Tan Kai-I
Monroe Series
01
About the Monroe Series 關於夢露系列

Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) was the most celebrated exotic beauty in the 20th century. Integrating his real-life experience with Monroe as the creative symbol, Tan Kai-I created a riveting painting series that brought a humorous touch of tragedy to the viewers.

 

 

Why Monroe?

 

Many people would ask: why Monroe?

As far as Tan is concerned, Monroe was an exceptionally pretty woman. She was beautiful, sexy, adorable and appealing. In addition to exuding unconventional pulchritude, she was as self-confident as languid. She remained unruffled and charming even though she was in her birthday’s suit.

Nonetheless, Tan chose Monroe as the subject because he detected a sense of loneliness in her eyes.

In the compositions of Tan’s works, Monroe often appeared in solitude, being detached from her immediate surroundings. She tended to smoke and act unconcerned even though people were around her. In this way, Tan seemed to suggest that absolute solitude actually looms behind the veil of the gorgeous, voluptuous and captivating prototype of Monroe.

To the artist’s eye, Monroe was such a figure rich in gradation and aesthetic beauty, which was why he adopted her image to convey his ideas about life, no more than Monroe was the protagonist in the film directed by the artist in which she recounted the story that the artist attempted to tell.

 

Tan Kai-I, Marilyn Monroe in New York, 2011, 162x130cm, Oil on canvas 


 

 

The Artist’s Imagination about Monroe

 

The "Monroe Series" was primarily based on Monroe’s stage and life photos derived from magazines and the Internet. Tan collected these photos, and then simplified as well as modified the images, thereby putting his own interpretations on them.

In this series, Monroe was a ravishing protagonist traveling through space-time and wandering across reality and virtuality. Via Monroe as an intermediary, the artist managed to express and simulate his ideas about his life experiences and emotions, be they loneliness, joy, sadness, delight, or contradictory feelings of all stripes.

The diverse backgrounds of the works in this series ranged from wilderness and battlefield to buildings and even refrigerators, against which Monroe was always calm and composed, puffing away at a cigarette.

 

 

(left) Tan Kai-I, Marilyn Monroe in the Tree, 2011, 162x130cm, Oil on canvas 
(right)  Tan Kai-I, Marilyn Monroe Comes Out of Hibernation, 2011, 162x130cm, Oil on canvas


 

Tan deliberately created a contradictory and ambiguous tendency between the protagonist and the scenes in the "Monroe Series." The contradictions emerged on the one hand from the artist’s understanding of Monroe’s personal traits, (i.e., loveliness, attractiveness, innocence and charm intertwined with sex, politics, power and desire), and on the other hand out of the artist’s checkered life experiences, since many events and emotions are quite irreconcilable in our quotidian existence, insofar as we believe that life consists of contradictions.

Admiring Tan’s works, we may discern the treacherous, amusing, pleasant or mocking undertones in the compositions. Whatever implications they carried, each of his works was laden with a faint hint of sorrow. Tan believes that in some ways his oeuvre is a dead ringer for Charles Chaplin’s films that are as humorous and entertaining as thought-provoking.

02
The Artist's Creative Practice 創作表現

The Oriental Quality of the Monroe Series

 

It was said that Tan’s oil paintings display the quality of ink.

The works presented in his solo exhibition "Strip off, Marilyn Monroe" featured “blank-leaving,” a technique derived from ink paintings.

The “blanks” in the compositions of these works were not so much superimposed as reserved. In oil paintings, the brightest part of the composition is usually the result of multiple alterations and smearing. To reserve these blanks, it would be quite difficult and require thoughtful considerations.

Tan claimed that he did not try to make an eclectic mix of oriental and occidental concepts or techniques, but spontaneously created this series with all the methods he could apply. Nevertheless, this practice has produced results—a perfect fusion of oriental and occidental qualities—way beyond his initial expectations.

 

Tan Kai-I, SEXBOMB, 2011, 162x130cmx3pcs, Oil on canvas


 

 

“Fantastical” Creations

 

Tan tends to paint in bursts of creativity without any sketch or preparation. He prefers chaos to order, and enjoys observing the rhythmic vitality hidden in things at sixes and sevens, thereby properly formulating his frame of mind. Every stroke of Tan’s brush bears his characteristic signature of “organized chaos.”

Such a way of expression is “chaotic” due to its lack of rules and logic. What is intriguing is that it has become Tan’s most common practice. In other words, Tan creates either by picking up at random or with extraordinary ideas. His practice is inspired by the term “fantastical” in the "Classic of Changes," implying “beyond imagination.” The artist always projects contradictions and chaos onto his works.

 

Tan Kai-I, Marilyn Monroe Pulling a Bobcat Tail, 2011, 162x130cm, Oil on canvas


 

Tan joked that his creative practice is a sort of "Arte povera," seemingly fragmentary, unremarkable, chaotic and even monochrome. However, it has been the most adequate approach to show the artist’s great creativity. The automatic drawing driven by personal creativity wonderfully preserves the flash of the artist’s intuition and easiness at the moment of creating.

 

 

The Significance of the Symbols and Scenes in the Monroe Serie

 

Every artist has preferences and may habitually apply specific symbols and scenes.

Tan is certainly no exception. Some symbols and scenes (e.g. black cars, smiling figures, cigarettes, and wilderness) continue to appear in his works. They constitute the elements of Tan’s painting style, be they used for decoration or as subjects.

As far as the artist is concerned, the black car represents an enjoyable company. The square-shaped car conveys a sense of honesty and faithfulness.

The smiling faces denote the attitude towards the way of the world, be it genuine laugh, smirk or smile through tears. They lively embody the joys and sorrows of life.

Many of Tan’s works contain images of smoke, including clouds of smoke curling upward, cigarette smoke, smoke from a car breakdown, and billows of smoke in the wilderness. Smoke is emblematic of a fickle, unreal state; and the haze of smoke renders realities all a blur.

The wilderness is one of Tan’s favorite subjects. The artist is fond of the sense of desolation brought by the wilderness grown with weeds or tiny number of trees. The absolute emptiness is thrown into sharp relief by the “paucity” that envelops the completely desolate landscape, no more than Ni Zan’s paintings that evoked the simplest metaphor to communicate immeasurably profound meanings; that is, to comprehend “more” from “less.”

03
The Monroe Series in Three Stages 三個時期的夢露

The Monroe Series in 2010—The Commencement

 

The first piece of the "Monroe Series" is [36], a work initially dedicated to a joint exhibition. Tan happened to have a photograph album of Marilyn Monroe at hand when he was conceiving that work. By reference to the album, the artist painted this work without doing any sketch. Monroe’s facial expression in this painting, along with the techniques applied, became the prototype for the subsequent works. To put it another way, this work marked the dawn of the "Monroe Series."

 

The status of Monroe at this stage exhibited stylistic indeterminacy. Tan tried to produce an effect of stark contrast in [36], which was why he firstly outlined Monroe’s contour and features in a drawing-like fashion, and then finished the composition with the dry-brush technique.

 

Tan Kai-I, 36, 2010, 73x60cm, Oil on canvas


 

 

The Monroe Series from 2011 to 2012—Strip off, Marilyn Monroe

 

In 2012, Tan staged his first solo exhibition on Marilyn Monroe, titled "Strip off, Marilyn Monroe." The Monroe at this stage was shown in concise contour lines with a particular stress on her characteristics and facial expressions. The artist made radical simplifications in Monroe’s physique, rendering her flattened in the works. He on the one hand erased her sex appeal, and on the other hand stripped her naked and confronted her with the viewers. The results of the two practices were as conflicting as harmonious.

 

[Marilyn Monroe Joined the Spanish Civil War in 1936] is a work created during this stage. The artist used short wrinkle strokes to simulate the chiaroscuro of vintage black-and-white photos. The background showed a gradation of shades of grey with four darker corners, which not only formed a focal point but also produced the vignette effect endemic to old-fashioned cameras. The vague, delicately painted figure and background represented the common visual texture of photographs in the 1930s. This approach misplaced time and space, giving the viewers a sense of nostalgic retrospection.

 

Tan Kai-I, Marilyn Monroe Joined the Spanish Civil War in 1936, 2011, 162x130cm, Oil on canvas


 

In the work [Marilyn Monroe and Her Husband Waiting for a Bus], the background was also painted with short strokes in a gradation of grey color. Besides, the spatial arrangement was deliberately contorted. The two figures’ reflections beneath their feet gave a damp, gloomy tactile quality to the surface of the ground, conveying a psychedelic sense of phantasm. The Monroe in this work was less delicate and elegant in physique than that in [Marilyn Monroe Joined the Spanish Civil War in 1936]. Instead, she demonstrated absolute linearity. The linear protagonist not only highlighted the hierarchy between the figures and the background, but also blended “harmoniously” with the composition rife with contradictions. Against the dull grey background, Monroe was thrown into sharp relief with her “white” skin, making her nothing short of the focus in the composition.

 

Tan Kai-I, Marilyn Monroe and Her Husband Waiting for a Bus, 2011, 162x130cm, Oil on canvas


 

To create [Marilyn Monroe in the Jelly] and [Marilyn Monroe with the Jelly], Tan tried to employ "écriture automatique" in a more intuitive manner. He used oil pastels and painted like a child, thereby creating a more natural rhythm of emotions insofar as to lay bare the smallest error of strokes. This attribute manifested itself clearly in [Marilyn Monroe with the Jelly]. The slightly askew jelly, together with the quick strokes, lent an air of childlike innocence and haphazard easiness to this work. Both works featured the translucent jelly. It was the most precise tactile quality conveyed with the simplest method, and the most realistic image shaped in the “poorest” way.

 

Tan Kai-I, Marilyn Monroe with the Jelly, 2012, 162x130cm, Oil on canvas


 

As a matter of fact, Monroe, the protagonist of this series, had been in a state of “indeterminacy,” just because the artist was exploring the most appropriate way to present her.

 

 

The Monroe Series in 2013—Monroe in 6 min 30 sec

 

In 2013, Tan mounted his second solo exhibition on Marilyn Monroe, titled "Monroe in 6 min 30 sec." The Monroe at this stage was no longer clearly demarcated but shrouded in a hazy mist. Echoing the source of inspiration, the compositions of the exhibits were every bit as uncertain and ambiguous as the film. Following "Strip off, Marilyn Monroe," this exhibition not only sharpened the chiaroscuro of Monroe’s physique, but also rendered her more approachable and alluring. In addition, the artist sought to create an “aesthetic” image for such a celebrated legend.

 

Tan Kai-I, Pearls (04:16 05:17 05:18 05:19), 2013, 80x100cmx4pcs, Oil on canvas (partial)


 

The work [Marilyn Monroe Wearing a Pearl Necklace] showed imbricated shades of grey with the rendering of an extremely thin layer of black paint, which gave a soft, silky texture to its composition. Monroe’s face and the car between her thighs looked at each other from the two poles of the composition, and the pearl necklace that connected them was the outcome of wiping by the artist. The inadvertent error of strokes in the composition (e.g. the “X” mark on her chest or the lines on her arms) was reminiscent of meteors that streak through the night sky, revealing the imperfection in the uncommon grace and beauty. In this work, Monroe’s physique presented a mesmerizing contrast between light and shadow, rendering itself as blurry as real. Such aestheticism was the emblem of Tan’s creative style during this stage.

 

Tan Kai-I, Marilyn Monroe Wearing a Pearl Necklace, 2013, 162x130cmx4pcs, Oil on canvas


 

04
Exhibitions 展場紀錄
Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image
05
About Artist 藝術家經歷
Tan Kai-I
Tan Kai-I
彈甲一

Taipei National University of the Arts, Department of Fine Arts, Assistant Professor (2018-)

2010
Ph.D., Faculty of Fine Arts, Universidad de Sevilla, Seville, Spain
1998
M.A., Fine Arts, Tunghai University, Taichung, Taiwan
1988
B.A., Fine Arts, National Taiwan Normal University, Taipei, Taiwan
1966
Born in Chiayi, Taiwan
SOLO EXHIBITIONS
2017
La La Land II, Main Trend Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
La La Land, Art Site of Chiayi Railway Warehouse, Chiayi, Taiwan
2013
Monroe in 6min30sec, Main Trend Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
2012
Strip off, Marilyn Monroe, Main Trend Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
2010
Tan Kai-I Solo Exhibition, Art Site of Chiayi Railway Warehouse, Chiayi, Taiwan
2009
Memories of Mickey, Jin-Zhi Gallery, Miaoli, Taiwan
2007
Tan Kai-I Solo Exhibition, Tunghai University Art Gallery, Taichung, Taiwan
2003
Tan Kai-I Solo Exhibition, Carmona Cityhall Gallery, Carmona, Spain
2002
Tan Kai-I Solo Exhibition, Sevilla Cityhall Gallery, Sevilla, Spain
2000
Tan Kai-I Solo Exhibition, Taichung City Seaport Art Center, Taichung, Taiwan
1999
Tan Kai-I Solo Exhibition, Providence University Art Center, Taichung, Taiwan
Tan Kai-I Solo Exhibition, National Tsing Hua University Arts Center, Hsinchu, Taiwan
1998
Tan Kai-I Solo Exhibition, Tunghai University Art Gallery, Taichung, Taiwan
1996
Tan Kai-I Solo Exhibition, Tsai-Shih Art Center, Chiayi, Taiwan
GROUP EXHIBITIONS & ART FAIR
2016
20 X 20, Art Site of Chiayi Railway Warehouse, Chiayi, Taiwan
2015
Inside Out, Art Site of Chiayi Railway Warehouse, Chiayi, Taiwan
Taiwan Contemporary Print Works Exhibition, Art Site of Chiayi Railway Warehouse, Chiayi, Taiwan
2014
Paintings in Chiayi, Chiayi Municipal Museum of Fine Arts, Chiayi, Taiwan
2012
Art Taipei 2012, Taipei World Trade Center (Main Trend Gallery), Taipei, Taiwan
06
Selected Works 作品選件
01
Marilyn Monroe Going Camping 2011|Tan Kai-I
130x162cm (#100)
Oil|Canvas
more
Marilyn Monroe Going Camping 2011|Tan Kai-I
02
Marilyn Monroe in New York 2011|Tan Kai-I
162x130cm (#100)
Oil|Canvas
more
Marilyn Monroe in New York 2011|Tan Kai-I
03
Marilyn Monroe in the Tree 2011|Tan Kai-I
162x130cm (#100)
Oil|Canvas
more
Marilyn Monroe in the Tree 2011|Tan Kai-I
04
Marilyn Monroe Smoking in The Car 2011|Tan Kai-I
130x162cm (#100)
Oil|Canvas
more
Marilyn Monroe Smoking in The Car 2011|Tan Kai-I
05
Marilyn Monroe and Her Husband Waiting for a Bus 2011|Tan Kai-I
162x130cm (#100)
Oil|Canvas
more
Marilyn Monroe and Her Husband Waiting for a Bus 2011|Tan Kai-I
06
Marilyn Monroe Walking Home 2011|Tan Kai-I
162x130cm (#100)
Oil|Canvas
more
Marilyn Monroe Walking Home 2011|Tan Kai-I
07
SEXBOMB 2011|Tan Kai-I
162x130cmx3pcs (#300)
Oil|Canvas
more
SEXBOMB 2011|Tan Kai-I
08
Monroe is Waiting for Someone 2012|Tan Kai-I
130x162cm (#100)
Oil|Canvas
more
Monroe is Waiting for Someone 2012|Tan Kai-I
09
Marilyn Monroe with the Jelly 2012|Tan Kai-I
162x130cm (#100)
Oil|Canvas
more
Marilyn Monroe with the Jelly 2012|Tan Kai-I
10
The Beginning (00:01) 2013|Tan Kai-I
80x100cm (#40)
Oil|Canvas
more
The Beginning (00:01) 2013|Tan Kai-I
11
Departure (00:02 00:03 01:04) 2013|Tan Kai-I
80x100cmx3pcs (#120)
Oil|Canvas
more
Departure (00:02 00:03 01:04) 2013|Tan Kai-I
12
Marilyn Monroe Wearing a Pearl Necklace 2013|Tan Kai-I
162x130cmx4pcs (#400)
Oil|Canvas
more
Marilyn Monroe Wearing a Pearl Necklace 2013|Tan Kai-I