In July and August George Adams Gallery will exhibit works from the “Light Space Intimacy” series by Albuquerque-based painter Xuan Chen. Inspired by the Light and Space Movement, she began the series to explore ways of representing light manifest, through paint. Constrained to the intimate scale and proportion of personal digital devices, her paintings fall between the grand, immersive scale employed by Light and Space artists such as James Turrell and Robert Irwin, and the work of contemporary artists such as Cory Arcangel and Spencer Finch.
Chen constructs her paintings through careful digital collaging, which she then reinterprets in paint. Her wood or dibond panels are treated as objects, painted on all surfaces and with added cutouts or colored threads. The compositions are dynamic: subtle variations in hue and vibrance give a dimensional complexity implying refracted or reflected light. In painting the edges and backs of the panels – often with fluorescent paint – she adds an aura of reflected color to each piece. The earliest paintings shown are the ‘Screens’, on 9 x 11 inch panels with rounded corners suggestive of an iPad or tablet. The graphic, optical effects Chen creates in paint provide tension between the surface of the panel and deeper space in much the same way as a digital image might. Equally relevant is that these panels are of the same scale as personal devices, again stressing the “intimacy” in the series’ title. Chen’s paintings are discreet, inviting close examination rather than the immersive experience characteristic of a Light and Space installation.
The evolution of this series is driven by Chen’s interest in finding new ways of emulating light, using paint, shadow, reflection, refraction – each new group building on the ones before. After the first ‘Screens’ she began incorporating new elements such as folded sections and colored threads, making the relation between light, space and color in her paintings even more complex. The threads emulate light as additive color, casting shadows and reflections that mimic and enhance the geometric abstractions of the paintings alone. In the most recent painting on view, two layers of threads run crosswise within a cutout to form a moiré effect; where they overlap, the colors begin to blend together.
Xuan Chen was born in China and came to the United States to study engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. While in school she developed an interest in art and went on to receive her MFA from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, where she continues to live and work. This is her first solo exhibition in New York.