Chow finds his root of modern art in traditional Chinese culture

Updated: 2015-01-26 09:23

By Li Jing(China Daily USA)

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Chow finds his root of modern art in traditional Chinese culture

Artist Michael Chow and UCCA Director Philip Tinari at the guided tour on the exhibition-opening day. Photos by Li Jing / China Daily.

Michael Chow pools thick household paint, burns plastic sheets with gas torches, and sprinkles yogurt and egg yolk on a large-scale canvas. The abstract works from a video clip are now debuting in Beijing in an exhibition through March 22 titled Michael Chow: Voice for My Father.

"Right now I feel very humbled and emotional," said 77-year-old Chow at the exhibition's opening ceremony on Jan 22 at Beijing's Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, which is his first show on the Chinese mainland.

Chow's latest works are on display in two of UCCA's spaces, alongside archival images of his father Zhou Xinfang and his iconic portrait collection.

In a short-sleeved t-shirt mixed with jeans spotted with paint, Chow looked excited and serious when touring the space.

Chow's 12 works are dazzling in their boldness. On large-scale canvases, paint, milk and melted metal are mashed with egg yolks, stuck on sponges and other materials, something reminiscent of classic Jackson Pollock.

"My works are half sculpture and half painting. For the sculpture side, the important thing is to choose material which becomes very personal as more personal, more universal," Chow said. "Basically, I look at a trash bin and I see great beauty in it."

Chinese esthetics is rooted in expansive stretches of white punctuated with at times dense collections of material, creating a vision of Chinese ink-and-brush painting. From an early age he was immersed in the highest forms of Chinese culture, and it's an influence that he carries with him to this day.

"My artistic approach is very much connected to my father's Beijing Opera Qi-style, which he pioneered," Chow said. That is why the exhibition's Chinese name is Qi-style Painter.

In 2012, Chow returned to his artistic roots after a 50-year hiatus, a "radical sabbatical" as he dubs it. Jeffrey Deitch, the former director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA), encouraged the reluctant painter to pick up his brushes again, after visiting Chow at his home and happened to notice a small painting of his from 1962 leaning against the wall in the kitchen.

"Chow's work fuses Asian, American, and European aesthetic approaches, drawing on his extraordinary international background. His paintings embody his experience in theater, painting, and even cuisine," said Deitch. "His sixty years of creativity have now been distilled into the most concentrated and perhaps the most challenging art form: abstract painting."

Chow was born in Shanghai in 1939 and moved to London at 13 soon after the founding of the People's Republic of China. He studied art at St. Martin's and painted for 10 years, showing his work in the London art scene of the 1960s. He went on to open the iconic Mr Chow restaurants, first in London, then New York and Los Angeles, where he lives today.

In the long gallery of the space, Chow's paintings are joined by his iconic portrait collection, which includes works by artists such as Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Many of these portraits were acquired directly from these artists or given as gifts in recognition of friendship and collaboration with Chow over the years.

Alongside these, archival images are shown of Chow's father Zhou Xinfang (1895-1975), one of the most famous Beijing Opera artists of the 20th Century. Better known in the West as the owner of the Mr Chow restaurants, Chow has a very different identity in his native China, where he is known as Zhou Yinghua, the son of revered Beijing Opera grandmaster Zhou Xinfang.

The exhibition will travel to the Power Station of Art in Shanghai in April, held simultaneously with major official celebrations commemorating the 120th anniversary of Zhou Xinfang's birth, before it moves to the Andy Warhol Museum at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the United States.

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