Oscar CHAN Yik Long: It's the smile that keep us going 陳翊朗《是笑容讓我們繼續下去》
Oscar CHAN Yik Long 陳翊朗
21 October – 18 November, 2023
Gallery EXIT is pleased to present a new solo exhibition by Oscar Chan Yik Long, showcasing paintings in acrylic and ink on canvas (all from 2023) and titled ‘It’s the smiles that keep us going’. The exhibition will open on 21 October and remain on view through 18 November. An opening will be held on Saturday, 21 October at 2–5 pm.
Something has happened in Chan’s practice since his first solo exhibition at the gallery two years ago. He used to restrict himself to Chinese ink or graphite, although with much nuance between the black and the white. Now there is colour, almost every colour – splashes of red and pink and orange and yellow and brown and green and blue and purple – and on top there are probing, fast-moving, dancing lines and blots of ink. There is interaction and interplay between the layered topics of these paintings (as reflected in Chan’s selection of frames from twentieth- and twenty-first-century Asian films) and their execution on the canvas, for which narrative form (the ink) was superimposed on emotional matter (the paint). As Chan himself suggests, the black lines also double as tools of rational thought or speech, cutting through and shaping amorphous clouds of polychrome energy.
To paraphrase Danish structural linguist Louis Hjelmslev (1899–1965), we should learn to distinguish form from the matter it shapes, with regard to both the level of content and the level of expression. Hjelmslev applied these definitions to his study of language, but we may also experiment with them when facing hybrid works of visual art such as those in Chan’s new series, which contribute to debates about the painted image and the moving image. Their ‘matter of content’ would be the unconscious, or at least unthought, reality that prompted the films he quotes and found its form in their making. In this analysis, the ‘matter of expression’ for Chan’s paintings would be the material qualities of primed canvas and of acrylic paint and Chinese ink, both frequently diluted with water to become more fluid.
‘When I first saw this picture, some paintings were very messy, but there were strong colours, and at the same time, they all had black lines, which became a possible outline, and the constituent parts of those black lines were all inside the colour painting. I think this image is like what your situation will be after all these states are merged. There are strong colours, but with black parts on top.’
Chan was astonished when his spiritual consultant, whose work is based on receiving and explicating visions, offered him a description of the paintings he was working on and noted that the black ink was applied onto already existing colour fields. She had never seen them in external reality.
The exhibition title is a quote from the horror movie classic The Exorcist III (1990), written and directed by William Peter Blatty. It was no success, neither with critics nor at the box office, but Chan appreciates both the writing and Brad Dourif’s performance as the Gemini serial killer, determined to maximise the impact of evil through his actions. In fact he already quoted this film twice this year, as the title for his solo exhibition at Cazul 101 in Bucharest, ‘Certain parties were not pleased’ and for his large-scale installation at Galerie für Gegenwartskunst in Freiburg, Germany, A Horror to the Eyes of All Men Seeking Faith.
Compared to these other projects, ‘It’s the smiles that keep us going’ stages a more positive approach to topics that interest Chan, notably our responses to fear, tragedies in life and the current state of the world. The phrase may sound like a tactical – and possibly ironic – conceit, but it may also embody a strategy for liberating or at least shifting energies that have gotten stuck.
Chan has intentionally chosen to paint stills from films in which at least one character is smiling. The films were selected for these smiles – some conventional or self-conscious, some ambiguous, nearly imperceptible – rather than for their plot lines or their artistic or cultural significance.
We see Lesley Cheung’s face from Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine, naked despite the layers of operatic makeup he is applying, faintly illuminated from within by all-consuming erotic longing. We see Liu Ye and Hu Run, the couple in Stanley Kwan’s Lan Yu, lying together with fixed expressions of bliss, mask-like as if outside of time. We see the vacantly grinning elderly couple from Yasujirō Ozu’s Tokyo Story, guests from the province for whom none of their now metropolitan children really have time. We see Lisa Yang, the amateur teenager actor who appeared only in Edward Yang’s almost four-hour A Brighter Summer Day, playfully wield a gun and flash a mischievous smile at the camera that forebodes her character’s unexpected but inescapable death.
Stills were extracted from the following films produced in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mainland China, Japan or South Korea. Their English titles double as titles for Chan’s paintings: A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang, 1991); A City of Sadness (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 1989); A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhangke, 2013); Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku, 2000); Farewell My Concubine (Chen Kaige, 1993); God of Gamblers II (Wing Jing, 1990); In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar Wai, 2000); Lan Yu (Stanley Kwan, 2001); Profiles of Pleasure (Tony Au, 1988); Rouge (Stanley Kwan, 1987); Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-Eda, 2018); Tokyo Story (Yasujirō Ozu, 1953,); Treasure Hunt (Jeffrey Lau, 1994); The Handmaiden (Park Chan-Wook, 2016); Yi Yi (Edward Yang, 2000).
Finally, as the exception that proves the rule, one of the paintings, Jasmine and Sophie, is not based on a film still but on a family snapshot of Chan’s nieces.
Text by Anders Kreuger