While Contemplating My Navel, 2000, oil on wood, 16 x 12"

dArt International

April 1995


Charles Yuen's second solo exhibition with this gallery consists of half a dozen mid-size oil paintings on canvas and, on one wall, a grouping of 16 smaller oils on wooden panels hung salon style. "While Contemplating My Navel," centrally positioned among the latter, seems to sum up the gist of the display. An upside-down view of an androgynous torso sketched in pink with impishly rendered outlining comfortably mixes Eastern and Western influences. An Indian-style tree grows upright in the dead center of the composition. It is innocently phallic. This innocence is the charm of Yuen's work. He manages a sophisticated naiveté, a.k.a. bad painting, that cutely borders on being kitsch, but it is too good-natured and the colorations are too harmonious to be called tacky.


Most of the other pictures in the show present pleasantly sweet couples, lovers, notwithstanding the implications of mild and harmless angst portrayed in vaguely narrative fragments. "Solar System," one of the larger pieces, is a childish outer space scene fronted by a simplified depiction of a man and woman of uncertain ethnicity holding hands. They float over a pattern of stars and planets with a dirty yellow background. "A New Skirt" exposes a bare-chested lady tweaking her nipples while a blindfolded, poker faced fellow in a little boy's tuxedo lurks nearby amid the swirly folds of her voluminous new skirt, which is, I presume, a wedding gown. Behind them, ambiguous innuendos about romance are made in oval vignettes that float in a deep brown atmosphere. Graphically, Yuen's style is similar to the look of contemporary illustration used in television adult cartoons such as Beevis and Butthead and The Simpsons, and in numerous magazine spots as well, but he doesn't engage in that nasty sort of sardonic humor to make his touchingly amusing, passive plea. Silly sincerity is his grace.