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Chiao-Han Chueh: INTIMATE PLAY at Nunu Fine Art

Chiao-Han Chueh, Escapee Swimming With Shoes On (2023), acrylic on canvas, 15 ¾ x 19 ¾ inches, All Photos Courtesy of the gallery unless otherwise noted.

Chiao-Han Chueh: INTIMATE PLAY

Nunu Fine Art

June 15 through August 19, 2023

By D. DOMINICK LOMBARDI, July 2023 

Lupit was a tropical storm that devastated parts of Taiwan in 2021 with 51 inches of rain over two days. “This is why everyone in Taiwan must learn how to swim '' – a fact brought up by Chiao-Han Chueh at a recent event celebrating her solo exhibition INTIMATE PLAY, where Chueh’s colorfully complex paintings grace the walls of Nunu Fine Art in New York’s Lower East Side. Even before this reference to flooding was mentioned by the artist, there are enough references to water here to be aware of a connection to water in terms of survival, especially in works like Diving Woman (2023), School Girls Floating (2023) or Escapee Swimming with Shoes On (2023). However, if one were to miss the reference to water an entirely different narrative may emerge where issues such as body image, intimacy (as the exhibition’s title would suggest), and a very fluid and free approach to painting reminiscent of the late 1970’s and 80’s when Neo-Expressionist painters were pushing their way back into the New York Art scene, once again declaring painting is not dead.

Chueh’s approach to painting is to maintain a sense of spontaneity, regardless of how many times an area is reworked. This is a difficult task, as the balance between overpainting and the level of unbridled energy that first begins a painting is difficult to maintain. However, Chueh does this so well that all the paintings in this exhibition, regardless of their overall size, which range between 76 ¾ x 49 ¼ inches to 11 ¾ x 15 ¾ inches, maintain both an immediacy and a freshness throughout.

For instance, in Drinking Water with Many Butterflies (2023) there are some areas where small changes can result in new, and perhaps, unplanned vignettes. One can be seen in Drinking Water with Many Butterflies near the top right, where a broken bubble of light blue creates a small, separate landscape. Near the center of the painting there is a variety of overpainting, especially where the main subject is seen lapping up water, whereas at the right side just below, a colorful cat-like character that is reminiscent of Manga or Anime creeps in for a quick drink. The strangeness of this combination of characters adds more than a bit of fantasy or Surrealism to the main tenor of this work. 

Chiao-Han Chueh, Drinking Water with Many Butterflies (2023) (detail), acrylic on canvas, 76 ¾ x 49 ¼ inches, Photo courtesy of the author. 

An Intimate Play (2023) has three distinct figures, a familiar narrative base in these paintings, which in this instance are intertwined and colored with light pinkish tan, blues and purples respectively. This can be taken as another major nod to German Expressionism and the paintings of Emile Nolde or Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Even the angst in the ‘intimate play’ here feels a little Max Beckmann-like who created these incredible, iconic enigmatic drama’s that long leave their mark. With An Intimate Play, Chueh entices us to think about moments where preconception breaks down and the reality of one’s own being, how we are perceived and who we actually see ourselves at distinct times come to the fore. I can’t be sure, but it looks like the purple, plain faced figure is challenging the blue male about their self image, while the figure most frontal twists and hides its face as if not to look or deal. Games can be tricky, especially one like Truth or Dare, as the artist manages to portray a peak moment with very expressive shifts between divergent bold colors and numerous and varied painting approaches that keep it all moving in a never ending loop.

 Chiao-Han Chueh, An Intimate Play (2023), oil and acrylic on canvas, 76 ¾ x 49 ¼ inches 

In Search of Lost Time (2023) shows Chueh’s link with her past in two ways. First, she was at one time a traditional ink painter where the simplicity of line was meant to capture the purest instance of movement, scale and form while leaving as much of the paper as possible untouched. With In Search of Lost Time we see the largest amount of canvas unpainted, and a tendency to use line more forcefully and completely. Secondly, we get more than a hint here of a relationship gone awry, half upside down like one of Chueh's great influences, Georg Baselitz, making another strong connection to her time spent in Germany. Another, more tenuous element or connection to the past can be added here when looking at the cascading area of flowers, leaves and butterflies along the right side of the painting. Here, we get a better look at how she begins a painting with lines and very wet acrylic washes that bleed out and into the unprimed canvas. Over this, Chueh takes a more drawing-like approach to her brushwork, giving the feeling of the simpler days of childhood fantasies.

Chiao-Han Chueh, In Search of Lost Time (2023), acrylic on canvas, 76 ¾ x 49 ¼ inches

Chiao-Han Chueh: INTIMATE PLAY is only the second exhibition at Nunu Fine Art, New York, NY, and they have already made their mark on this burgeoning gallery community of the Lower East Side as it continues to expand south and west. Nunu Hung opened her first gallery in Taipei, Taiwan in 2014 where she maintains a “multifaceted program (that) ranges from solo presentations to group exhibitions…” and remains “committed to presenting educational programming in tandem with artistic presentations.”  WM

D. Dominick Lombardi

D. Dominick Lombardi is an artist, art writer and curator based in New York. A 45-Year retrospective of his art, which was curated by T. Michael Martin, has traveled from the Clara M. Eagle Gallery at MSU in Western Kentucky in 2019, to the Marie Walsh Sharpe Gallery of Contemporary Art, Ent Center for the Arts, UCCS in Colorado Springs in 2021 – next moving to the Dowd Gallery at SUNY Cortland, New York in February, 2022. Some of his writing credits include the New Art Examiner (1997-98), ARTnews (1997), The New York Times (1998-2005), Juxtapoz (2002), Art in Asia (2007-2009), The Huffington Post (2012-2018), ARTES (2016-present), CultureCatch (2006-present), and dArt International magazine (2005-present). Lombardi’s most recent curatorial projects are “LandX” for Red fox Contemporary in Pound Ridge, NY (2021), “A Horse Walks Into a Bar” for the Hampden Gallery at UMASS Amherst, MA, (2020) and “I Am…” for the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg, FL, (2020). Contributor portrait by Danh Nguyen. 

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