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Online OnlyMay 27, 2023

In “Rhyming the Invisible,” Charles Yuen Scripts a Planet into Existence through his First Solo Exhibition in Boston

At LaiSun Keane, Yuen’s oil paintings welcome viewers into a storybook of mythology, creation, and abstract observations of the contemporary human condition.

Review by Fatima Swaray

Charles Yuen's painting reveals two figures diving in opposite directions, while the structure of an atom hovers overhead, alongside other symbols.

Charles Yuen, "In Out Up Down," 2023. Oil on canvas. 54” x 66". Image courtesy of the artist.

Entering Charles Yuen’s world through “Rhyming the Invisible,” his solo exhibition at LaiSun Keane, is being plunged into a heavenly body that functions with its own set of governance and folklore. The logic and rules that regulate this planet are subversive yet reflective of our own. Each oil painting becomes a player within a multi-part saga that Yuen authors with the utmost care and particularity. Moving through the gallery begins to feel as though you are traveling through a storybook of mythology, creation, and abstract observations of the contemporary human condition.

Installation view, “Rhyming the Invisible,” LaiSun Keane, 2023. Photo by Dan Watkins, courtesy of the gallery.

The show is a sea-glass collection of abstract-expressionist oil paintings hung in all corners of the gallery. Side-by-side on the most immediately visible wall are two large standout pieces. In Out Up Down (2023) is a drippy and layered dreamscape that depicts two figures—one reaching for the heavens, thinly washed with pigments of white and muted peach, the other folded over the ground into a book, all while celestial forms, atoms, and geometric shapes float between the sky and earth. A sense of euphoria in connection to humans’ relationship to nature, science, and intellectualism is evoked from this piece. It calls to mind the budding connection to discovery, celestial bodies, texts of reason, and additional themes of exploration that coursed through the age of enlightenment.

Charles Yuen, Eventualization, 2023. Oil on canvas. 54” x 66”. Image courtesy of the artist.

Eventualization (2023) is a storm of bright yellow-green converging over a winding dark mass. The mass contains sinking spheres, atomic shapes, and ladders bridged over itself. It bubbles and moves as a physical interpretation of chaos. Organic mushroom life-forms droop in from the upper right-hand corner. They hang above outstretched hands reaching toward the accumulation of dark matter. This piece is an origin story. Just as the title suggests, it evokes a sense of materialization. In contrast to the work to its side, which explores themes and concepts known to us, Eventualization accounts for the pre-existence of those ideas.

Both of these paintings along with the rest of the show are observations of different points on Yuen’s handcrafted timeline of a world similar yet so fantastically distinct from our own. Yuen has described his unique and questioning viewpoint as one that is promoted by an “unstable cultural perch.” Being Chinese-Japanese American, born in Hawaii, and a longtime New York resident, Yuen has a faceted relationship with selfhood that melds his sci-fi-filled works with authentic reflections of identity and belonging. Across this collection, Yuen weaves together his singular viewpoint, grounded in reality and developed through his hyphenated identity, with the absurd and surrealist nature of his stories.

Rhyming the Invisible” is on view at LaiSun Keane Gallery through May 28, 2023.

This review was written by an inaugural fellow of the 2023 Boston Art Writing Fellowship, a partnership between Praise Shadows Art Gallery and Boston Art Review designed to offer an introduction to curatorial work and sharpen the critical skills of writing, editing, and storytelling in the contemporary art landscape.

Fatima Swaray


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