Chen Ping’s body of paintings is a testament to the integrity of humanity; a quality sometimes hidden away, or left on the shelf at the least appropriate of times. He has been inspired by some of the most renowned of the great compositional painters throughout history: Bacon, Goya and Rothko count amongst them – Artists who employed a sense of theatre, or dramatic tension in the building of their work.
Similarly when examining this new body of paintings, it is hard to ignore the extraordinary filmic quality contained within the forms and textures of paint. Like film stalled in the projector, caught with an eerie flickering stillness, threatening to burn itself out of existence; the images seem to be frozen moments of action.
(As if time has stilled and allowed a second of silence before all the noise and the movement, the jostling of elbows and packages of everyday life begins again in earnest.)
The use of intuitive mark making upon the canvas references Chen’s belief in humankinds’ innocence and its relationship to the malevolent and arbitrary decision making forces of society.
The use of paint is decisive, yet under-pinned with a sense of anxiety; there are areas of the canvas surface that are sparse, and absolute, and areas where the surface is built up with the uncertainty of discord that sit together in a form of compositional resolution.
Chen sees this state of tension reflected in the act of human interplay, and the increasingly hazardous habit of speaking in absolutes. There is comfort in the ambiguous, and there is also the ability to think ‘outside the square’. These works show us Chen’s perception of life outside that square and the figures that inhabit it by situating his figures within a kind of stasis – between the external conflict of certainty and doubt.
It is this pause where Chen’s work reveals itself to the viewer. In that moment the paint strokes act as provocateur; daring the viewer to find more veiled imagery; to define the context these figures are placed within.
The repeated use of the figurative forms with all of their inherent symbols and sympathies is immediately understood by the unconscious level of the audience – Figures that are generally perceived as soft and delicate are constructed by comparison with the blunt force of action; the sweeping, powerful strokes of Chen’s painting style. His thick, graded tonal blocks of paint are applied with a steady, unambiguous eye to symbolize his concerns with the outside world’s occasionally harsh imprint upon the relative fragility of humankind.
Yet his figures are far from fragile, fading flowers – they stand in their ambiguity – blocks of colour, sharp lines and textures that simultaneously blur and focus into composed realistic expressions – the realism glimpsed in a crowd that hold an indefinable stillness and self-possession amongst the action around them.
The canvas acts as a construction site to these imposing structures of human, animals and landscape and their cool façades that stare back implacably at the audience.
One feels an expectation from these figures to live up to some unspoken, but intuitively understood ideal – The way that we can feel a sense of kinship with the met gaze of a stranger in the chaos of some anonymous public space – for that moment both existing outside the normal boundaries of time where everything is enhanced – the noise, the jostling, by a sense of inner quiet and peace.
I have found Chen’s process a fascinating one – from the beginning of his seemingly random mark making to the final layering of paint that pulls each image into focus, a finishing touch like the skin over a skeleton. His painting process is architectural in nature – he builds the structure of each composition, to balance within its own sense of gravity, like constructing with the building blocks of light and movement in order to raise a monument to stillness.
It is necessary to sit with the works, to spend time to allow the eye to relax into seeing the spaces that Chen has constructed. They are not effortless works – they are like living things that require a sense of time to live with.
These are works to inhabit.
- Tricky Walsh