For quite some time we’ve been remotely following the development of the Taiwanese artist CHUNG Chia-Chun’s practice and were excited to see it all come together in his current big solo show at Hiro Hiro Art Space in Taipei, on view through May 16. The mixed-media visuals starring the black and white figure are combining the painting medium and classic philosophy, revolving around dissociation, absurdity, alienation, and self-consciousness.

Created as visualization or reinterpretation of The Outsider (also known as The Stranger) by French philosopher Albert Camus, the body of work reflects on the relationship between self-existence and the social environment. By unconventionally reconstructing the conceptual scenes from the texts with his unique artistic practice the artist is constructing technically challenging and visually instigating images. One of the most striking elements of CHUNG’s work is the mixture of different aesthetics and techniques which results in captivating yet beguiling imagery which conceals a deeper narrative. By applying acrylic, crayon, charcoal, and other mixed media to present different types of space in his artworks, the artist is interested in capturing the loneliness of being out of place with the stereotypical social values. Placed inside this artificial, almost simulated setting, the distorted, barely human figure with an expressionless square-shaped face is depicted while walking, sitting, lying, cutting flowers, and standing trial. 

Contrasting the flatness of minimalistic hard-edge-colored blocks defining the space as well as pencil marks and squiggles that convey its features, his version of Camus’ Meursault is exclusively and profoundly rendered in charcoal. “Charcoal is a very beautiful medium,” CHUNG explained in the statement for this show. “Charcoal is seemingly fragile, with only black, gray, and white for expression, but it can in fact create a vigorous, three-dimensional visual effect. When placed amid a background of brisk, highly saturated colors, the gray-scale figure highlights the outsider’s incompatibility to their surroundings even more – an existential status of illusion and isolation.” Still, as clean as the masked, drawn, or painted sections surrounding it, it’s this interaction between the alienated main protagonist and its environment that leads the storyline in all 20 paintings portraying a different, relatable state and emotions.  

With sharp-edged, solid color sections, pencil scribbles, thick paint marks, or transparent sections, CHUNG is constructing a highly stylized sense of perspectives and space. Reducing the original form to its most vital attributes, the basis of his figurative imagery is both graphic and expressive, and is moving closer to abstraction. Through consistent color choices, he builds a compact and coherent series adding to the portrayal of the multiple and fractured states of existence seen through the prism of absurdity, as described in the original book. The culmination of such sentiment displayed across two floors arguably comes to light in Sisyphus, 2021, in which the mythological character stops with his futile labor and is using the boulder to rest in an idyllic outdoors environment. —Sasha Bogojev