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He Sen's First Solo Exhibition at The Tilton Gallery
He Sen, Space and Air, 2008, Oil on canvas, 78.74 x 98.43 in.

NEW YORK.- A series of large scale photorealist paintings and faux-ink drawings by Beijing Artist Hen Sen are on display at The Tilton Gallery (8 East 76th Street), through November 1, 2008. This will be He Sen's first solo exhibition in the United States. He Sen was one of the most influential painters to emerge during China’s post-Cultural Revolution years of the early 1990s. Initially painting still life images of objects that epitomized the growing consumer culture including toys and western music, he eventually began to include figures in his work, creating provocative, large-scale works that considered the effects of global consumerism on Chinese youth. He Sen’s latest series of photorealist images depicting young Chinese women with stuffed animals continues this aim.

Painted in oil on canvas, these deliberately lurid works employ the trope of the sexy advertising girl who can sell anything, exacting the visual appeal of such images with Warholian ambivalence. In four of the works on view, the women he portrays wear lingerie and prop themselves against pillows and chairs, languidly smoking cigarettes and cuddling teddy bears. Selling an uneasy mix of innocence and sex, hope and disillusion, they blend the generic appeal of “the girl next door” with the barely legal tender of popular porn. One woman is barely distinguishable from the next, and whether Sen has depicted the same subject in these works, or if they merely represent variations on a feminine ideal is left intentionally unclear.

The great verisimilitude with which Sen paints his female beauties underscores the kind of homogenization he suggests is a by-product of capitalism in contemporary China. Interested in the role of painting in such a drastically changing, forward-thinking society, Sen responds with characteristic ambiguity. His consistent use of shadowy black-and-white grounds intentionally blur references to traditional photography, calligraphy, and Abstract Expressionism, and like the figures’ grayscale flesh, or the painterly trails of cigarette smoke, his desire is to embrace the artifice of form, confounding our sense that what we see is “real”.

Accompanying these works are four large-scale faux-ink drawings based on traditional Chinese landscape themes. Sen also renders these in oil on canvas, playing again with our expectations of form and the rhetoric of images.

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