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Chris Huen Sin Kan 禤善勤

Puzzled Daydreams / Simon Lee Gallery / London / Jun 15 – Jul 3 / Margot Mottaz /

The irony isn’t lost on me that as I emerged from lockdown and into central London for the first time in months, I stepped right into the home of a stranger, albeit through a series of works on paper and large-scale canvasses by artist Chris Huen Sin Kan. Puzzled Daydreams marks the artist’s second solo exhibition with Simon Lee Gallery, and first in London, though it inaugurated the gallery’s online viewing room as the pandemic took its toll
on the UK in mid-March and prevented the show from opening to the public until recently, by appointment only.

Huen was born and raised in Hong Kong, where he still lives with his wife Haze, their two children, Joel and Tess, and their three dogs, Doodood, MuiMui and Balltsz, who all appear again and again as the loyal protagonists in the artist’s intimate works. As an inherent part of Huen’s daily life, they represent the ideal subject matter to consistently revisit the mundane, trivial moments that make up the bulk of human existence, as well as the possibilities, or rather limitations, of recording such fleeting instants through picture-making. “The experience of gazing,” the artist writes on his website, is “subjectively complete though objectively fragmentary.” In essence, he’s questioning how one can depict the present fully, if at all.

Joel and Haze with Wall by Chris Huen Sin Kan, Oil on canvas, 200 x 240 x 5 cm, 2020.
Courtesy the artist and Simon Lee Gallery. Photo: Ben Westoby.

Pushing this reflection a step further, this new body of work incorporates the added dimension of temporality, and more specifically of the “specious present”. A term coined by the American psychologist ER Clay in the 19th century, the specious present defines the present as a collection of immediate pasts. 

In other words, the moments between the past and the future that we tend to call the present are always already gone. This sustained interest in perception and time, in understanding how we see and therefore process the world around us, has guided the young painter’s practice from the start and reveals itself visually in the chaos of his spontaneous compositions.

The small, unassuming pencil drawings serve as quiet preludes to the large oil paintings. Unframed and held up by four modest nails, they invite close viewing to make out the various shapes and forms competing for attention in compositions that disregard any notion of linear perspective. Encountered first in the exhibition space, they train our eyes for what’s to come and condition us to seek out similar motifs in the paintings. From a distance, the two-by-three-metre canvasses possess the vitality, dynamism and overall effect of abstract expressionism and, up close, the finesse, lightness and gestural quality of traditional Chinese ink painting, with figures rendered in a small number of deliberate strokes.

Doodood, Balltsz and Mui Mui by Chris Huen Sin Kan, Oil on canvas, 200 x 240 x 5 cm, 2020.
Courtesy the artist and Simon Lee Gallery. Photo: Ben Westoby.

In only a couple of years, Huen’s style has evolved from soft and painterly to dramatic and graphic – an impactful shift that translates into a more encompassing understanding of each scene through senses beyond sight, including sound and touch. In one painting, Doodood, Balltsz and MuiMui (2020), a rupture tears through the composition to give way to a lorry passing by; one can almost hear its engine roar. In another, Joel and Haze (2020), colourful Lego blocks are strewn across the floor; one can almost feel the twinge of stepping on them by accident. Negative space and sudden pops of bright colour among an otherwise muted palette highlight the frictional interplay between vivid recollection and faint memory. 

Studying these domestic scenes, I realised there was nothing unfamiliar about this other person’s life – far from it. As I stood there in silence, the streets outside deserted, there was in fact a wonderful comfort in seeing someone else’s messy living room, full of life and clamour, simply because it was relatable and could very well have been my own.

迷幻白日夢 / Simon Lee 畫廊 / 倫敦 / 2020年6月15日至7月13日 / Margot Mottaz

頗為諷刺的是,封城過後,我幾個月來第一次踏足倫敦市中心便徑直走進一個陌生人家中,儘管是為了去看藝術家禤善勤的一系列紙本作品和大幅油畫。展覽「迷幻白日夢」是他在Simon Lee畫廊舉辦的第二次個展,為倫敦的首次,不過較早前已於該畫廊線上展廳首度展出。因英國三月中旬起爆發新冠疫情,畫廊一直關閉,直到近期公眾才可以預約進入。

禤在香港出生長大,如今尚跟妻子Haze、兩個孩子Joel 和Tess,還有愛犬Doodood、MuiMui和Balltsz居港。他們就像是一群忠實的守護者反復出現在禤氏的私密作品中。作為其日常生活的固有部份,他們是最理想的題材,不斷重溫那些構成大部份人生的平凡而瑣碎的時刻,同時也重新審視用以記錄這些片刻的圖像之中的可能性或局限。他在個人網頁上寫道:「這種觀看經驗,主觀上完整,但客觀而言是零散破碎」。換言之,他質疑人如何完整地刻劃當下,甚至有沒有這樣可能。

最新作品將此番思考推進一步, 增加了暫時性這個維度,具體而言是「虛假的當下」。這是羅伯特.凱利在19世紀首次提出的概念,他將當下定義為正在消逝的每一刻的積累。也就是說,這些介乎過去和未來之間,被我們稱作當下的瞬間其實都已經過去了。這種持續的對感知、時間以及人們如何觀看進而理解周遭世界的興趣,從一開始便指引著這位年輕畫家的藝術實踐,並在他自發構圖的混沌中顯露。

展覽中那些細小而低調的鉛筆畫如同安靜的序曲為大型油畫作品鋪陳。它們褪去相框,由四個圖釘訂在牆上,吸引觀者上前去細細辨認那些摒棄了直線透視原則的構圖裡各種搶眼的形狀。這些在展廳中初入眼簾的作品訓練我們的雙眼去預測接下來會遇見什麼,然後從畫裡尋找相似的圖案。遠遠看去,這些2米乘3米的畫布富活力和動感,一派抽象表現主義的氣息;走近一看,卻道是細膩、輕盈的傳統中國水墨畫筆勢,以寥寥數筆勾勒出各種人物。

短短幾年中,禤善勤的風格從柔和、層層疊疊的油畫感變的更具戲劇性,圖像也更為細膩,使得作品呈現出超越視覺之外的感官體驗,延伸到了聽覺和觸感。如油畫《Doodood, Balltsz and MuiMui》(2020年),作品構圖中撕開一道裂縫給經過的卡車讓路,讓人彷彿聽到了引擎的轟鳴聲。另外作品《Joel and Haze》(2020年)裡,五顏六色的樂高積木散落在地板上,你幾乎可以感覺到一不小心踩上去的疼痛。柔和色調裡的負空間及突然蹦出的明亮顏色交互作用凸顯出那些深刻與模糊記憶之間的碰撞和摩擦。

細品這些屋內場景,我發覺我對這個人的生活一點不陌生,完全談不上是陌生。當我靜靜地站著,外面的街道空無一人,看著一個陌生人淩亂而充滿生活喧囂的客廳,竟有無比的愜意。那是因為有種代入感,並讓我想到這很可能就是我自己的房間。

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