A Chinese artist living in Calgary is currently showcasing a solo exhibition of oil paintings inspired by Buddhist bracelets in her culture.
With Meditation, Yu Chen took inspiration from her mother, who is a Buddhist and regularly wore bracelets to embrace positive energy.
“She would also ask me to wear some of the bracelets as well, because she thinks that it will bring me good fortune and bring me good luck and also eliminate [the] bad energy that is around me.”
Chen knew she wanted her first exhibition to feature oil paintings of Buddhist bracelets, because of the positive connotations associated with the object.
“It’s like people say, when you [are] always surrounded by those positive energies, it will improve you as a person mentally and then, physically, as well.”
When Chen left China in 2015 to go to art school in the United States, her mother could not come as well and gave her a Buddhist bracelet as a symbol of love and protection.
“She’d never been to the U.S. so she wanted me to remain healthy and safe when I’m not home, and it’s her way of saying I love you as well.”
For an oil painting assignment, Chen’s professor asked her to paint something she saw in her life every day.
“Lots of people would pick different objects, like flowers or they would pick painting brushes or other stuff,” Chen says. “I decided to do my bracelet because I thought it was a pretty unique object to do.”
When Chen moved to Calgary in 2017, she hoped to make and share art with others, but the pandemic and her tourist visa made it difficult to participate in an art show for the past three years.
After getting permanent resident status last year, she was more than ready to share her artwork. While scrolling through Instagram, she came across the Alberta Society of Artists’ call for artists and decided to put her work in the gallery.
“It also feels really good that my work is finally out there, and not in the basement collecting dust. And also, after the opening in the gallery, it made me feel good that there’s so many people that like my art and love the idea that I have.”
Some of the bracelets Chen has painted include designs and beads selected by her mom, and her art is distinguishable due to its hyperrealistic quality.
“I remember when I was a little kid, I would go to a gallery and then [stare] at a realistic painting myself for a long time, and then that’s what I want for other people too when they see my painting.”
Alberta Society of Artists program coordinator Kathleen Jessiman says Chen’s work stands out due to her attention to detail, and viewers have enjoyed seeing a collection of oil paintings following a consistent theme.
“I would say that the reception has been really, really positive. There’s been a lot of interest from a variety of folks,” Jessiman says. “Not to mention that there is obviously a significant portion of Canadians who have Asian heritage, and a lot of them I think, really enjoy seeing celebrations of their culture.”
Buddhist bracelets are meant to bring good luck to the wearer, and Chen wants her paintings to bring similar positive emotions to viewers.
“I hope that they would feel calm, I hope that they would feel safe.”
Chen’s hopes for people viewing her art also reflect how she felt when putting together the exhibition.
“I would personally feel that the process of making these paintings is my way of meditating. It really calms me down.”
The Meditation art exhibit can be viewed at the Alberta Society of Artists gallery until August 20, 2022.