Exhibition “Negotiating Between Light And Ink” – Zheng Chongbin Solo Exhibition
Curator(s) Tan Hwee Koon (Singapore Independent Curator) / Academic Support:Zheng Shengtian(Managing Editor of “YISHU” (Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art))
Artist Zheng Chongbin
Duration 2012-11-24 ~ 2013-02-03
Opening 2012.11.24(Sat) 3:00pm
Asia Art Center ( Beijing )

“Negotiating Between Light And Ink” – Zheng Chongbin Solo Exhibition

Negotiating between Light and Ink

“I live in California, the light has a magical transcendental quality… Some moment I feel I really can touch the light. It is beyond beautiful, so is the shadow. That is what I meant that I can sense the material in the light…”


It is difficult to put into words the experience of encountering artist, Zheng Chongbin’s paintings. It is somewhat familiar and yet foreign at the same time and contradictory in existence. The timeless black and white colour palette, translucency and aesthetics associated with ink as a traditional medium. The matt and shiny textures and colours expressed in the physicality of ink as a contemporary material. The luminosity that comes from within the work itself like a halo glowing in dim light. Accompanied by the dramatic unfolding of light and shadows on the painting surface. Otherwise defined geometrical forms infused with subtle emotions. The presentation of works as objects with the xuan paper mounted on wooden frames in dialogue with the context of the larger spatial environment that it is placed in. Although Zheng Chongbin’s works are essentially two-dimensional and one would expect them to function as objects and not environment, the tactile surface of their ides cent black and white ink paintings oscillating between opacity and luminosity has the ability to suck the viewer in and at the same time extends beyond its frame to integrate with the surrounding environment– causing the viewers to shift between object and environment perception. It is a very personal experience of discovery. Like seeing Zheng Chongbin’s works in his blackout Shanghai Studio without electricity supply on 9th August 2012, the day after the destructive Typhoon Hai Kui hit Shanghai – light seems to emit from paintings, glowing in the dark with a luminosity that floods one with emotions.


The current Beijing exhibition is a culmination of the conceptual take and shifts in the Zheng Chongbin’s work over the past two years from 2011 to 2012, developed into a full-blown scale in this important landmark Beijing exhibition for the artist. Zheng was inspired to create works in response to the unique spatial conditions of the German built Bauhaus style former state-owned electronics factory unit constructed in 1958 – a large indoor space of up to seven metres in height, illuminated by natural light from coming from the windows next to the roof. He intervened directly with the gallery space to paint the walls of the gallery as a larger canvas where the individual or groups of work would be positioned in context. To heighten the viewer’s sensitivity to the idea of “surface” and “physicality” of the medium ink. All three concurrently on-going series in the artist’s visual language system are presented in the Beijing exhibition – Architectonics Series (2009/ 2010- ), Geometry Series (2011 – ) and Variations Series (2012 – ). Depending on the site conditions, the multi-lingual artist, Zheng Chongbin would response in the respective visual language.


The exhibition attempts to describe Zheng Chongbin’s condition of negotiating between light and ink in his work – Chinese ink a traditional medium with the associated cultural background that Zheng was trained in Hangzhou, China; and the physicality of light that he is exposed to in San Francisco California, United States where he is now based. Why did the artist choose ink and light? 1961 Shanghai-born Zheng Chongbin started learning calligraphy at the age of twelve, was trained in traditional ink and specialized in figure painting at the Chinese Painting Department at the prestigious Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, Hangzhou. Before leaving China, Zheng was anti-traditional in his art practice trying to break free from the cultural baggage of the ink tradition. He was interested in the semi abstraction of figures and surrealistic transformation; and brushwork through gestures. Upon arrival in the United States, Zheng Chongbin stopped ink painting and embraced conceptual art, performance art, installation, sculpture and drawing at the San Francisco Art Institute. He was exposed to Californian sunshine and also influenced by the Californian Light and Space movement artists including James Turrell (b.1943), Robert Irwin (b.1928) and Doug Wheeler (b.1939)… And influenced by their focus on perceptual phenomena including light, volume and scale and use of transparent, translucent or reflective material to heighten the viewer’s sensory and experience of light. Explaining for Zheng Chongbin’s art practice that spans a broad range from Chinese ink painting to conceptual installations, and from tradition to the contemporary.


Zheng Chongbin made a conscious decision to go back to Painting as he finds potential in both the similarities and differences in the perceptual systems of art in the transcontinental claim. Similarities in Malevich’s paintings which broke free from the painting canon “walked out and changed the space and perception”; and early Qing dynasty Chinese landscape painter and poet, Shi Tao (1642-1707)’s small album leaves with the line that enter or leave the frame freely hinting at structure extends beyond the painting frame. What Zheng is inspired by the artists from both East and West is “visual perspective, not making art but discovering art”. Not from a technical perspective but more from the universal question about painting. It was a natural decision for Zheng to return to Chinese Ink Painting and the special material ink he is familiar with. Ink has the properties of being translucent, transparent or reflective depending on its state. Wet ink can have various level of tonal translucency depending on the amount water it is mixed with. On the other hand, harden dry ink has an iridescent quality with the alternating matt and shiny areas – and under light may look brownish. When ink is combined with the opacity of white acrylic, the interphase and play of resistance between the two mediums create numerous possibilities held together by xuan paper. Zheng is attracted by the physicality of ink as material with the associated opacity, tactility and volume as compared with the transparency and porosity that are usually associated with ink – and finds in Chinese ink a potential for the medium as the subject. Zheng Chongbin’s unique hybrid visual language is a result of his personal experiences and diaspora position of negotiating “in-between” the physicality of light he is exposed to in California and understanding of his own ink medium conditioned by its cultural duality situated between two continents.


Selected Collections: British Museum, Britain; San Francisco Asian Art Museum, America; Daimler Art Collection, Germany; Marina Bay Sands, Singapore


Distanced Light

Filtered Light





Back Light

Leaning Field

Dissolved Geometry A

Dissolved Geometry B

Dissolved Geometry C

Dissolved Geometry D

Three Definitions of Atmosphere

Three Planes

Three Colum

Variations No.2

The Diagonal of Me

Five Definitions

Slanted Light

Lighted and Slanted Surface

Slanted Line

Slanted Form

Slanted Regutanglar

Extended Space





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