Taiwan-born artist Chen Dao Lee’s creates ambiguous narratives of unresolved tensions. His style is nearly photorealistically perfect. His compositions are taut and vigorous. If the light in his work made a noise, it would be loud and blaring. It’s his choice of subject that makes the work provocative. Each piece features young, beautiful, semi-clad women with garish red hair. Some hold automatic weapons. Some wrestle with each other. Some engage in sexual escapades with other women. Some do so with other men. These women are young, beautiful, and… bored.
Though the work is titillating, it feels dead. The protagonists go through their motions without a shred of interest in what they do. The artist sets the stage for some manner of behind-closed-doors romp but stops short of drawing us into the experience. We’re enthralled — who wouldn’t be? But the works’ tone is intellectual, not sensual. Each piece is more about the promise of what will happen and less about it actually happening. We should be excited, but we’re not for the reason that the women themselves aren’t. The artist goes to great lengths to describe ennui.
Midnight Blues, for instance, should be alluring. But it’s not. The artist maps the geography of flesh of two barely-dressed women. He describes all their curves and contours, concavities and convexities. The piece features a sultry purple-themed room. There’s a lavender couch and, cleverly, breaking the purple down into its constituent colors, blue elements (the wall, the floor) and red elements (the candle, the woman’s corset, both their hair). The melted down candle’s smoky tendrils veer with languor toward each of the women. The light is strident. And yet the piece is devoid of life. The women’s facial expressions are more inquisitive than passionate. One woman holds up a painting for the other woman’s perusal. It shows a red haired woman, nude as far as we can see. Her right arm is raised as if she’s holding a paintbrush. She seems to be painting, though we can’t see her subject. Just as we can’t fully understand the source of our unease as we look at the entire piece.