Born in the Philippines, raised in the United States, and returning to Manila from Hawai‘i in 2014, Clarence Chun identifies as both a Pinoy and an American. Yet as a self-described “Chinese-mestizo balikbayan” navigating between Pinoy, Chinese, and American cultures, he is “viewed as an outsider.” Chun’s work embraces this juncture of amorphous, ambiguous identities and experiences.
Traversing this outsider-insider perspective, Chun’s paintings depict the intersection of movement, memory, and place. He represents movement through lines of color and the shape of the canvas itself—long rectangles and thin lines speed the viewer’s gaze while squares and broader lines of color slow it down. As if rewinding and replaying a film, Chun stills and then reanimates a memory on canvas. Speed, memory, and place intertwine simultaneously when imagery weaves between or beneath objects, so that the memory becomes visually suspended on canvas but still full of emotion and interplay in the movement of lines and colors.
In representing these floating memories in space, Chun takes inspiration from Japanese ukiyo-e or woodblock prints translated as “pictures of the floating world.” While traditional ukiyo-e depicted images of entertainment as the “floating world,” Chun also draws from the architectural landscapes that surrounds him—New York’s subway cars, the vast highways of Texas, and the ocean waves along O‘ahu’s North Shore and Kailua, and Manila. The movement of such landscapes inform his sense of speed. Along with architectural design, the formal qualities of Chun’s work are shaped through abstract expression and minimalism. Chun also counts video games, comic books, Chinese scenery, manga, and anime among the many sources from which he draws.
Smooth and machine crafted at first glance, each painting is actually meticulously created through a labor-intensive process of many layers of thin paint, which is also part of Chun’s process of slowing things down in order to portray speed. To Chun, large brushstrokes are too personally revealing and the polished lines he paints helps to unobtrusively draw viewers into his floating world. Mixed with imagery from video games, comic books, the history of abstraction, architecture, Chinese landscapes, manga comics, anime and other sources, the work constructs an environment where the past, present, and future of place and memories mingle and converge.
In this series of paintings, In the distance, I catch a glimpse of us, Chun lets imagery do the talking. Chun takes the island cityscapes of Manila and Honolulu as the inspiration for his color palette, invoking the soft greys and pastels of Manila outside the window, the rainy days in Honolulu, or the ocean waves connecting both places. Waves and the city overlap in Chun’s new series. They illustrate the bustling city and the physicality of waves, and the environments depicted in his work captures the feel of time sweeping us along, the waves symbolizing the passing or coming of time.
His newest series visually manifests the flow of time in island cities: memories splinter, lengthen, and become layered, revealing both the granular and the immeasurable. Some of the paintings depict the inexorable tide of time. Others show rifts in time and space. In taking iconography from the “floating world” of ukiyo-e, the flow of time in the city, and the ocean, Chun’s work floats between identity and imagery, abstraction and representation. The intersections of memory, time, and place cannot be contained. They are always in motion.
Artist’s Bio Clarence Chun was born in Tacloban, Philippines, raised in Houston, Texas and New York City. He was educated at the Yale University’s School of Art, the University of Houston’s School of Art, and received his M.F.A at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Chun’s awards include the John Young Artist Award from the Honolulu Museum of Art in 2013, among others, and has showcased his work in the U.S. and Asia. He also taught college painting and design. Chun currently lives between Manila and Honolulu and is a proud French bulldog owner. Kara Hisatake, PhD