A great serenity lies within these paintings of single, calmly resting forms which emerge from or are contained in fields of colour. They are bodies, accentuated at the edges by lighter, raised contour lines or highlighted as such on the volumes of colour, yet they defy a more precise description of their corporality. It is if they are suspended, in the areas of the painting which surround them and are contrived in glazed colour resonances, beneath the surfaces of which the observer can discern shimmers of other colours.
The surfaces of the colour fields and the forms consist of numerous layers of paint, revealed now and then by tiny splashes from a lower layer on the juxtaposed colour. The layers which have been painted one upon the other are also visible at the edges of the painting, and thus, like archaeologists of visual perception we can travel back in the history of the making of these paintings. Behind and below the perfection of the surface, the persevering eye can see further dimensions of colour hues.
Chen’s painting forces us into a dialectic of observation. Nothing in his paintings is so clear that on further scrutiny it might not be open to a different interpretation: something new which robs us of our initial conviction. What is it that defines and dominates our experience with these paintings? Is it the objects, the volumes, or the colour fields, the emptiness? Chen’s paintings do not offer a clear answer, the individual elements of the paintings are in continuous dialogue with each other.
Chen’s painting is full of light; this luminosity is intrinsic in the colours, is not used to illuminate or focus, does not make shadows, it is ubiquitous. It is only this light which makes it possible to experience the darkness that is set in contrast to the brightness, and here the work seems deliberately reduced to calmness and contemplation. Only then is this experience possible. “The five colours confuse the eye, excess of hunting and chasing makes minds go mad.” (Tao Te King, Chapter 12, Translation by Arthur Waley, 1934). In Chen’s painting we find light, form and objects but they are all reduced to the essential to the extent that they permit an infinite experience and no mere corporeal entity intrudes on the diversity of perception.
This painting does without loud effects, there are no traces of flourishes on the part of the artist. The soft smoothness of the surfaces reflects the wish to dissolve the tangible elements of the composition in a harmonious whole, to merge the form with the emptiness. The observer senses how the bodies and the forms have been reduced as far as possible, as have the colours – as a rule – to two colours from the primary or secondary spectrum, and these may change during the act of painting, should they not withstand the painter’s critical perception of them on subsequent, more distant contemplation. In this way, the work which then leaves the artist’s studio bears beneath its final form the story of how it was created. The purity of the form in the painting, the most reduced implementation possible, thus contains the process of the gradual, contemplative attaining of this purity and clarity.