For its inaugural exhibition, D. D. D. D. is pleased to present a new series of paintings from John Hee Taek Chae (b. 1988, Boulder, Colorado), a painter currently working in Richmond, Virginia.

The selection of paintings Chae brings to this exhibition is from an ongoing body of work exploring the myth of the American West and the term neo-settler. In this current practice, he explores a range of “Western” subjects such as cowboys, landscapes, boy scouts, quilts and horses, the last of which is the focus of the exhibition.

In his own words: “These paintings came about after I moved onto my first real piece of property. I don’t own the land or the house but I like to pretend that I do. When friends ask if I bought it, I hesitatingly answer with, ‘Not yet, but I’m going to real soon.’ In actuality, I wouldn’t qualify for a mortgage. Regardless, I love mowing the lawn. I grow vegetables in my own garden, I’ve looked up goat prices, and I contemplate getting chickens. I never used to think much of these sorts of pseudo-homesteading activities, silly things that white people do, but I’m less judgmental now that I’m fenced in, surrounded by trees, and secluded on my own acre. I find myself steeped in a very American imaginary, that of settlers, cowboys, and horses. And since I’ve never experienced this sort of relationship to land I feel like I’m cosplaying at something. What sort of desire is this, where the hell is it coming from, and where do I fit in?”

In asking these questions, Chae found himself drawn to images from an inverse historical scenario—the work of Guiseppe Castiglione, an eighteenth-century Italian Jesuit missionary who served as an imperial court painter for three successive Qing Dynasty emperors. In Chae’s investigation of Castiglione’s paintings, he saw how the Italian was both copying and mutating, trying to pass and assimilate into the Chinese imperial culture while trying to convert this same community to the Catholic faith. Castiglione presented a strange psychology to have among the mutual otherness of himself and his surroundings, choosing to inhabit an unfamiliar style in order to change it–effectively taking ownership and remaking the world around him.

In “Western Paintings” Chae adopts and appropriates Castiglione’s position, but turns it on its head. Many of the paintings in this show are copies of Castiglione’s work. This reversal brings about further mutation. How then does the Western and American imaginary shift when played out through a subject like Chae, who is a Korean-American living on an acre of land in Virginia? Which desires inevitably repeat and which ones necessarily cease?

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