Hilo Chen is a Taiwanese-American contemporary artist who introduced figurative painting to the Photorealism genre in the early 1970s. His post-modern approach to the nude earned him a unique reputation among the Photorealists. With his use of dynamic compositions and vibrant colors, he has been able to bring life to the canvas. His paintings are held in several prestigious collections around the world, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, and the San Jose Museum of Art.
Hilo Chen was born on October 15, 1942 in the small coastal village of Ilan (now Yilan), Taiwan, where he spent most of his early childhood. His father was a retired attorney who spent the latter years of his life immersed in philosophy, poetry, and the arts. After his father’s death, when Chen was only seven years old, his family lost their estate and were compelled to move to Taipei. As a youth, Chen had an affinity for art, architecture, and physics. He went on to study architectural engineering at the Chung Yuan Christian College of Science and Engineering.
Wanting to escape puritanical ideologies and pursue a life in art for many years, Chen finally got his chance to leave Taiwan. Setting his sights for the City of Art, Chen found his way to Paris in 1967. He experienced the struggles that came with leading a bohemian lifestyle in a city that was much less progressive and ethnically diverse than today. At the height of civil unrest, Chen once again picked up and set out for the Land of Opportunity.
In 1968, Hilo Chen arrived in New York City and was awakened to a new level of freedom. Finding affordable rental housing in Manhattan was not a problem at the time, hopping around Brooklyn then to Times Square, while working as an architect by day
and artist by night. When Chen’s architectural firm relocated to Oklahoma City in the early 70s, Chen decided to stay in New York and pursue his art full-time. He found an enormous workspace with ample sunlight, on the Bowery, where he was able to paint and start his new life as an artist. Striving to find a gallery to represent him, Chen bounced from one referral to another while trying to find a new perspective in expressing his art. He eventually found it by capturing moments of realism through airbrushing and oil paints and with that representation from Louis K. Meisel. Living and working in his spacious loft allowed Chen the freedom to create large scale paintings and to develop his style. For another two decades, he worked out of his NoHo loft until he was forced out by philistine property owners tempted by the spoils of a gentrifying neighborhood.
With the changing climate of the art market in the United States, Chen returned to Taiwan for most of the 1990s, continuing to add to his canon of work. Experimenting with acrylics and fluorescent colors and working with smaller sized canvases, he created many more pieces in a shorter time span. His process of working with acrylics was much faster than with oil paints which required a higher level of attention and longer drying periods in order to add new layers of paint. By the end of the 90s, Chen yearned for more depth in his art and life; he turned back to oil painting and to New York.
Since the turn of the new millennium, Hilo Chen has continued to work out of his studio in Queens, NY. Having fought off two bouts of cancer, he has a deeper appreciation for family and is living happily with his wife of nearly four decades, artist-Mei Chen. They are both continuing to develop their craft and creating beautiful art.