Howard Chen

CSS 136 Red Appeal july 18 jazz

About The Artist

Born in 1971 in Nantou, Taiwan, Howard Chen graduated with a Bachelors in Arts from the National Institute of Arts, Taipei and got his master degree from Graduate Institute of Plastic Arts, Tainan National University of the Arts in 1998. 

Read more

Chen's works have been displayed at exhibitions in USA, UK, Korea, Bangkok and Taipei recently. Chen also had solo exhibitions in 2001, 2002, 2006 and 2007 in Taiwan and has received several awards for his art.

For many years, Chen has used thumbtacks en masse as his chosen form of media, creating a varied perception of the work through displacement and the optics of the arrangement within the space. Chen saw the use of thumbtacks to be a highly personalized material for predestine. Chen uses a nail gun, which allows him to use up to hundreds of thousands of mosquito nails (headless metal pins) for each of his masterpieces. He shoots them one by one into white canvases stretched over wooden boards, creating reproductions of traditional Chinese ink paintings. Chen aims to create a poetic sea of tacks or a physical scene with lights and shadows behaving strangely. In form, using the construction of points, lines, and faces as the basis of the phenomenon, through optics and the sight of the viewer or position changing, the reading of the work can be completed. It expresses a minimalist aesthetic when viewed as an entity. However, each area viewed independently has the ability to convey a "complex visual texture". 

The changes in brightness due to the light and shadow from arrangement of the tacks form a visually muscular structure, with strong highlights. The repetitive nature of the tacks and pins render a change in the qualitative nature of these intrinsically industrial objects, reducing their familiarity. Between the gaps and spaces, the viewer can appreciate and identify the warmth of non-mechanical labour in the creation of these masterpieces - the process is almost a homage to the great Chinese artists of the past and the discipline and meditation of the Buddhist monks, which all result in gratification through work.

Although Chen's images are formed through a subtraction-process, via the individual placement of nails, his work displays elements of both painting and sculpting. Thus, this results in a multiple viewing experience, capturing and replicating the traditional elements of Chinese painting documented in Kuo Hsui's theory of painting (Lin Quan Gao Zhi), or the three 'extensions' of a mountain. 

Chen hasn't always worked with nails, however. He first started with another unusual medium, thumbtacks. For over a decade, he used them to make all kinds of installations and sculptures, from billboard-size mosaics on the sides of buildings, to creepy little dolls and even an 8m-by-4m installation on an art gallery floor, made from 340,000 thumbtacks all laid in the same direction so that they shimmered and waned as people walked by. He says it was fate that he changed from thumbtacks to mosquito nails in 1998, but admits he's been a lot more productive since he switched to using a nail gun instead of his bare hands.

The 39-year-old artist spends up to 10 hours a day in his Guandu art studio, shooting thousands of nails into the canvas. Since January 2010 he has gone through five million nails, changed 25 nail guns and broken two air compressors. Considering the fact that one of his most recent works - a reproduction of Travelers Among Mountains and Streams, originally painted by Fan Kuan in 1031 -  is made up of roughly 750,000 mosquito nails, it is no surprise his tools break down so often. He spent three and a half months working on this piece, trying to pierce the nails deeper into the canvas and hoping to highlight the contrast with the white background.


2003 Kaohsiung Annual Arts Competition" Excellent Award,  Kaohsiung 
2002 Accepted by Headlands Center for the Arts, Artist's Grant, San Francisco, USA (Sponsored by Council for Cultural Affairs, Taiwan) 
2001 28th Taipei Annual Arts Competition, Excellent Award, Taipei  

Collections & Public Art

2007 - Public Art for Budai Port Administration Building



Maze, VT Art Salon, Taipei 

Hua Hua Zhang, Taitung Railway Art Village, Taitung
Aura Beyond II, Huashan Arts District, Taipei 
Aura Beyond III, Stock 20, Taichung 

Aura Beyond, Taipei Fine Arts Museum 

You May Also Be Interested In

Li Chen
Ran Hwang
Frank Hyder
Lee Jae Hyo
Mauro Perucchetti
Nadim Karam
Li Hong Bo