ART IN AMERICA  "Ching Ho Cheng at Bruno Facchetti"

By Lawrence Campbell

Ching Ho Cheng, "The Alchemical Garden" at Bruno Facchetti Gallery, 1988.

Between 1975 and 1980, Ching Ho Cheng, a young New York painter, was making pictures of things whose everydayness make them invisible to most people. Typical of his subjects were squashed beer cans, cracks in the plaster wall of his studio, the halo of light surrounding an electric bulb and so on. At the same time, Cheng's fondness for ancient ruins, steles and archeological shards, dating from visits he made to Mexico and Turkey, led him to make drawings on heavy rag paper, working with graphite over charcoal and elements of frottage. One day, displeased with a drawing, he ripped it in two. The result was electrifying: suddenly he saw a new direction for his work. The act of tearing could never be duplicated, it depended on chance, like the processes of nature. He did not use the torn papers to make collages but rather hung them next to each other, occasionally overlapping them.

Later on, an airplane flight to Cairo got Cheng to thinking about the desert he saw from the sky. He didn't want to paint it; he felt an urge to make it. Consequently, he soaked rough rag paper in water for several days, adding gesso and acrylic paint to it until it was almost as hard as rock. Then he added iron or copper dust which, when reimmersed in water, respectively turns red and green.

All these developments led up to Cheng's latest one-man show titled "The Alchemical Garden." Visualizing the gallery space as a temple, the artist placed on the floor large basins of wood containing water in which he floated torn papers covered with iron dust. The mood was unbelievably quiet, and there was nothing on the walls to distract one's attention  - nothing in the gallery except basins, the slowly reddening papers and some news papers spread on the floor beneath the basins. Only the news headlines brought the thoughts of the visitor back for a moment to the realities of our tormented present--away from thoughts of eternity and the age-old transformations of nature.

About the same time as this exhibition, Cheng installed a work called The Grotto in the two large windows of NYU's Grey Art Gallery that face Washington Square Park. The Grotto consisted of seven panels across which stretched an irregular arch made out of paper reddening naturally (the arch swept across both windows). This work and the work in the gallery are both part of a series based on the Pelagian creation myth, which maintains that in the beginning there was only a mother goddess from whose womb everything tumbled: sun, moon, planets, stars and the earth, with its mountains, rivers, trees, herbs and living creatures. Cheng's interpretations reflect the elemental mystery and beauty of this myth.


Art In America, September 1988