Making Herself at Home:
Studio Visit with Artist Sijia Chen
By Sydney Walters
Los Angeles based artist Sijia Chen travels to and from the United States and China, soaking up composites of urban life to capture the tone of what it means to be a stranger transitioning into an inhabitant of a city. Her work ennobles concrete, romanticizes stop signs, and playfully insinuates bedlam. In her Terminal series, punches of canary yellow and flamingo pink embellish these abstract cityscapes. Rather than following the rules of a fixed vanishing point, her buildings follow a logic of their own and compile themselves in an M.C. Escher mash-up of impossible geometry. The result is a whimsical cacophony of what it is to be immersed in the heart of a city. Yet the most fundamental element of the city and its entire reason for its construction is absent. These cityscapes are all absent of people.
Although Chen says she feels most at ease when she is in a populated area, she mentions that it is a city’s energy that she responds to. So even though these paintings are devoid of people, the buildings, signs, clouds and streets become animated with a human consciousness through the ebb and flow of color, composition and layering. In addition, Chen situates the viewer in a similar emotional state she was in when she first came to the United States. There is expected confusion and oversaturation, but also an intentional embrace of humor.
When Chen first moved from China to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 2011, she says, “It was difficult at first. I didn’t know a single person, and my grasp of English was very basic at the time so I had to overcome a language barrier as well. I took this time as an opportunity to focus on my art. I immersed myself in my studio, experimenting and challenging myself in ways artistically that I had not done before.” Her work resonates with Wassily Kandinsky’s prophetic and theory-based paintings. In her series Home, the repetition of symbols and lines read like a complex musical score. Although these pieces are black and grey, Chen sustains her playful integrity via swirls and strokes which cast spontaneous drama in these monochromatic improvisations.
This style of painting is a consistent bridge between her practice in Los Angeles and in China. As of late, her work in China is shifting to public installations. “Recently I’ve found a great deal of satisfaction working on public art pieces and commissions. I think all artists should want to show their work and disseminate their message to as large and broad an audience as possible. I also believe that art should be readily accessible and public art fulfills both tenants.” In a recent public work, Chen created Tea and Tree, a large sculpture of three curving trees with larger than life teacups on the branches. Towering over travelers in the Jieyang Chaoshan International Airport, Tea and Tree references traditional tea ceremonies of welcome. The best kind of public art not only showcases the blossoming talent of artists, but also is attentive to the need of a community. “There is a lack of artistic material in public spaces in China,” says Chen. “I’ve taken a personal responsibility to contribute and advance the movement for a greater emphasis on incorporating art to enrich public spaces.”
Sijia Chen is part of the artist collective at Durden and Ray. She is currently preparing for a solo show in Shenzhen later this year. Visit http://www.sijiachen.com for additional details.