Sarah Sculley | 14 March 2016

ABOUT THE WRITER: Sarah Sculley is an urban artist, designer and red bull addict with a incessant writing habit

International artist, Zhong Chen describes his first solo exhibition in Brisbane at the REDSEA Gallery as fun, Chinese and traditional. With depictions of Batman doing Chinese Kung Fu, what audience wouldn’t be having fun at his self-titled exhibition?

Arriving in Australia at the age of 19, Chen went on to complete a Bachelor of Visual Arts at the University of South Australia before being awarded the prestigious International Samstag Scholarship to complete a Master of Fine Arts from the Chelsea College of Arts in London in 1998. Zhong Chen’s art is constantly evolving but never fails to celebrate his Eastern heritage. Chen talks to MyCityLife about his upcoming show, dealing with pressure and the next Art Series Hotel inspired by his art.

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You currently have a solo show at REDSEA Gallery in Brisbane. What are you most proud of in this body of work?
I have worked with Western expressions and Chinese tradition in a very loose and fun way and managed to marry the two cultures together.

How do you hope your audience will react to your self-titled exhibition?
I hope they have a laugh about it.

Living in Melbourne, how do you keep in touch with your Chinese heritage?
When I first migrated to Australia it was a lot harder. Nowadays it’s getting a little easier because of technology and a large number of Chinese migrants. When I first migrated in the 90s I focused on painting. All my history of work has a Chinese influence, which helps me deal with the fact that I’m far away from China.

You have had a very successful career to date. You have been a finalist for the Archibald Prize, Wynne Prize for landscape and the Doug Moran Portrait Prize. You have exhibited in Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, and New York. And your work is held in private collections in Singapore, Switzerland, Japan, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Paris, London and New York. Do you feel pressure to keep that high level of success?
I felt a lot of pressure in 2006. I do have the pressure with the previous pixilated image style. Over the last two years, I released a lot of that pressure because my new body of work is quite free. I also stopped having too many shows a year. Now I only have one or two shows annually. Last year I didn’t have any shows and it’s given me the freedom to do what I want. So the pressure is off. I create whatever I want. My last body of work is very free. I can paint Batman or whatever I want.

You’ve painted Batman?
Yes, Batman doing Chinese Kung Fu. I found a very fun and free form. I don’t feel the pressure to perform anymore because I’ve been on the scene for 20 years as an active artist. So I’ve learned how to deal with the pressure. I’ve changed my style four or five times and the Australian public, my audience has been accepting of the changes so I feel like I can do anything I want and there’s not much pressure.

What have been your most treasured moments throughout your 20-year career?
When I graduated from the University of South Australia I got a scholarship to do my post grad study overseas. I can still remember the moment. I got a letter and walked around the block about three times, screaming out. I was young and it meant I could continue my learning and practice for one or two more years. I felt release. It’s pretty hard to be a graduate and to enter the art world and it can be pretty confusing. Because of the scholarship, I could continue to focus on my art form. So that feeling I still keep in my mind.

What plans do you have coming up in the future?
I plan to have a solo show in Singapore and I might have a two-person show with a Chinese artist in Melbourne. I also have an Art Series Hotel project I’m working on.

How did that come about?
The curator of the Art Series Hotel asked if I minded if they use my name and artwork as inspiration for the next hotel in Melbourne. I said ‘I would be honored’. It’s been a focus for more than a year and a half. They are still building and I think they have just completed the ground floor and in another year and a half, they will be finished.

Did they commission you to do artworks for the hotel?
Yes. This is why last year I didn’t have a show. I’ve been trying to create about 30 to 40 pieces for the hotel, for the rooms and the lifts. I get to do what I want but the curator selects the artworks that they believe will work.

Does that mean you get free accommodation?
I do! Free lifetime accommodation. Even in the Art Series Hotels they don’t name after me. I checked! Hopefully, when they finish the Brisbane hotel I’ll be able to go up there and check in for free!

I saw they had one in Brisbane opening soon. The Johnson, inspired by Australian contemporary artist Michael Johnson, to be opened in September 2016.

Finally, what advice do you have for young artists following in your footsteps?
I think they just have to believe in themselves and to go for it. When I was young I believed in what I was doing and, in the end, I was rewarded for it. I actually put a young group show together in Melbourne. They were very young, just graduates. They were creating all different sort of things – it was very exciting. But, they just have to believe what they are doing before someone else will believe in them.

Zhong Chen’s self-titled exhibition will be on at the REDSEA Gallery from 8 March to 3 April 2016. More details here.

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