Please do tell, Skyler
Having been on C-print's radar since his solo exhibition 'Do Ask Do Tell' at Eve Leibe Gallery in London last year, and recently having seen his work in the flesh in Mexico City, we caught up with Taiwanese-born visual artist Skyler Chen; one we're certain you'll be seeing a lot more of in the months to come.
C-P: Before leading into the present, tell me a little bit about your background. You are born in Taiwan and are currently residing in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. How did you end up there?
S.C: I grew up in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. As a kid I was dyslexic so I never did particularly well in school. Therefore, visual language such as painting became my way of expressing myself to the world. I attended a Fine Art program in high school at the age of 16 and later went on to university in Utah (I was a gay Mormon). After university, I moved to New York City for an artist residency. After 9 years in the U.S, I returned to Taiwan for my military service, and later went on to live in Shanghai, Amsterdam and Bangkok. I'm a bit of a nomad, I guess. Why do I live in Rotterdam? Well, love. I am a bit of a romantic. But I do believe that every artist should live outside of their comfort zone; it's when you surround yourself with a language you don’t understand and culture you’re not familiar with, that you develop a different perspective on the world.
C-P: I first stumbled across your work while your sold-out solo exhibition 'Do Ask, Do Tell' was on at Eve Leibe Gallery in London. I'm very intrigued by your paintings that juxtapose queer iconography and cultural references like legendary BUTT Magazine, Grindr, and Chinese dumplings. Tell me a little about the choice of motifs in your paintings.
S.C: I grew up in Taiwan in a conservative Asian environment and additionally being a Mormon, I struggled with coming out. I channeled my queer identity by collecting objects and items such as gay magazines and sex toys and hid them in my bedroom. After a long day of pretending to be straight, I would go home, lock the door, take out those objects and feel liberated by the notion that I was not alone in the world. This I should add is before the advent of social media. In my works, besides queer objects, I've also included Chinese dumplings (dim sum), bubble tea, animals and other symbolism of my Asian identity. My images are constructed like Chinese sentences. Every word has a different meaning, but the real meaning only shows when you join them together.
C-P: Although a fairly new name to a wider audience, your practice dates back to the late nineties at art school and extends to sculpture, installation, and even children's book I read somewhere. Would you like to tell us a little about some past projects?
S.C: When I started out, the art world was rejecting figurative painting while embracing conceptual art. The galleries would not pay attention to figurative painters. Therefore, I turned to other things such as making children's books illustrations and sculptures. I believe my work is the internal dialogue with my experiences of being a dyslexic gay Asian Mormon.
C-P: What other visual artists might have inspired your own work?
S.C: Oh, wow, so many. Balthus, Francis Bacon, Mark Manders, Neo Rauch, Giorgio Celin, Mona Broschar, Navot Miller, Dominique Fung, Kyle Dunn to mention just a few.
C-P: On your website, there's a link to a dormant podcast in Mandarin. What is it about?
S.C: I was curious about digital identity so I created this podcast in Mandarin and published it on a few platforms. I studied who, where, and when people would listen to it. Due to my voice; naturally deep and sleepy, my study shows that people listened to my podcast in coastal Chinese cities around 9 pm before bedtime.
C-P: Still fairly early in 2022, what might be coming up for you later this year?
S.C: Currently, I'm in the group show 'Another Spring' curated by artist Heidi Ukkonen at Diskus in Aalst, Belgium. Next month, I'll be in a group show at MASSIMODECARLO Pièce Unique in Paris. Sometime in May or June, I'll be in another group show at Août Gallery in Beirut and on Oct 15, I'm finally scheduled for a solo exhibition with Platform China in Beijing.
For more info on Skyler, please visit:
All images courtesy of the artist.