It was a cold foggy day when I decided to venture out to Bushwick to view Charles Yuen’s paintings, which undoubtedly affected my mood. Once inside the gallery at 56 Bogart Street, the atmosphere changed. The interior light altered the space in way that gave the paintings a kind of intimacy. A layering of repetitive abstract motifs gave the overall effect of these surfaces a kaleidoscopic contiguity, congealed by ebullient brilliance. Each painting revealed a consistency of steady curves and constrained marks, partially adumbrated surfaces, replete with figures, birds, planets, meteors, all wistful billowing amorphous shapes shielding obtuse forms and divested fields of color, all emerging into luminous, conflicting patterns.
One painting, titled Scarlet Pray (2015), came directly at me, piercing my consciousness in such a way, I had to move back from it. The agitated redness of the surface with a scribbled (though elegant) figure to the right, standing full frontal with its head literally floating atop a body. Then there were the vignettes of various praying hands, whimsical vignettes on Hallmark greeting cards from the 1950s, the kind designated for sympathy and hollowed sentiments consoled by a white middle class teetering on the edge of faltering fundamentalism and misguided specializations.
To get into these paintings is almost more than simply describing what’s there. Instead the manner of being there erupts into a kind of pathos, an absurd gesture of unreality in the process of making itself over into something unreal. I am recollecting another painting (also 2015), titled Man with Tubers, where the horizontal tubes wind and stretch horizontally across the painting, a jungle sci-fi green where one may detect an extended, nearly invisible figure pulled from one side of the canvas to the opposite pole. Above this figure, not exactly androgynous, so probably male, there is a squeamish cloud-form, also stretched horizontally. I have to ask: Is this a mid-day horror show, a matinee again from the 50s, where some strange interlude takes over and captures the mind, pulling it into stagnant solace?
The paintings of Charles Yuen have a strong intimate, exemplary tactile presence. They are carefully, fastidiously painted, as if they arrived through a half-conscious state of bewilderment, a seething hidden delirium, inwardly deciphered by the artist. Forms struggle to take shape, over days, even weeks. These paintings haunted me, but in a quiet ecstatic way. They softened the blows of art world mania, and brought me back to a cautiously improbable, yet observable stillness, a timbre of feeling that opens doors, rather than slamming them shut. Yuen is a painter who can still make me wonder as to how the mind works in relation to silent exorbitant feelings that cannot be easily distilled or retrieved even after they are inwardly contained.
New Paintings by Charles Yuen
56 Bogart street, Brooklyn, NY
February 5 – 28, 2016
Writing by Robert C. Morgan