"Ching Ho Cheng: New Paintings 1978-1979"
By Gregory Millard
Untitled, 1978. Gouache on rag paper. Match Series. 23 x 27"
There is a cautionary adage that says, "In a dark room slowly filling with gas, it is better to curse the darkness than light a match." In most of the recent works of Ching Ho Cheng, light is portrayed in dynamic tension with darkness. The darkness is impervious to everything except the seeming miracle of light. Flaming matchsticks, bare light bulbs, freeway lamps, a running shower, prismatic reflections of refracted light are among the commonplace images Cheng has assembled as his personal iconography. The compositions are simple. The attention to detail and the balancing of the elements in each painting imbue an awareness of the deeply personal quality of this work whose complexity is rooted in the mystery and magic of light. The concern with light central to these paintings evokes more than just a flaming match or glowing lamp, though in a literal sense that is all it is. Yet, there is a magic that takes over as we view the work to make us aware that these objects exist in a special universe. The imagination is challenged and reminded that this particular beauty will be recreated with each new light that dares to break the darkness.
There is a certain tenderness in Cheng's work that touches us and makes us laugh, sigh, or smile one moment and then calls upon a deeper, more serious part of us. We do not ask how the paintings were executed; though the radiance of the work is a tribute to Cheng's mastery of the airbrush. Instead, we sense there is something more we might discover if we contemplate the painting longer. The matches burn, the shower sprays water, the freeway lamps glow, the dusk sky darkens, but we are fully aware that these are paintings, not photographs. The illusions succeed not because the images look so real, but because of an energy imparted. There is movement and change. The light spreads, refracts, reflects, disappears and is beautiful. The magic lies in the feeling, not the technical implementation of the image.
The artist, speaking of this quality in his work, says, "What interests me in paintings is always the magic they impart. I don't seek to strip art of its emotions. I want to work on a gut level. The piece of paper is the proscenium on which one tries to express emotions and ideas to an audience. One of my greatest pleasures is to touch people who know nothing about art."
Cheng has succeeded in painting a special theater in which light is the star attraction. In "Floorshow", for example, we see a totally dark space littered with seven match sticks and a crushed cigarette butt. Three of the matches are still burning and from the comet-like trails of light and the varying lengths of the burning matches, it is apparent that they are lit and thrown to the floor in quick succession. The moment is so alive, one fully expects another flaming match to fly through the darkness. In "Studio Lights", three glowing naked light bulbs are suspended on gently twisted cords in front of an ugly, cracked, peeling wall. A dreary scene except for a delicately airbrushed nimbus encircling the center bulb. It is a dramatization of seeing. The drama lies in the potential for discovering beauty in unlikely places. Though the image is a fleeting one, the magic and mystery linger.
Cheng: "I want to capture something of the miraculous. Light is the most awesome symbol of the Order of the Universe. Nothing can beat the speed of light. When I paint light I'm not just concerned with the phenomenon of light, I am trying to depict the illumination. The light will continue. It is eternal. A light bulb will die but there will always be light. A match will die but there are stars and new stars to be born."
Cheng's recent works are a triumph of diligence, skill and passionate vision. The light is alive.
Gloria Cortella Gallery 1978