Marilyn Monroe and Mona Lisa Come Together in Vincent Xeus’s Exhibition of New Paintings

Jan 12, 2016 8:45PM

Marilyn Monroe, Frida Kahlo, Pablo Picasso, and Mona Lisa, among other recognizable faces, convene in Vincent Xeus’s exhibition of new paintings, currently on view at Gallery 1261 in Denver. Xeus, raised in China and now based in California, has been fascinated by the ways in which art can be used to communicate across cultures and national borders since he was a child. His recent canvases reimagine iconic artworks and portraits of artistic luminaries to explore the cultural importance of self-expression and its preservation.

Xeus was born in the early 1980s, at the tail end of China’s Cultural Revolution when, according to Xeus, “there was this very singular approach as to how kids should be educated.” Despite the rigid educational system dictated in which he was ensconced, Xeus sought ways to express his creativity. “During that time, I was always trying to rebel and find somewhere else to satisfy the curiosity that was constantly growing in me,” he explains. “Painting was my main way to achieve that.”

Following a youthful fascination with American culture (from Star Wars to the New York City skyline), Xeus moved to the United States to study architecture at the University of California, Berkeley. After graduating in 2006, Xeus again turned his focus back to painting—and to plumbing the depths of art history for inspiration. While his older work drew its subject matter and compositional approach from Renaissance portraiture and religious painting, newer paintings span eras and icons, from Xeus’s homage to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (1503-1506), to his rendition of Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat (1887), to his numerous tributes to photographs of Golden Age actress and enduring bombshell, Marilyn Monroe.

A Ribbon around a Bomb, 2015
Gallery 1261

While wide-ranging in their contributions to cultural history, these figures find common ground in Xeus’s painterly treatment of their legendary features. All rendered in the painter’s signature style—thickly applied strokes of paint—his subjects’ faces become blurred, gauzy, and mottled, as though seen through the rose-colored lens of nostalgia. Perhaps the most striking work in the exhibition shows a close-up of a young Frida Kahlo, her deep brown eyes gazing intently at the viewer and her head encircled by halo-like wisps of white. The work’s title, A Ribbon around a Bomb (2015), taken from Andre Breton’s potent description of one of Kahlo’s complex canvases, reminds us of art’s ability to expand (and at times, explode) conventional thinking. In Xeus’s hand, Kahlo becomes an immortal presence—one of those influential artists elevated to the level of a deity for their audacious commitment to self-expression.  


Hue is Full / A Thousand Faces,” is on view at Gallery 1261, Denver, Dec. 11, 2015–Jan. 16, 2016. 

Follow Gallery 1261 on Artsy.