In today’s Internet-connected world, it is a challenge to look through the infinity of visual choices and to allow the mind to be seduced by the simple beauty of images. Emily Cheng coaxes our attentiveness with luminous compositions whose forms are woven of images that she has discovered in the world, and that have viscerally moved her.
The paintings in Cheng’s new exhibition, RoundSky,
integrate contemplative images inspired both by iconographic paintings and artefacts from the world’s greatest religions--and arising from her own imagination. As the artist explains, the two largest works, Eastern and Western Traditions, explore how the centre and circle is used within each of the major religious traditions. Branches of Beliefs, Eastern and Western, traces the numerous sects, denominations and groups and questions if there is any single branch that might lead the way to wisdom. Another new series created during Cheng's residency at Dawang Culture Highland in Shenzhen, attempts to discover ways of connecting to the universe by looking back into our histories for guidance and into the future for illumination.
In the workshops of pre-modern times, apprentices were taught formulae that determined the appropriate outfit for special figures and the suitable painterly touch for particular sacred figures, and from such accessories a world of moral and symbolic tales built its foundation. The modernist tradition has so radically diminished the deeper connection to forms and patterns that what has emerged from othe industrial age, is immediately relegated to a limbo of the archaic ‘Other’. Cheng’s efforts pique a taste for the richness of the wide world of visual arts without carrying any stigma.
In Cheng’s RoundSky
paintings, the idea of the mandala which she explores in many of her works is integrated with allusions to the ascending chakras present in the human body, and to the forms of ancient religious statuary. Artist and critic Stephen Westfall describes these forms as ‘gods, of course, aspects of a protean divinity for whom suffering, love, visioning, and paintings are all forms of a never-ending play.’ Cheng’s art takes a global view of images that constitute the magic of iconic figures. Her delicate, luminous colours are enhanced through her use of Flashe colours, a vinyl paint that allows for greater degree of translucence in the building up of over-layered, jewel-coloured forms.
Referring to Walter Benjamin’s famous observation about how industrial-style reproduction in the modern age has compromised the auratic power of art, Jonathan Hay describes Cheng’s art as a nostalgic act that is ‘the self-conscious staking of a claim, and the claim that Cheng stakes is to the creation of wonder as a personal event.’ This sense of wonder is made possible by remembering the aura around great art of the past, now given a new platform for our own era.
Press release courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery.