The Peach Blossom Valley, the debut Bangkok exhibition by Taiwanese artist Skyler Chen, explores human reactions to social rules and prohibitions, as he explains in an interview with Pawika Jansamakao.
The Peach Blossom Valley runs at Serindia Gallery until the end of this month. It features the work of painter Skyler Chen, who was born in 1982 and grew up in the southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung. After graduating from art school, he moved to the United States and opened his own studio in Long Island City. His Republic of Norman series caught international attention and was exhibited in New York, Taiwan, Singapore, Shanghai, Amsterdam, and Rotterdam. A continuation of this earlier collection, the Peach Blossom Valley paintings mark his first solo showing in Thailand.
What inspires you?
In general I find inspiration from reading books, history, exploring subcultures, certain magazines, and key global events. For this exhibition, though, I got my inspiration from reading two books in particular: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert and The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan. These are two very different books, but the one thing that unites them are themes of discovery and self-discovery. I was profoundly intrigued by the idea that discovery is part of human nature. Understanding this led me to an old Chinese poem called The Peach Blossom Valley, which is the ultimate idea of discovery in Chinese culture. Visually, I was inspired by unique poses in fashion magazines that accentuate the malleability of the human form, and by traditional Chinese buildings, particularly the Chinese Art- Deco architecture found in Shanghai. These buildings and their relationship with traditional clothing created a sense of space that made its way into my work.
Your latest work is based on the writings of a 5th century Chinese poet – how are the pieces made relevant for a modern audience? What do you expect the audience take away from your Bangkok exhibition?
From my point of view, history and old fairy tales can still have a huge impact on modern society. The Peach Blossom Valley was written during a time of political instability and the poet, Tao Yuanming, created this story as a means of escape. There is a common Chinese expression, shiwai taoyuan, or ‘the peach valley beyond this world’, which more or less can be interpreted as finding an unexpected place of fantasy. Such a place is still needed by people. Through my work, I would like to open a dialogue about how such subconscious idealism and fantasy can impact our thoughts and decisions.
Explain your notion of ‘a modern Chinese utopia’.
Modern Chinese people no longer run to the Peach Blossom Valley to escape, but Confucianism still has a strong influence over much of Asian culture, regulating family, education, work and government. In a Confucian world everyone knows their place and the role he or she must play to keep society harmonious. Creative thinking, innovation, self-expression and confrontation are not admirable values in such a place. As such, this societal repression of the individual creates an even bigger need for escape. These days, people seem to escape to movie theatres to watch Hollywood blockbusters, or even to luxury stores where they can marvel at a world of fantasy that they can’t really afford. By entering a dialogue about this need for escape I hope to create a space where people find the freedom to express themselves and shake off societal repression.
How has your style progressed since your Republic of Norman series?
Peach Blossom Valley paintings are still a part of Republic of Norman series, which I started eight years ago. The main goal was to create a milieu in which to discuss the human experience. With every exhibition, I pick a subject that I am passionate about as a starting point. Letting that inspiration germinate naturally into each installment of the series somehow allowed the Republic of Norman series to almost grow by itself. I enjoy translating my thoughts into a painting, which is my only outlet for expressing them. These ideas get expressed subtlety, from the smallest thoughts that get transferred into certain brush strokes to the colours I use on the canvas. I have always been very interested in painting human figures, and over the years I have been exploring the interplay of precision and fantasy. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but I hope that over time and with experience my work will grow with me.
The Peach Blooson Valley
Until September 30
O.P. Garden, Unit 3101, 4-6 Soi 36 Charoen Krung Rd
0 2238 6410 | serindiagallery.com | Tue-Sun 11am-8pm