Thursday, November 08, 2007

Art Space Talk: Gordon Cheung

Gordon Cheung is an emerging star of the British contemporary art scene. Gordon's art reveals an apocalyptic vision of our globalized world. His work captures the chaos of our contemporary lives in a surreal manner that reminds one of psychedelic hallucinations. Gordon has been featured in several publications-- including, Frieze, Art Review, and Flux-- and has exhibited internationally.

In 2006 Gordon was included in the John Moores 24 Painting Exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery during the Liverpool Biennial. Gordon was chosen as a prize finalist having been selected by Tracey Emin, Sir Peter Blake, Jason Brookes, Ann Bukantas and Andrea Rose.
Manifest Destiny, Stock listings, Ink, Enamel, Acrylic Gel and Spray on canvas183 x 274cm / 72 x 108inches / 2007

Brian Sherwin: The art critic David Lee mentioned you to me. It is obvious that you are making your mark in the British scene. Do you have any upcoming exhibits? If so, care to tell us about them?

Gordon Cheung: I currently (29 Oct 2007) have solo exhibitions called ‘1000 Yard Stare’ at the Aspex Gallery, Portsmouth and ‘God is on Our Side’ at Unosunove Gallery, Rome. I’ve also curated an exhibition at Primo Alonso Gallery, London called the Lucifer Effect. My forthcoming solo shows will be ‘Death by a Thousand Cuts’ at the Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester and ‘Paradise Lost’ at Alan Cristea Gallery, London both in January 2008.

BS: What other accomplishments have you had in the last few years in regards to your art?

GC: Being the first British Born Chinese to be included in the British Art Show, 2005 was a pivotal moment for me.

Presiding at the Infernal Council, Stock listings, Ink, Acrylic, Gel and Spray on canvas76 x 122cm / 2007

BS: Gordon, your website mentions that you are of Hong Kong origin- born in London. Have you ever experienced a 'clash of cultures', so to speak? Is this reflected in your work? I've spoken with several artists, including Stella Lai, who have mentioned that they feel a sense of conflict between their 'roots' and contemporary society... is this an issue for you as well?

GC: When I think back to my childhood and particularly between 10-16 years old I was the only ethnic in my school and the racism made me feel very isolated resulting with some very negative internalised emotions. I suppose I found solace in art – a world in which I was able to throw myself into and express. My experiences of racism inevitably created cultural conflict and were difficult to deal with – my answer was to bury deep and work hard. I couldn’t wait to go to college and there I found a more tolerable and multi-cultural culture. But those experiences never led me to making identity-based art. Instead I have always been drawn to the idea of an in-between space and eventually it led me to making work about the virtual spaces in which we all exist. If the work I make is a map of my psyche then my feelings of being in-between 2 cultures paradoxically belonging and not, have certainly influenced the direction that I have taken.

The Creation of Light, Stock listings, Ink, Acrylic, Gel and Spray on canvas76 x 122cm / 2007

BS: You have mentioned that your work is focused on the hallucinations between the virtual and actual realities of a globalized world oscillating between Utopia and Dystopia. Can you go into further detail about this and how it is conveyed in your work? Do you have a form of symbolism in your work, a use of certain images, that reveal a solid narration between one piece and the next?

GC: I use the Financial Times newspaper stock listings as I think of the stock market as a global dream-world that literally flows through all of us. This for me is a contemporary form of landscape from where I take inspiration and fuse images from the Internet on computer before printing directly onto sections of the stock listings to jigsaw back together on canvas.
When I started using the stock listings around 12 years ago we were going through a digital and communications revolution. Mobile phone technology and the Internet were being made readily available and this totally reconfigured our perception of space time into a state of constant flux. There was talk about globalisation, cyberspace, global villages, information superhighways and digital frontiers – we experienced a kind of digital euphoria over the prospect of a potential Utopia. This of course dissipated with the tech stock dot com millionaire crash which was followed by the techno-hysteria over the Millennium bug. We then experienced the twin tower attacks that consequently gave us the War on Terror. So for me I am taking inspiration from what is around us rooted in that Utopic technological revolution and the consequent threatening waves of apocalypse.
If you look through the body of work recurring motifs do exist such as the ruinous skyscrapers, luminous voids and rainbows. They’re all symbols of hope and despair brought together into a beautiful dark ambiguity.

Eve's Dream, Stock listings, Ink, Acrylic, Gel and Spray on canvas76 x 122cm / 2007

BS: Gordon, do you feel that your paintings are best viewed together- as a whole?

GC: Yes if someone wanted to truly find out where it all comes from and how the ideas and visual developments have taken root. However, each work is made to stand autonomously and to also be seen as such. I think of looking at art a bit like getting to know a friend. Only over time do we eventually see the multi-facets of someone and so I hope that viewers would like to return and each time have greater understanding.

BS: In your paintings you utilize spray paint, oil, acrylic, pastels, stock listings and ink. These mixed mediums collide in your work to form, as you put it, epic techno-sublime vistas. When did you decide to work in this manner? Also, do you ever have any concern that the material will not work together? Or is that just part of the process?

GC: When I left the Royal College in 2001 I was quite honestly lost and didn’t know what I was really doing. I was frustrated with the way my work was going and felt I had a bunch of stuffed ideas in my head that couldn’t come out. In 2003 I applied for a bunch of residencies and was accepted for a few and that became the catalyst for changes in the work that you see today.
It was in these residencies that I explored the use of different mediums in a totally liberal way. The thing was that I had totally overdosed on art theory and philosophy and being away I was able to free myself from the restrictions I had unknowingly placed on myself. Now I use absolutely any inspiration I find which extended to the materials that I was using.
Currently I am collaborating with some digital artists to make some Internet based works which is a logical extension of my practice. All the materials and mediums that I use are choices that I make with confidence and exploring whether they will work or not is definitely part of the process. In fact it energizes the work for the long term and is always exciting for me which I feel translates into the work.

Millgram's Progress, Stock Listings, Ink, Acrylic Gel and Spray on Canvas274 x 600cm / 108 x 240inches (4 canvases each 274 x 150cm / 108 x 60inches)Commissioned by Sally Lai and Yuen Fong Ling for URBIS on the occassion of the exhibition Arrivals and Departures: New Art Perspectives of Hong Kong, 2007

BS: In regards to your use of spray paint... did you practice street art when you were younger? I'm interested as to why you decided to utilize spray paint as a medium. Also, what do you think of Banksy's work? Is he an influence?

GC: Me? Vandalise the streets? If I did I certainly wouldn’t admit to it so no, I never did but was always struck by graffiti’s ‘cartoon’ world on the urban environment. It’s rebellious creativeness I suppose is a spirit that I felt within myself. The spray paint however is a late development in my work.
It appeared around 4 years ago. Previously I had restricted myself to only using collage to create ‘simulated’ paintings so that I was questioning the medium itself. Works that from a distance looked like paintings or drawings but up close were actually labour intensive cut ups of newsprint and graph paper. They were kind of monochromatic works and when I look back I think I have a compulsive obsessive part of me that drove these works on. But I did become somewhat tired of taking so long just to make one small work and it took me a year of feeling frustrated to finally make a huge change in my work and that was to use paints.
Suddenly my works were scorched open with colour spray painted voids. They were like virtual dimensions in the sepia like landscapes that I was making. The contrast between the handmade collage sections and the mechanically sprayed areas was something that I found visually very interesting which has remained up to this day. About Banksy I am aware of his work but he’s never been a conscious influence on my own.

Neon Shadows, Financial Times, Ink, Acrylic Gel and Spray on canvasDiptych each 250 x 225cm (total: 250 x 450cm) / 2006

BS: With that said, who are your influences? What artists have had an impact on you?

GC: At the moment artists like Matthew Barney and Pierre Huyghe come to mind. Authors such as JG Ballard and Philip K Dick. David Lynch and Stanly Jubrick are also a huge influence.

BS: Gordon, while a student at the Royal College of Art you instigated and was a main organizer of Assembly- exhibiting 172 MA art graduates in two disused Victorian school buildings. Why did you decide to take on this task? Also, who were your mentors at the Royal College of Art?

GC: A property developer who was friends with Peter Doig approached the Royal College of Art to offer the chance to organise an art event in 2 disused buildings that he had just stripped out to an empty shell. The opportunity was passed from department to department and no-one wanted to take it on as it was massive. At one stage there was talk about Anselm Kiefer doing something there. One day my professor approached me and offered it to me as he knew that I was very proactive when it came to curating exhibitions and when I saw the space I immediately knew that I had to do something here.
I proposed a huge London art school collaboration with the idea of breaking down rivalries to create dialogue. Afterall these were my peers but just in different schools. I was naive and idealistic and had to narrow the remit to 3 schools after quickly realising that it was a huge undertaking. I invited a group of Goldsmiths students and created a committee which unfortunately collapsed because of political infighting mainly caused by 2 Goldsmiths students who wanted full control. So it eventually boiled down to one Goldsmiths representative and me to organise what turned out to be a one year project with 3 months after care.
The exhibition involved only MA or phd students and recent graduates and was an open submission. The final numbers were approx 95 Royal College, 47 Goldsmiths and 30 Chelsea. It was a huge learning curve that took a hell of a lot out of me but something I think of as being my rites of passage into the art world. I didn’t have mentors at the Royal College. I was always looking out for one but it never happened. I learnt much more from my peers.

Courts of God, Stock listings, Ink, Acrylic, Gel and Spray on canvas76 x 122cm / 2007

BS: Your work can be found in the collections of the Hirshhorn Museum, Whitworth Museum, ASU Art Museum and UBS Collection. Where else can our readers find your work?

GC: The best place to look for where my stuff is being shown is on my website.

BS: Finally, is there anything else that you would like to say about your art or the artworld?

GC: It’s beautiful and mad. I love it.
You can learn more about Gordon Cheung by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin


Anonymous said...

Its good to read about artists such as Gordon. Love the use of colour and different materials. Very creative use of images. I look forward to seeing more of his work.
Godfrey Blow.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for showing these great paintings. Looking forward to seeing them in the flesh
Mark Turner

Anonymous said...

very very interesting work. very interesting. really meaningful work. I like that.