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CHEN KE (B. 1978)
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CHEN KE (B. 1978)

1955 - NEW YORK - 29 YEARS OLD

CHEN KE (B. 1978)
1955 - NEW YORK - 29 YEARS OLD
signed in Chinese, dated ‘2016’ (lower right); signed, titled and inscribed in Chinese, signed, dated, titled and inscribed ‘1955 - New York - 29 Years old oil on canvas 200 x 130 cm chen ke 2016’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
200 x 130 cm. (37 3/4 x 76 3/4 in.)
Painted in 2016
Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Hong Kong, Galerie Perrotin, DREAM - DEW, May–June, 2016.

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Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Chen Ke was born in 1978 and graduated from the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in 2005 with a master's degree in oil painting. In 2016, she held a solo exhibition at the Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong, entitled Meng Lu ('Dream Dew'). She said, 'The "dream" part means being a dreamer. Marilyn Monroe was a girl who loved to dream, and Hollywood was a dream factory. "Dew" refers to dewdrops. Life is short, but it is a moment of unforgettable radiance. So the two words "Meng Lu" ('Monroe' in Chinese) are a metaphor that sums up her life. Life is like a dream, like dew, because it is so short and so precious.' A large, important work, Chen Ke's 1955 - New York - 29 Years Old featured the most distinct theme and the most vivid subject in her exhibition.

As a female artist, Chen Ke has a special concern for the experience of life and human nature, and the changes they undergo. Digging into what seem like the ordinary passing moments of life, she seems to be telling us to cherish the feelings and expressions to be found in each. Recalling how she created 1955 - New York - 29 Years Old, Chen says that 'The entire process was simultaneously painful and joyful. I was both director and actor; I was Marilyn and myself as well. I was in Beijing, in Los Angeles, and in New York too; and it was both today and yesterday.' Through the painting, Chen found a connection between herself and Marilyn Monroe, and an emotional connection through which the work reaches each of its viewers as well. As a female artist, she depicts female subjects from a different point of view than might be adopted by a male artist; she downplays the sexual characteristics of her subjects to avoid making them consumer objects for the male viewer. She portrays them in an objective style with a level or slightly uplifted gaze, and at the same time, she seeks to analyzing her subjects and mine each of them for their feelings and inner states.

In 1955 - New York - 29 Years Old, we see Monroe standing on a balcony of New York's Ambassador Hotel, pulling deeply on her cigarette and gazing into the distance. Shaping both Marilyn and her background in her own unique style, Chen Ke attends to every detail of her figure, her hair, face, and arms, to present a moment of Marilyn Monroe's life in 1955 through her own artistic vocabulary. 'In a portrait, I think there should be some different kinds of emotional aspects,' Chen says. The large scale of the painting draws us in as Marilyn stands amid a backdrop of tall buildings, and traffic streams by on the boulevard below; this is the New York, the world's stage, that holds such fascination for so many. But as the artist portrays Monroe, this young figure in the great city, her career beginning to take off and full of confidence about the future, she projects into her interpretation a hint of her own reality. Thus in the painting we see both Monroe and the artist herself; both face a future full of unknown possibilities, but with a great sense of hope. While Liu Ye’s work Daydream reveals the artist’s expectations and passion for his art career using the image of the napping child, Chen Ke also expresses her own longing and determination by depicting Monroe as an innocent figure. With the emotional resonance she finds so easily, the artist tells a story through the painting, conjuring feelings in her depiction that are not easily dispelled.

“I used to think as I looked out on the Hollywood night — there must be thousands of girls sitting alone like me, dreaming of becoming a movie star. But I'm not going to worry about them. I'm dreaming the hardest.” — Marilyn Monroe

Chen Ke writes this passage, like a diary entry, at the top of her painting, as if to remind herself and each viewer just how precious our dreams are, and the kind of energy and spirit we once had. In her previous work, Chen enjoyed experimenting with various materials to achieve a more complex visual experience, but here she makes a return to painting itself, employing unpretentious materials and speaking purely from the heart. Chen Ke's fascination for Marilyn Monroe lies in her spirit and zest, and in the dreams she harbored things which seem echoed in the artist's own thoughts, and by means of the scene she presents here, Chen raises them to the status of universal values. The most lasting beauty can be found in the emotional revelations of a personality that is determined, open, energetic, full of hope, and holding firm to her aspirations.

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