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UFV artists tackle sensitive issues through art on campus

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On October 16 from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., the opening reception for Skin Tactility, an exhibition by UFV visual arts students Sidi Chen and Paige Caldwell, took place at the S’eliyemetaxwtexw Art Gallery on the Abbotsford campus.

According to the exhibition statement, this show is about what we, as human beings, are able to experience using our eyes and skin. “Skin Tactility” is a term used here to discuss the issues hidden in society, and by extension, under our skin. These issues include topics of mental health, sexuality, social disconnection, cultural isolation, and self-recognition.

When asked what inspired the two to work together and produce this show, Chen stated: “We were classmates for a while, and we’ve been working in the same figurative theme for a while. I looked at her work, and I found some very common grounds [in] both our work. We were able to cover similar issues, although our approach is very different.”

Chen also said, “I invited [Caldwell] to do a show with me with the proposed title of ‘Skin Touchness,’ which we eventually changed to ‘Skin Tactility.’”

Chen and Caldwell have two very different artistic identities. Chen identifies as male, gay, and grew up surrounded by traditional Chinese culture, while Caldwell is female, straight, and raised in Canada. Chen describes his work as “colour expressionism,” and Caldwell’s work features “cold, sharp, and sensitive lines.”

Both artists’ paintings mainly display figures. Caldwell mostly works with a female figure, while Chen’s figures do not have an assigned gender, unless specifically stated in the work’s title. Aside from the use of figures, the two artists’ paintings work well together because of their contrast. Caldwell’s work uses very rough textures and materials, and lacks the vibrant use of colour as seen in Chen’s work. The stark differences even amongst the similarities indicate that both these artists begin their thought process from very different perspectives, yet end up with complementary results.

We asked each artist to stand by the works considered their favourite in the show, and to tell us a little bit about why they chose the one they did. Caldwell stood by ‘Balancing Act, a piece composed of acrylic paint and charcoal on plywood.

“I think it’s my favourite one so far that I’ve done because it’s my most recent one. My earlier ones were drawing-based, and [since then] I started getting into a little bit of painting. I feel like this one is a better combination of the two,” Caldwell explained. “It’s a little bit more cohesive with the two figures. The composition I really enjoy as well. [I like] the shine that the gloss medium gives it, and I like the aesthetic of this one especially.”

Chen chose to stand by ‘Self-portrait in Lost Manner, an oil painting on canvas.

“I know I’ll always work with colours, but sometimes I get to a stage where I start to use so much colour that I start to hate it. You can see this as a self-portrait and it’s very colourful and very vibrant, very vivid. I see that my facial expression in the picture was very sad, not satisfied, and depressed. It’s kind of a turning point of how I started to look back into my own practice to see how I actually use colour, and what it actually means for me to use so much colour.”

Issues such as depression and social disconnection are not very easy to talk about. Through their work, Chen and Caldwell have found a voice and tone that tackles the subject well.

The exhibition will be on display in the S’eliyemetaxwtexw Gallery at UFV’s Abbotsford campus from October 16 to November 3, 2017.

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