A new show at chi art space reveals the delightfully surreal prism through which young Hong Kong artist Cheng Ting Ting sees and experiences the world.
Cheng Ting Ting is crouched over a tub of paint as I arrive at chi art space, where the artist’s latest exhibition, Enfante, runs through. “Hello! I’m Ting Ting,” she chirps in a child-like voice. Cheng is having a busy year. Enfante is her second solo, following Fall In, Fall Out at Gallery Exit in January.
Born in 1990, the Hong Kong-born and bred artist came of age during a period when many still harbour an ambivalent attitude towards painting. One one hand, the art form has enjoyed a revival of sorts, thanks to the booming art market, on the other, those are those who’d still equate contemporary art with videos, installations and performances.
But Cheng says she is unfazed by these shifts. “I didn’t really care whether painting is fashionable or not. I wanted to paint, and that was that.”
After graduating from the Academy of Visual Arts of Hong Kong Baptist University, she toyed with the idea of going into art administration, but quickly realised that she has “too big of an ego” to pursue the job.
“I first came across oil in year two, and I fell in love. Painting is a very slow process, compared to other mediums. It’s also more abstract – you only get that one image, you never know what happened before or after,” explains Cheng “I also like that painting is passive, there is a safe distance between the art and viewer. Sometimes, with more conceptual art, you feel that the artist is trying to push you to look at the work through a certain prism.”
Italian Painter Giorgio Morandi was – an is still – an inspiration. “I like still life paintings in general, regardless of period. I like to see how objects interact with each other on the canvas,” she pauses. “Sometimes it’s like staging a play. You have the backdrop, then you decide on the furniture and the props.”
Following a string of group shows, she staged her first solo, Fall In, Fall Out at Gallery Exit in January. Exploring the idea of the individual versus the collective, the series of oils depicts people at the pool, in the ice rink and on bunk beds. In the rejection of photographic realism, Cheng’s phantasmagoric swirls of colours, purpled faces and limbs, and surreal settings recall 19th century impressionist art. “I usually paint from my visual memory,” chirps the artist of her creative process.
Curated by Andre Chan, Enfante is said to “pivot on Cheng’s observations as a childhood educator”. The exhibition is anchored by two large oil paintings of children in various warm-up positions. Even though the faces are smudged, the composition is gleeful, a departure from the ‘tiger’ parent stories that perpetuate mainstream media.
“I don’t intend for my art to be a critique of the education system,” Cheng says. “I’m painting what I know.”
The background, suffused with lashings of blues, dabs of green and blue, and horseshoe-like ‘U’s, take on life of its world, its intensity appearing to swallow up the similarly-coloured children. The deliberate lack of perspective also means that it’s hard to focus on any one point.
This negotiation between the individual and the composite is further seen in Illustrated Guide to Jagged Grass (2017) and Nine Pieces of Jagged Grass (2017). Inspired by Cheng’s love of nature, the green patches, resembling grass, shrubs and other park finds, are in fact ripped from newspapers stained by the artist’s brushes.
But perhaps, the most telling is in an assemblage of collage, sketches, and an album that the artist has retrieved from her personal archives. In reflecting on the idea of childhood, Cheng is also taking very personal saunter down memory lane.
As we flip through the album, chock a block of doodles and whimsical phrases, the artist’s eyes fall on the telephone number of a childhood friend. “I don’t think I ever ended up calling her,” she muses, rubbing her fingers along the edge of the page.
The artist is doing live painting sessions on Tuesday and Saturday from July 1 through July 17.
Cheng Ting Ting – Enfante
chi art space, 8/F, 18 Queen’s Road Central, New World Tower 2, Central, Hong Kong