BACKChoice as Evasion --The Works of He Sen | Eleonora Battiston

Born in 1968 in Yunnan province and graduated from the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts, Chinese

artist He Sen has a painting style with distinctive subjects and features.

His figures’ realism highlights a fine technique, a sophisticated view and a careful study of the

colours. The result is a strong sensuality and a rarefied atmosphere that give a big place to concealed

interpretations and meanings.

His works come through a photographic flash that fixes an instant of harsh reality: a movement, a

pose freely chosen by his models and that reveals them in scenes of spontaneous gesture and simple

but private everyday life. From these images the artist draws a sketch, than completes the work with

the classical oil painting technique that makes emerge a light and a vitality forgotten before.

His intent to re-create a scene, record and conserve it forever is so effective and well done that

provokes nearly embarrassment; the depicted spots enter so deeply in human life that the viewer feels

himself powerless and at the same time attracted by the perception of a violated intimacy.

The most important influences come from common life and the main aspect from which he says to

draw inspiration is, no doubt, people’s facial expression.

The women portraits that he depicts have always uninhibited postures and are characterized by

so strong a sexuality that nearly humiliates them. This aspect shows a personal view of the artist,

typically voyeuristic, that makes these girls powerless and lets suppose a masculine attitude.

From this accusation He Sen defends himself declaring: “many people think they are women seen by

a man’s mind or eyes, but actually during the creative process I’m not conscious of my sexuality”.

Effectively this artist doesn’t want to allude at sex or at the role of man and woman, on the contrary

he wants to approach with reserve and tactfulness, themes that concern the rapid development of a

country as China and its influence on the human soul.

His figures are of a disarming beauty, but behind this apparent perfection hide fears and

uncertainties. The external attraction is opposed by an internal hole. These subjects are stereotypes

without soul, superficial, artificial and numbed by reality, as he sees young people of his age.

A part the stylistic elegance, what He Sen works want to transmit is the social critic: “contemporary

society has never been better, it is cleaner and prettier than before, but we don’t know its content…”

He undresses the reality and his works almost scare because with violence show the human behavior,

but the exceptional thing is the pathos that can communicate.

The spiritual condition in which he identifies himself is living in a boring reality from which he

doesn’t escape, as most of people, but he faces it through the painting, where he finds himself and his

freedom in an auto-consolation process.

His works represent the fear of growing, an escape from reality generated by a sense of panic. New

Chinese generations seem scared by responsibility, so they want to escape.

In his paintings he often inserts few objects and accessories beside the human figures, between them

there are puppets and toys.

Toys are elements associated to children and childhood, they help to relax and don’t need efforts,

again an escape from obligations and responsibilities.

Another important element is that many subjects are without eyes, the artist erases them giving a 

spectral appearance, because men couldn’t see clearly the reality. This is the situation in a society that

is developing: rules and lives of people are changing and everybody is confused and clouded.

If there are no eyes, there is no soul; in fact in today youth there are absence of spirit, boredom and

dissatisfaction. This is a further reflection on contemporary society always changing, that could

appear solid and developed, but people discover every day at their expense a reality without clear and

defined boundaries.

Everybody loose spirituality and the values of the past and all of them live feelings of total uncertain.

This eyes erasure doesn’t want to express only the blindness of the subjects that couldn't see clearly

what surrounds them, but also the viewer’s impossibility to see and discover his feelings on the idea

that “eyes are the mirror of the soul”. The figures remain mysterious objects of beauty on a mere

visual level; they are wonderful but inscrutable, their minds and their thoughts are inaccessible.

Social interaction in modern society is almost impossible and personal relationships are without real

communication, between people there are always more barriers and even the spontaneous gesture of

making up by some He Sen’s women is actually a metaphor of obstacles and a mask between the self

and the others.

Even the colours selection constitutes a critical element: the main tones are pink, purple, blue, but

the dominant shade is the grey. He accurately chooses the shades of black, grey and white for their

simplicity, but also for the allusion at an ambiguous and undefined development; the grey is the

colour of the progress, but also of the fog and figuratively of mental confusion.

This “grey area”, often recalled by the cigarettes smoke (another occupation, smoking, that doesn’t

need efforts and avoid every responsibility), constitutes an undefined space where people find

themselves, in a society tormented by progress but with personal relations without clear definitions.

Purple and pink are colours with a distinguished feminine mark, of a frivolous and another time

superficial femininity; while blue, a cold colour, in these paintings generates anxiety in the viewers,

and anxiety is a product of many modern societies.

In the evolution of He Sen artistic experience it is possible to see important stylistic changing: at the

beginning of the 90s the realistic portraits were darker and had a strong impact, had rich and heavy

tones and there were no added elements in the background; from the middle of 90s he assumes a

more abstract style, starts to depict figures with more sculptoreous features and to erase the eyes; in

1998 begins the creation of the famous series Women Portraits with a sensual and delicate aspects;

while since 2000 his works become more and more detailed, precise and accurate.

Through this evolution is again underlined the importance given by the artist to the subject, even

thanks to the different approach of young Chinese artists since the end of 90s, in comparison with

the generation that started to work during the previous decade.

In fact today young artists seem less blinded to an iconographic and propagandistic art and become

more introspective, giving more importance to their private lives with the emerging of the individual

sphere; probably as a mirror of a culture, from ever a cruel mass culture, that is day by day developing

in a positive way even in terms of subjectivity.

He Sen is not only an able interpreter, but also an actor of his times, he lives anguishes and anxieties,
but for this feeling he has found for sure an optimal solution: the painting in itself that, as he affirms,
“as conservative form of art, is clearly a sort of evasion”.