Sichen Grace Chen
In our intimate conversation with artist Sichen Grace Chen, we were drawn into a world where vivid colors, nature, and self-discovery coalesce in a mesmerizing tapestry. Through her introspective painting process, Sichen explores the past and the present, turning personal objects into universal symbols and weaving the threads of time, growth, and womanhood into a surreal yet relatable narrative. Whether it’s her challenge to expand her palette, her fascinating layering techniques, or her desire to merge digital and traditional art, Sichen’s perspective offers a refreshing and authentic glimpse into the mind of an artist who courageously bridges the personal and the universal. Her art is not just an expression but a journey, one that invites us to explore alongside her.
Kelly Foster – In your art, there’s a vivid resonance of colour, nature, and a profound sense of organic emotion. Your canvas is alive with elements of water, butterflies, stars – all creating a dreamlike narrative that is both fantastical and magical, seemingly set in a celestial, sparkling expanse. Yet, there’s also a strong graphic element at play, which may be a nod to your background in graphic design. Further, your usage of objects as placeholders in self-portraits adds a new dimension to your work.
These objects seem to carry more than their physical form; they seem to embody a deeper, subconscious resonance. This led me to question whether the act of painting serves as a self-discovery process for you. When examining your words and work together, everything begins to form a cohesive narrative.
Sichen Grace Chen – Painting has always been my way of introspection. Many people I know begin painting with an introspective mind, knowing what they want to paint; I’m the reverse, I paint and then learn more about myself.
Because painting is a solitary activity, it forces me to really think about everything that has happened in the past, going back a few years or even to my childhood. Painting is the only time I devote to exploring internally. As I reminisce or think about the future, certain objects appear on the painting surface, objects that hold some significant value to me, like a flower I really liked as a kid or a piece of jewellery that I got from a friend.
As I paint and add more elements or objects, I think about how I can expand on this meaning so that the audience can understand something different. For the first object I start with, it might have a very personal value, but its meaning is almost entirely subjective. So I consider what else I can add to it to make the meaning more universal or perhaps more absurd.
KF – When you’re going to paint, do you think of one object and then go and depict it, and then that will bring up another object? It seems like there’s this kind of collaging of thoughts and memories onto the surface, is that correct?
SGC – I think that’s a really good way of putting it. It usually begins with one thing, like one subject or object that I want to paint really badly. Perhaps it’s something I’ve been thinking about all week. For me, the way to process my fixation is to paint it because I think that gives me time to really closely observe the object.
Its materiality and sentimental value to me become clearer. So I think as I’m painting and adding more elements like objects, I’m thinking about how I can add more to this theme. Whether I’m starting with a natural element like a flower or a butterfly, I’m thinking about how I can bring in a man-made object or something that is more industrial to really create tension in the surface.
It introduces a way of thinking that is very different from the usual way of thinking. I want to expand the meaning to make it either more absurd or more universal. So, when I start with an object that has a personal value to me, I consider how I can add more to it so that the meaning can become more universal.
KF – The red painting of the flower with the clothespin and heart trinket creates a sense of mystery and intrigue because the objects are blended into one space, giving it a surreal feel. This placement creates a new meaning, removed from the inherent initial meaning of the object.
I’m also interested in what you wrote about colour, because it has a strong effect on your work. Colour gives your work a graphic element and makes it stylised. All your paintings seem to have a consistent aesthetic. It’s interesting that you mentioned wanting to move away from blue. Why did you decide to draw attention to this?
SGC – I think some artists have a colour they love and know how to use best, either through experience or intuition. For me, that’s probably blues and purples. These are the predominant colours in most of my portfolio. Blue can be calm and peaceful, but there are also societal and historical connotations associated with it.
As an artist, I’m always challenging myself to do something different. I’m trying to expand my palette to warmer colours now. I’m drawn to contrast, whether it’s high saturation or lights and darks. I want to create a captivating image, even if certain meanings and themes get lost in translation.
KF – Yes, I think your use of colour is really engaging. The graphic element in your work is appealing, and I think it’s good that you push yourself. Can you tell me more about your more illustrative, figurative works?
SGC – Yes, it is more illustrative, and it’s digital. It differs from my current painting style, but both are authentic to me. I think I’m at a point in my work where I’m deciding whether I should merge the two styles to create a more unified look, regardless of the medium – canvas, digital, or paper.
Currently, my painting primarily involves objects, spaces, and landscapes rather than figurative work. However, figures sometimes come to mind when brainstorming certain ideas. I wonder how these would translate onto a larger surface like a canvas in a painting. What I really want to do is to merge these two styles to create a more unified body of work, as both styles authentically represent my approach to drawing and painting.
KF – The objects in your paintings feel like metaphorical self-portraits. For some reason, I envision your pieces on a smaller scale. The other thing I found interesting was your layering process. You create varying levels of opacity and transparency, which result in semi-abstractions. It feels like your work blends abstraction with figuration in different ways and techniques.
SGC – Yes, I think it’s a process that I developed at university. I apply the first layer of paint, and sometimes I use dry brushing because it creates more abstract lines. Through this application, you can already see shapes or things forming in your head or on the surface.
This way, you’re exploring what the painting could potentially be. The materiality of the paint connects to your vision. That’s the most natural way for me to work. If I have a really solidified sketch before a painting, it almost always goes through multiple colour iterations or compositional changes. So painting for me is about exploring what’s potentially there, rather than working from a fixed plan.
I find that having too much control in the painting process stifles me. I’m always challenging myself to do something different. So, when it comes to my use of colour and the way that I layer paint, I’m always experimenting and pushing myself. Painting intuitively and reacting to the paint itself is the best way to work for me. This includes techniques like making thin layers, dry brushing, or even working with the imperfections of the paint.
KF – So, through the process of layering and dry brushing, does your mind create an image based on the materiality of the paint?
SGC – I’m interested in how the mind can create an image from any arrangement of objects. This enhances introspection and imagination, which often get lost in the daily grind of life. This process is very therapeutic. It allows me to step away from other jobs and responsibilities, and simply focus on my work. It’s a very rewarding process.
KF – What are some of the recurring themes in your work?
SGC – Themes such as time, growth, and womanhood are recurring. I like the idea of creating images that depict an instance in time that is almost impossible to have, or a space where it’s impossible for these objects to all be in the same space together. I also enjoy working with symbols and objects that have a feminine quality. I want to capture a universal experience, making my work more inviting and inclusive.
The idea of creating surreal or absurd images is fascinating to me. I am intrigued by the concept of presenting the past, present, and future in a single image. I want to continue to push myself to create images that capture instances of time or spaces that seem impossible to have in reality.
My focus on recurring symbols and objects, such as hearts and stars, and the exploration of time, adds depth to my work. In the end, I want my art to be a reflection of my thoughts, experiences, and personality.
KF – I love your perspective on time, and how your work seems to capture the essence of the present moment. It’s as if you are rejecting the idea of forcing preconceived images onto your work. Instead, you are allowing the images to emerge organically, creating a sense of becoming.
SGC – I like your interpretation of my work as a process of becoming. I’m intrigued by those moments of transition – when you’re neither here nor there, but on your way to somewhere. This might relate to my exploration of time, growth, and womanhood.
Painting is perhaps the only time I truly inhabit the present moment. Like many people, I tend to be future-oriented, and seldom take the time to slow down and savour the present. Painting allows me to do this. The concept of mindfulness resonates with me. When I paint, I feel I am practicing a form of mindfulness, being present in the moment. This realisation is enlightening and might explain why I am drawn to certain objects or why my paintings turn out the way they do.