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b. 1953, SAR, China

Emily Cheng Biography

Chinese-American artist Emily Cheng is known for vibrant, abstract paintings and drawings made up of elaborate circular structures and quasi-floral symbols that represent complex spiritual and philosophical systems. In a pastel palette her minimalistic, symmetrical compositions are reminiscent of the early-20th-century abstract painter and mystic Hilma af Klint.

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Cheng developed her life-long love of painting in the 5th grade. She graduated with a BFA in painting from Rhode Island School of Design in 1975, attended the New York Studio School for three years, and spent a summer studying in Paris under Leland Bell and Elaine de Kooning. Since graduating, she has travelled to China many times, including in the 1990s, during which time she discovered Buddhist cave paintings and began studying Chinese art (including Silk Route painting, court figure painting, and, later, Chinese landscape paintings) and Eastern thought (especially Buddhist and Taoist texts, as well as the teachings of Confucius and Lao-Tzu).

Looking to organise the rich imagery from the different religions, traditions, and ideologies she was studying, Cheng started 'Charting Sacred Territories' (2011), a year-long project that consists of multiple drawings and paintings, through which she explores the intertwined visual symbols of multiple sects, denominations, and groups. As a part of the project, the artist created the large-scale paintings Eastern Traditions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism (2011) and Western Traditions—Judaism, Christianity, Islam (2011). Across the two artworks, she assigned the six titular religious traditions a third of each canvas, depicted in one large circular graphic symbol and colour scheme each. Taoism is represented by three rings encasing each other, the outer painted with an optical waveform in sea blues and greens, the middle ring resembling a circle of pearls, and the inner section filled with a pale blue spiral. Islam is depicted in a complex geometric design in lemon yellow laid over midnight blue, with a pale yellow circle and a small blue dot at the circle's centre point. For Cheng, the project was a turning point in her practice. It was a development that, as she explains in her 2015 interview with Ocula Magazine, happened naturally. 'I don't think you can be involved so intensely as I was in the world of religious images without in some way having it affect your work', she explained, while acknowledging that 'Other thoughts of course were also factors, as is usually the case when a creative shift is occurring.'

Working in a mixture of acrylic, oil, and Flashe (a fast-drying, matt medium that is vinyl-based and pigment-heavy, similar to gouache and tempera), Cheng has continued to develop the themes explored in 'Charting Sacred Territories', using luminous colours that evoke different aspects of spiritualism and mysticism. In the painting Medusa's Eye (2014), a cloud of baby blue and a ball of royal blue hover mesmerisingly over a background of lime green, while in the painting Amazing Journey (2014), calming shades of apricot and pink play off a vivid red background, with spirals of blues, greens, and purples adding accents of energy, proving tranquillity and vitality are two sides of the same coin.

Cheng has exhibited widely in the United States and in Asia, in both solo and group exhibitions. Recent solo shows have been held at Ille Arts, Amagansett (2017); Shenzhen Art Museum (2015); Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong (2015); Zane Bennett Contemporary Art, Santa Fe (2013); Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei (2011); and at Louis Vuitton Maison, Hong Kong (2010). She has exhibited in group shows including at Art Basel in Hong Kong (2017); China Institute, New York (2014); Museum of Chinese in America, New York (2010); MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts (2010); Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai (2009); and at the Guangdong Museum of Art (2008). She has been awarded a Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant (2010); New York Foundation for the Arts Artist Fellowship (1996); Yaddo residency (1995); and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship (1982–1983).

Cheng lives and works in New York City.

Ocula | 2019

Emily Cheng Featured Artworks

View All (21)
She Slight 《她視》 by Emily Cheng contemporary artwork
Emily ChengShe Slight 《她視》, 2017Acrylic on Canvas
28 x 36 cm
Hanart TZ Gallery Enquire about this work
Planet Mind 《世界心》 by Emily Cheng contemporary artwork
Emily ChengPlanet Mind 《世界心》, 2016Oil and acrylic on canvas
91.5 x 122 cm
Hanart TZ Gallery Enquire about this work
Home by Emily Cheng contemporary artwork
Emily ChengHome, 2017Acrylic on canvas
36 x 28 cm
Hanart TZ Gallery Enquire about this work
Above and Below 《天地上下》 by Emily Cheng contemporary artwork
Emily ChengAbove and Below 《天地上下》, 2017Acrylic on canvas
36 x 28 cm
Hanart TZ Gallery Enquire about this work
Branches of Belief/ Eastern Traditions by Emily Cheng contemporary artwork
Emily ChengBranches of Belief/ Eastern Traditions, 2011Flashe on canvas
182 x 365 cm
Hanart TZ Gallery Enquire about this work

Emily Cheng Recent Exhibitions

Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, State of Happiness 樂 / 觀 at Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong
Closed
13 March–13 May 2020 Group Exhibition State of Happiness 樂 / 觀 Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong
Contemporary art exhibition, Group exhibition, The Garden of Winter Light 冬光園 at Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong
Closed
10 January–15 March 2019 Group exhibition The Garden of Winter Light 冬光園 Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong
Contemporary art exhibition, Emily Cheng, RoundSky: Paintings by Emily Cheng at Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong
Closed
9 April–2 May 2015 Emily Cheng RoundSky: Paintings by Emily Cheng Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong

Emily Cheng Represented By

Emily Cheng In Related Press

Beer with a Painter: Emily Cheng Related Press Beer with a Painter: Emily Cheng 8 February 2019, Hyperallergic

I feel quieted in Emily Cheng's studio — to the point where I wondered, afterwards, if I'd even posed questions. A fountain is gurgling, and she has set out beer and snacks. The paintings invite reflection more than commentary. I had visited her studio more than 10 years ago, and at the time felt that she was a painter whose work fell...

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Beer with a Painter: Emily Cheng Related Press Beer with a Painter: Emily Cheng 8 July 2017, Hyperallergic

I feel quieted in Emily Cheng's studio—to the point where I wondered, afterwards, if I'd even posed questions. A fountain is gurgling, and she has set out beer and snacks. The paintings invite reflection more than commentary. I had visited her studio more than 10 years ago, and at the time felt that she was a painter whose work fell outside...

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Ocula Q&A: Emily Cheng, Artist, New York Related Press Ocula Q&A: Emily Cheng, Artist, New York 1 September 2015, Ocula

Emily Cheng, a Chinese American artist based in New York, is the subject of a major solo exhibition at the Shenzhen Art Museum in September 2015. Emily received a BFA in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design and then attended the New York Studio School. She has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions in America including...

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