Memories, symbols, high concepts, and news items swirl through Klein Sun Gallery’s new show from Chinese painter Zhong Biao, The Other Shore. The eight new paintings mix imagery from a Chicago fashion show, the Great Wall of China, and the ruins of Palmyra, recently ravaged by ISIS. Each scene melts into the canvas like a marshmallow dropped into a mug of piping hot cocoa. Detailed realist forms dissolve at the edges into abstract blotches of paint, as in Biao’s rendering of the White House (entitled House of Cards), or are linked by the trails of formless brushstrokes, like in his dreamy portrait of a schoolgirl reading, Take Off.
The largest painting in the gallery shares a name with the show and spans an entire wall—one gallerist said FedEx described it as “the largest canvas we’ve ever delivered to Chelsea.” It’s fitting, then, that this work is the most jam-packed with seemingly disparate vignettes. Color is sporadic, present in a pagoda-style complex built into a mountain, the nearby image of New York City’s Guggenheim Museum, and the floating woman in between them. There is also color in the aforementioned Palmyran ruins. Devoid of color are the Great Wall of China, two other women, and a casual-looking crowd strolling into the vast white void in the painting’s center. It’s the kind of painting that can eat up hours of associative guesswork about its meaning.
In an essay on Biao’s work, Paul Manfredi of Pacific Lutheran University argues that the artist’s collage-like technique is an effort to visually depict time, while “The Other Shore” is often a colloquialism describing the divide between China and the West. The average Joe or Jane may generally relegate time and space’s vast incomprehensibility to their most impaired moments, but a thoughtful artist grappling with these concepts actually yields useful visual language.
Manfredi, for example, writes, "The abstract strokes are depictions of the forces that pervade our phenomenal world, ever-present and yet not confined to linear sequence of spatial reality... His goal is to use painting to challenge the limits of space and time which frame our experience. Whether or not launching such a challenge fully answers his question as to what he wants to do with his life is an open question.”
So, what separates time from space? Manfredi describes a speech Biao gave in China comparing time to a cake. Says Biao, “[If] we consider time to be a cake, and we cut the cake in two, with the past on one side, and the future on the other, we find ourselves with nothing but a knife and emptiness.”
Zhong Biao, House of Cards, Acrylic on Canvas, 150x120cm, 2016
Zhong Biao, Chinese Dream, Acrylic on Canvas, 150x120cm, 2016
Zhong Biao, Journey to the West, Oil on Canvas, 280x200cm, 2015
Zhong Biao, To Eternity, Oil on Canvas 200x280cm, 2015
The Other Shore will be on display at Klein Sun Gallery through March 19. See more of Zhong Biao’s work on his gallery page.