With You, I Will Never Feel Lonely



“With you, I will never feel lonely.” One of her earlier painting series bears this title, and no other name could be more applicable here. The term “you” clearly allows for a broad range of interpretations. Firstly, “you” signifies the path of art that it was her fate to embark upon. “As a child, I dreamed of living like the host of a worldwide travel program on TV, but in adulthood it turns out that I have settled into a single room. And so I create a world for myself, where I can roam without constraint.” With regards to her antecedents in art history, this “you” also refers to the long string of artists that have amazed and edified her: Van Gogh, Cindy Sherman, Jan Saudek, Araki Nobuyoshi, Yoshitomo Nara…. “You” can also refer to familial ties. “In daily life I go back and forth between two states of mind. In front of my artwork in the studio, it’s like being three thousand feet up in the clouds. I’m free and unburdened, but of course still experience painful moments of sudden falling. When I’m with my parents I where to solid ground, where there are ordinary, trifling matters to deal with, but I feel safe. The unbearable lightness of being wavers in and out among times of heaviness.” At the same time, “you” can signify love, friendship, perhaps even personal remembrance or the natural world. (Many of the book’s most lyrical passages arose after gazing intently on a natural scene, evidence of the closeness Chen Ke feels towards nature’s inexhaustible well of inspiration.) Ultimately, this “you” points to the essential inner solitude of the individual. One intriguing element of Chen Ke’s paintings is the close juxtaposition of two young women of different expressions: a mirroring of doppelgangers. As I see it, they constitute a dialogue or interrogation or a form of solace between two selves. This odd idée fixe should be traceable to a motif she drew in early childhood. In the blank spaces of a family account book, she liked to draw with dainty strokes two oval objects, perhaps an image of two heads resting against each other.

For the present-day Chen Ke, one of those selves pertains to the innocent, original ‘I’, and the other endeavors to become the ‘other’, to be a vessel that opens itself to absorb outside elements and realities. This way, the latter self becomes the self-possessed “ordinary mind.” While undergoing this process, it was the inescapable solitude of life along with all those different “yous” that brought rescue from aloneness, which in turn prompted her to write this book. This book reminds me of a kite flown above her home country of Zhicheng. “Go and feel distant flight; feel the firm rootedness.” [Seamus Heaney]

Zhu Zhu
November 2011