“If you use language to explain the works, they will become incomplete or distorted.”

Born 1981, Quanzhou, Fujian

Chen Chunmu says he is “soft and sensitive”, and his art is too. Both are products of the moist, fertile climate of southern China. The artist also describes himself as “yin-yang”—masculine-feminine—and the forms of his hybrid creatures follow suit. Redolent of sex yet blurring sexual distinctions, they fuse plant and animal, landscape painting and the classical nude. The same sprawling creature might have a row of hill-like breasts, reptilian scales and a dangling, mossy penis. Equally natural and unnatural—the Untitled series of watercolours (2005) depicts “a monster that is both man and bird but is neither man nor bird”, he says—his figures have the mysterious universality of mythical beings like mermaids or minotaurs. Washes of diluted paint and ink give them a fluidity and translucency that match their ambiguous identities. In the also Untitled paintings (2005), the figures are both incomplete (torsos and legs fade to nothing) and filled with smaller, self-contained forms. As in fractal geometry, each individual bud or branch or limb looks capable of giving rise to a whole new creature. The dreamlike buoyancy of these works vanishes in Thinkers of Salvation (2011), a seven-panel charcoal, acrylic and oil painting filled with images of demons and death.

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