More Life - Ching Ho Cheng | David Zwirner

Ching Ho
Cheng

Ching Ho Cheng, curated by Simon Wu, will be on view at the gallery’s 537 West 20th Street location in New York beginning September 17, 2021.  

Throughout his career, Ching Ho Cheng (1946–1989) produced a rich and varied body of work that ranged from colorfully psychedelic canvases to subdued, abstract explorations of light, tone, and texture in gouaches, torn paper, and experiments in iron oxide. Deeply spiritual and absorbed in ancient cultural traditions, Cheng described his paintings as “a way of seeing. It is so hard to describe. It is a very personal view of the universe. I keep seeing it everywhere. I can't escape it. It's energy. I see it in a streetlight. I can see it in an oil slick on the road. I can see it in a peach pit. I can see it everywhere. For me painting is a very spiritual thing. It is the most spiritual thing I do.” Art-making, for Cheng, was rooted in process, alchemy, and transcendence, that invite contemplative close looking.

An undated photo of Ching Ho Cheng with his work.

Ching Ho Cheng with his work, n.d. (detail)

Ching Ho Cheng with his work, n.d. (detail)

“To me, Cheng’s works, while not explicitly queer, suggest something radical about the interconnectedness of our bodies. How multiple we really are, if we begin to learn, as Cheng did, of our capacity for spiritual rebirth, but also how interdependent, if we ponder the multitudes of bacteria, fungi, and elements living, dying, and reproducing within us. It’s a body party.” 

—Simon Wu, 2021. Click here to read the full curatorial statement.

A painting by Ching Ho Cheng, titled Chemical Garden, dated 1970.

Ching Ho Cheng

Chemical Garden, 1970
Gouache and ink on rag board
Image: 30 x 30 inches (76.2 x 76.2 cm)
Framed: 32 1/4 x 32 1/4 inches (81.9 x 81.9 cm)
A photo of Andy Warhol's Superstar Tally Brown and Ching Ho Cheng in front of his painting Angel Head, in the 1970s.

Andy Warhol's Superstar Tally Brown and Ching Ho Cheng in front of his painting Angel Head, New York, 1970s (detail)

Andy Warhol's Superstar Tally Brown and Ching Ho Cheng in front of his painting Angel Head, New York, 1970s (detail)

The son of a Chinese diplomat born in Havana, Cuba, Ching Ho Cheng moved to New York City in 1951. He studied painting at Cooper Union while immersing himself in the teachings of Taoism and exploring eclectic references including Tibetan art, Hopi and Navajo artifacts, and Hieronymus Bosch. In the early 1970s, he spent several years in Paris and Amsterdam, where he had his first solo exhibition in 1976. On his return to New York that year, he settled into the legendary Chelsea Hotel, forging connections with the building’s other creative residents. 

A painting by Ching Ho Cheng, titled X Triptych, dated 1969.

Ching Ho Cheng

X Triptych, 1969
Gouache and ink on rag board in three (3) parts
Panel I: 30 x 36 inches (76.2 x 91.4 cm)
Panel II: 30 x 30 inches (76.2 x 76.2 cm)
Panel III: 30 x 24 inches (76.2 x 61 cm)

“[Painting] is a way of seeing. It is so hard to describe. It is a very personal view of the universe. I keep seeing it everywhere. I can’t escape it. It’s energy. I see it in a streetlight. I can see it in an oil slick on the road. I can see it in a peach pit. I can see it everywhere. For me painting is a very spiritual thing. It is the most spiritual thing I do.”

Ching Ho Cheng, 1977

An installation view of an exhibition titled Ching Ho Cheng, at David Zwirner, New York, in 2021.

Installation view, Ching Ho Cheng, David Zwirner, New York,  2021

Installation view, Ching Ho Cheng, David Zwirner, New York,  2021

A letter from Ching Ho Cheng to his roommate, Dui.

A letter from Ching Ho Cheng to Dui, Ching’s artist friend from college who was living in Paris in 1975. In the letter, Ching asks Dui to help retrieve his psychedelic paintings after the closing of the Basel Art Fair show, where the psychedelic paintings were first exhibited.

A letter from Ching Ho Cheng to Dui, Ching’s artist friend from college who was living in Paris in 1975. In the letter, Ching asks Dui to help retrieve his psychedelic paintings after the closing of the Basel Art Fair show, where the psychedelic paintings were first exhibited.

A photo of Ching Ho Cheng with Andy Warhol, in the 1970s.

Ching Ho Cheng and good friend Allen Midgette at the Chelsea Hotel. Midgette (1939–2021) was an Andy Warhol Factory actor and Warhol’s official impersonator for a lecture tour in 1967. 

Ching Ho Cheng and good friend Allen Midgette at the Chelsea Hotel. Midgette (1939–2021) was an Andy Warhol Factory actor and Warhol’s official impersonator for a lecture tour in 1967. 

A photo of ching Ho Cheng and friends in The Chelsea Hotel, New York, in the 1970s.

Ching Ho Cheng with his roommate, Ty Castellarin, and friends in their Spring Street loft, New York, 1970

Ching Ho Cheng with his roommate, Ty Castellarin, and friends in their Spring Street loft, New York, 1970

A painting by Ching Ho Cheng, titled The Astral Theater, dated 1973 to 1974.

Ching Ho Cheng

The Astral Theater, 1973-1974
Gouache and ink on rag board
Image: 29 1/2 x 36 inches (74.9 x 91.4 cm)
Framed: 32 x 38 1/2 inches (81.3 x 97.8 cm)

The Astral Theater, in 1973–74, offers an example of the obsessive detail and narcissistic iconography of this early phase in the artist’s development, but it also exemplifies the jewellike perfection of his technique. The work deals with the subjects of cosmic birth and individual rebirth, expressed through the age-old symbol of the metamorphosis of the butterfly.”

—Gert Schiff, Artforum, 1986

A painting by Ching Ho Cheng, titled Miss Destiny (Spider Painting), dated 1976.

Ching Ho Cheng

Miss Destiny (Spider Painting), 1976
Gouache and ink on rag board
Image: 32 x 40 inches (81.3 x 101.6 cm)
Framed: 34 7/8 x 42 7/8 inches (88.6 x 108.9 cm)

“I have had all my explosions. Now I am concerned with the subtlety of expression.”

Ching Ho Cheng, 1970s

A painting by Ching Ho Cheng, titled Untitled (Green Wood Grain), dated 1975.

Ching Ho Cheng

Untitled (Green Wood Grain), 1975
Gouache on rag paper
Image: 23 x 6 1/8 inches (58.4 x 15.6 cm)
Sheet: 27 1/2 x 14 inches (69.9 x 35.6 cm)
Framed: 28 1/2 x 15 1/4 inches (72.4 x 38.7 cm)

As the 1970s progressed, Cheng worked increasingly to “purify” his expression in increasingly subtle works. “I travel through the wood grains of my floorboards,” the artist said of his Woodgrain works, made in 1974 to 1976. “They are lofty mountains and calm lapping waters of a lake. Sometimes, they are the drifting sands of the desert.”

A mixed media artwork by Ching Ho Cheng, titled A Match, dated 1978.

Ching Ho Cheng

A Match, 1978
Gouache and airbrush on rag paper
Image: 6 1/8 x 9 inches (15.6 x 22.9 cm)
Framed: 11 1/2 x 14 1/2 inches (29.2 x 36.8 cm)
A detail from a painting by Ching Ho Cheng , titled A Match, dated 1978.

Ching Ho Cheng, A Match, 1978 (detail)

Ching Ho Cheng, A Match, 1978 (detail)

“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.” 

—Ching Ho Cheng

A painting by Ching Ho Cheng, titled Freeway Lights, dated 1977.

Ching Ho Cheng

Freeway Lights, 1977
Gouache on Strathmore paper in three (3) parts
Panel 1: 29 x 22 1/4 inches (73.7 x 56.5 cm)
Panel 2: 29 x 18 inches (73.7 x 45.7 cm)
Panel 3: 29 x 22 inches (73.7 x 55.9 cm)
Overall Framed: 29 x 62 inches (73.7 x 157.5 cm)

“For the past five years, I have been painting ordinary subject matter: … cigarette butts, matches, a squashed beer can, coat hanger.… In my workroom, squinting at the naked light bulb in its blinding incandescence, I find it encircled by a double-ringed aura. A lit match flickering brightly in a dark room suddenly becomes the Burning Bush.”

Ching Ho Cheng, c.1980

A painting by Ching Ho Cheng, titled Untitled, dated 1980.

Ching Ho Cheng

Untitled, 1980
Gouache on rag paper
Image: 41 1/4 x 38 inches (104.8 x 96.5 cm)
Sheet: 44 x 40 inches (111.8 x 101.6 cm)
Framed: 48 x 43 1/4 inches (121.9 x 109.9 cm)

Following his move to the Chelsea Hotel in 1976—he had intended to stay two months, but remained until his death in 1989—Cheng began working on a series of paintings of window frames. Based on the shadows falling across the walls of his studio, these works are almost entirely abstract.

A painting by Ching Ho Cheng, titled Window Triptych, dated 1971.

Ching Ho Cheng

Window Triptych, 1971
Gouache on rag paper in three (3) parts
Sheet, each: 36 1/2 x 29 1/2 inches (92.7 x 74.9 cm)
Framed, each: 39 x 31 5/8 inches (99.1 x 80.3 cm)
Overall: 39 x 95 inches (99.1 x 241.3 cm)

“From the start, Ching Ho Cheng’s art has been a search for evidence of connectedness: man with man, man with nature, and man with God.”

Henry Geldzahler, “Studio Visit: Ching Ho Cheng,” Contemporanea magazine, 1988

A painting by Ching Ho Cheng, titled Untitled (Palmetto Series), dated 1981.

Ching Ho Cheng

Untitled (Palmetto Series), 1981
Gouache on rag paper
Image: 33 x 48 inches (83.8 x 121.9 cm)
Sheet: 37 1/4 x 50 inches (94.6 x 127 cm)
Framed: 39 3/4 x 52 1/2 inches (101 x 133.3 cm)

In 1981, Cheng painted a series of Palmetto Silhouettes—shadows cast on gray walls. The same year, he followed the trace of the setting sun in a triptych. This was to be the starting point for the artist’s first completely abstract works, the Shadow Boxes, in 1981 to 1983. In these works, Cheng attained for the first time the “perfect state of calm” that his reading of the Tao Te Ching had led him to desire.

An installation view of an exhibition titled Ching Ho Cheng, at David Zwirner, New York, in 2021.

Installation view, Ching Ho Cheng, David Zwirner, New York,  2021

Installation view, Ching Ho Cheng, David Zwirner, New York,  2021

A mixed media artwork by Ching Ho Cheng, titled Untitled (UFO Series), dated 1985.

Ching Ho Cheng

Untitled (UFO Series), 1985
Charcoal and graphite on paper
Image: 23 1/2 x 36 1/2 inches (59.7 x 92.7 cm)
Framed: 31 x 45 inches (78.7 x 114.3 cm)

Cheng began a new series of works in the early 1980s when, in frustration, he tore up a drawing—a meticulous artist, he would destroy works with which he was not satisfied. Struck by the act of tearing paper as simultaneously constructive and deconstructive, he developed a body of work that combined torn shapes with graphite and areas of color.

A mixed media artwork by Ching Ho Cheng, titled Untitled, dated 1985.

Ching Ho Cheng

Untitled, 1985
Charcoal, graphite, and pastel on paper
Image: 20 1/4 x 15 5/8 inches (51.4 x 39.7 cm)
Framed: 24 x 20 inches (61 x 50.8 cm)
A mixed media artwork by Ching Ho Cheng, titled Untitled, dated 1985.

Ching Ho Cheng

Untitled, 1985
Charcoal, graphite, and pastel on paper
Image: 44 x 57 1/2 inches (111.8 x 146.1 cm)
Framed: 49 1/8 x 62 3/4 inches (124.8 x 159.4 cm)

“[The torn works describe] a moment in time which reflects that spontaneous gesture which can never be exactly duplicated. Like lightning, it never strikes in the same place twice.”

Ching Ho Cheng, n.d.

A mixed media artwork by Ching Ho Cheng, titled Untitled (Tryptich), dated 1988.

Ching Ho Cheng

Untitled (Tryptich), 1988
Iron oxide and acrylic on canvas in three (3) parts
Panel 1 & 3 (framed): 30 1/2 x 24 1/2 inches (77.5 x 62.2 cm)
Panel 2 (framed): 30 3/4 x 26 3/4 inches (78.1 x 67.9 cm)
Overall (framed): 30 1/2 x 77 inches (77.5 x 195.6 cm)

In the fall of 1981, Cheng traveled to Turkey. Long fascinated by ancient ruins, he visited caves and grottoes and was captivated by their colors and textures. On his return to New York, the artist explored an oxidation process, submerging paper covered with copper or iron filings in water for several weeks. Appreciating the permanence and depth of the rust, Cheng at the same time saw the spiritual possibilities in this medium. 

Ching Ho Cheng in his studio, 1988. Photo by William Duke

Ching Ho Cheng in his studio, 1988. Photo by William Duke

Ching Ho Cheng in his studio, 1988. Photo by William Duke

The culmination of Cheng’s rust works was an installation in 1987 at the Grey Art Gallery in New York, titled Grotto. Based on the Pelagian creation myth, the work consisted of seven panels, reddening naturally, that formed an irregular arch across the gallery’s windows. 

An installation by Ching Ho Cheng, titled The Grotto, at Grey Art Gallery, New York, in 1987.

Installation view, Ching Ho Cheng, The Grotto, Grey Art Gallery, New York, 1987

Installation view, Ching Ho Cheng, The Grotto, Grey Art Gallery, New York, 1987

“It was a vision of Ching’s Grotto in the oversize windows of the Grey Art Gallery in Manhattan that shocked me into a lasting appreciation of the grandeur of his recent work and its success in stating bold and healing certainties. To quote Gregory Millard in a catalogue essay on Ching’s work, ‘The magic lies in the feeling not the technical implementation of the image … the light is alive.’”

Henry Geldzahler, “Studio Visit: Ching Ho Cheng,” 1988

An installation view of an exhibition titled Ching Ho Cheng, at David Zwirner, New York, in 2021.

Installation view, Ching Ho Cheng, David Zwirner, New York,  2021

Installation view, Ching Ho Cheng, David Zwirner, New York,  2021

A photo of Ching Ho Cheng working on his alchemical process, no date.

Ching Ho Cheng working on his alchemical process, n.d. (detail)

Ching Ho Cheng working on his alchemical process, n.d. (detail)

    Read More Read Less

      Read More Read Less

          Inquire

          To learn more about this artwork, please provide your contact information.

          By sharing your details you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions.
          This site is also protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

          Inquire

          To learn more about available works, please provide your contact information

          By sharing your details you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions.This site is also
          protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.