CULTURE KLASH: Outsider Art

By on September 27, 2017

Rain Hail Shine, 2017, oil on linen, 163 x 238 cm, courtesy of Kevin Chin

Kevin Chin’s art melds questions and bright inks to answer an age old question

For most people, there isn’t a simple answer to what should be a simple question: Where are you from?

That question can mean where one was born, where one lived most recently, where one feels is home, or even take on meaning beyond physical places, such as the type of neighborhood or family one grew up in.

“There’s just so much wrapped up in that idea of ‘where are you from,’” said artist Kevin Chin. 

The idea of displacement, feeling like an outsider, moving between places and making one’s home in a foreign place inspire Chins’ paintings, which piece together fragments from different times and places. 

Chin knows what it’s like to feel caught between worlds, or like an outsider. Chin moved to Australia from Malaysia when he was two years old, and was the only non-white student in his class throughout elementary school. Kids often asked where he was from. While not malicious, the question still fostered in Chin a sense he didn’t belong. 

As an adult, he bucked his working-class parents’ dreams of him having a practical career and decided to become an artist. 

His large oil-on-linen paintings explore cultural hybridity, the sense of being caught between two places and feeling foreign.

“My goal is to create these hybrid scenes and rethink how we think about time and belonging,” he said.

Chin, who is Teton ArtLab’s September artist-in-residence, hopes to further explore the idea of outsiders and belonging while he’s in the United States, a timely topic in the current political climate, he said. 

His paintings pull fragments from different times, scenes and places, and look like an actual scene or place until the viewer looks closer and notices how its pieced together. 

Chin’s work begins with photographs he takes on his travels. He then prints and cuts the images, tacking them together in a collage, filling in holes with bits and pieces. 

His work might go through 30 iterations before he has a map of his next painting. His work blends together the styles and other influences, creating work that can look like multiple people painted it.

“It’s so many different things going on and so many styles on one canvas,” he said. 

Chin is “fanatical” about color, he said, working with gel pigments he mixes himself to create color relationships that bleed through his work and tie together not only the painting, but also his body of work. 

Chin has already spent his time in Jackson collecting source material in the form of more than 5,000 photographs taken in Yellowstone, Grand Teton and the rodeo, which evoked a sense a sense of exploration and a new frontier with the cowboys and cowgirls. The rodeo also invoked a strong sense of nationalism with the presentation of the American flag and the National anthem, he said. As an observer, he’s interested in all the pieces that come together to make up a place. 

Chin’s interest in art stems back to his childhood, when Chinese watercolors graced the walls of his home, where he was always drawing. 

In art school, he studied traditional western oil painting. He likes blending the traditional history of western oil painting, with his Australian training and Malaysian roots. It adds to the cultural hybridity his work explores, he said. 

But while his younger years may have ignited Chin’s interest in art, it was during a residency in Japan in 2014 that the artist discovered a strong connection between nationality and ethnicity, a new concept for him. That discovery inspired work where he further explored belonging through “symbolically contradictory” paintings, like one that featured pine trees, Japanese cherry blossoms and Australian eucalyptus. 

“I hope my paintings have a more global sense of place,” he said. Yet at the same time he wants them to convey a feeling of placeless or being between two places. 

Belonging, in Chin’s view, is more fluid than most people realize.

“Place is really just something that is in the imagination, or something that is not tied to geography,” he said. “People have different ways of connecting or associating where they want to be, beyond where they just grew up or where they might be at the moment.”

Chin, who is represented by This is No Fantasy gallery in Australia is in Jackson as an artist-in-residence at the Teton ArtLab for September. His trip to Jackson is supported by arts funding through the Australia Council. PJH

Chin will talk about his work at 6 p.m. Sept. 28 at the Teton ArtLab. 

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