regarded as the uncanny ruin of the real world, which could never been destroyed. The process of create is like a fable, a game, which can persistently produce media, formed as those abstract toys and characters in that closure space.”
Previously part of the oil painting department of China’s Luxun Academy, coming to the Glasgow School of Art allowed Yuxi Chen to explore a variety of mediums, such as printmaking and video, as well as a variety of influences. In coming to Glasgow, Yuxi Chen’s whimsical utopias earn themselves an unexpectedly melodramatic flipside. Dark, monochromatic marks of graphite, ink and charcoal act in reverence to Glasgow’s industrial past. Fragments of Glasweigan Landmarks - such as The Mackintosh Building and Kelvingrove Art Gallery - decorate an earlier series of hand-drawn works, entitled ‘The Sad Machine Series’. These little interruptions, however minimal, illustrate Chen’s fascination with the overriding influence of architecture in Glasgow. Moreover, Chen concerns herself with the significance of such built environments, as part of the interconnected web of our Glasgow Streets:
“I went to those streets over and over. It is not sense of something being boring, but more of a mechanical movement. The streets are like the pattern in Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain, the place which inspired MC Escher. I was addicted to pattern, the sense of a mechanical city and life. Pattern is wonderful, perfect, beautiful, it repeats, repeats forever. No exit, no ending…"
On a personal level, Yuxi Chen jokes about the recurring transience of her own life, and how working continuously - ‘like a robot -’ over last month’s GSA’s Masters show has led her to one conclusion: “I really need a holiday.”
To see more on Yuxi's work visit: yuxichen.weebly.com
Article by Rachel Boyd