As a child of China in the 1980s, Chen has grown up in the middle of a storm. The old communist order has been swept away, and for a generation of only children caught in the current of consumerism, the effect is disorientating to say the least.
Chen’s new series of paintings continue her exploration of this experience through her series of china doll portraits. Her girls retain an almost porcelain purity despite being pitted against the vagaries of a tough and uncaring world. In this recent series, they find themselves in increasingly fluid environments: the sea, and sea monsters, figure strongly as an apt metaphor for the uncertain and contradictory nature of society. Crazy things happen at sea. It is mad like the world itself.
Beneath the surface run strong sexual undercurrents. Chen’s girls may dress up as bunny rabbits through a child-like innocence, but the Playboy motif and its allusions are never far away. It’s a girly world, but one where these solitary girls are objects of desire, and the terms of play are very far from clear. This clash of agendas – the desire for the soft comforts of innocence on one side, the harsh machinations of self-interest on the other – form Chen’s principal framework. Her bittersweet images draw strong parallels with the experience of contemporary Chinese society, seen from the perspective of a young woman getting to grips with the way the rough world works, and keeping her optimism in the face of adversity.
Chen Hongzhu was born in Chongqing, China in 1982 and graduated from the Sichuan Fine Arts Academy in 2009. Recent public exhibitions include the Today Art Museum in Beijing, 2012, and Future Pass at the Venice Biennial, 2011. Collections include Uli Sigg and the Singapore Art Museum.