Ada Yuewan Chen criticizes perceptions of beauty

BFA student plays with colour and culture

Ada Yuewan Chen is a fourth-year Bachelor of Fine Arts student at Queen's.
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Ada Yuewan Chen’s art is full of colour, spreading teal, orange, lavender, and pink across broad canvases to create smooth, blurred dreamscapes.

The fourth-year BFA student seeks to question the idea of beauty through her painting.

Originally from China, Chen’s early training prized realism as the hallmark of quality in art, but since then Chen has sought to break the mold.

“I don’t want to paint a photograph,” she said in an interview with The Journal. “I’m not that kind of [artist.] I do have the technical skill to paint something that looks real, but I don’t want to do that [...] I want to paint something more critical.” 

In her first two years at Queen’s, Chen found herself striving to achieve the realism she’d studied back home. It wasn’t until her third year when her professors inspired her to experiment within her art that she began to expand her range. She learned skills like palette-knife painting and tried to reinvent her art through monochromatic colour schemes.

Now, Chen’s style of art has been kickstarted. Although she’s developed a style completely different from the work she first produced at Queen’s, she feels like she’s learned a lot.

Still, she’s working to develop a critical aspect of her paintings.   

When it came to writing her fourth-year proposal, Chen said her intentions were to paint only what she found beautiful. It wasn’t until her professor told her to challenge herself that her plan for the year evolved.

Now, she’s focusing on societal conceptions of beauty and how to criticize that beauty in a variety of ways.

“I want to impress someone with the beauty of my work first, and then I want to make them think more about the beauty and […] beyond the beauty.”

One of Chen’s pieces shows Chinese architecture. The structure depicted would typically be neutral colours, but in her piece, she painted it purple.

“If someone back in China or my parents or other Chinese people see my work, they’ll think, ‘This looks weird because the structure should be brown, but it’s purple.’ I want them to think about this,” the artist explained.

Her work experiments with the subjectivity of art, particularly across cultural lines. She notes that for some audiences, the unfamiliar structure might be visually appealing in its purple tones. For others—specifically, those who know about Chinese culture and architecture—the colour change might have an unsettling effect.

 Chen plays with visions of convention and aesthetic norms by intentionally destroying and rebuilding images of beauty.

“For one of my pieces, I painted a beautiful Chinese lady—and then I partially destroyed it using some paint to cover it. I’m questioning the beauty, so I have to destroy it first, then bring something back,” Chen said.

“I always start with a background, and then I superimpose something on top of it [...] as a way to destroy it but also to create something new.”

It’s been a learning experience for Chen to get to this point. She’s constantly forcing herself to look at her surroundings in a new way. In blending her Chinese heritage with her new Canadian culture, the student has found a way to create art that is true to herself.

“If you want to criticize something, you have to have a strong culture or a fine art background to support your statement or your work. It’s hard but I’m trying my best,” Chen said.

 

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