spring 2003
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 Pixel Paintings - Non-Digital Art
Zhong Chen

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Zhong Chen's Pixel Paintings
by Chad Chatterton, 2001

Many people asked to write about painting in the digital age are content to admit that for some, the computer is a tool, an endlessly revisable sketchpad that the artist uses before he commits to canvas. It then follows that painting creates a stillness of time outside of the endless flow of images into which we are submerged daily by a chain of screens permeating our every place. The painting reinforces the viewer as a body in space, representing a fixed position from which we can develop our subjectivity. In light of the promiscuity of much contemporary media, painting represents a kind of Monogamy.(1)

As paintings, Zhong's pictures successfully seduce us into believing in these digital allusions, while using a medium that gives the corporeal greater authenticity. In so doing he reveals the present contradictions and convolutions in our experience of imagery and place.

Location is elusive where digital place is concerned, and this has particular significance in the context of Zhong's continued exploration of being in another place. In the Stupid Laughing series Zhong's classic rendition of the Australian landscape was used for its very specificity, but also functioned as a kind of backdrop, and interstitial space for instances of himself and friends. By now allowing the computer in his practice to get closer to the painting9s execution (and thereby closer to the viewer), by pixelating the figures and the landscape, and through referencing gaming, Zhong is tapping into a very important phenomena. The combined heightened resolution and (Trans-continental) multiplayer possibilities in computer games are presently allowing more people to associate with these spaces as places. (2)

In his Shaolin Spin Kick Combo series, Zhong references the Platform Fighter; a game genre built on the martial arts fighting styles popularized by Chinese figures like Bruce Lee. The platform fighter marries the elegance, control and precision associated with Eastern fighting traditions with the similarly precise nature of the computer's logical executions. These games hold timing in high esteem, capitalizing on the rhythm of block and counter attack and a hierarchical system of moves. They also have an important history within gaming having functioned as the platform where increasingly spatial representations of the human form have been developed. "Virtua Fighter" was a landmark attempt at giving polygonal form to the avatar and as Takashi Murakami comments, "we Japanese felt that we had finally entered actual space within the computer".(3)

In the Platform Fighter the surrounding environment becomes a backdrop; images of places are pared down to their generic forms, enabling us to focus on the figure's form and actions. We might find ourselves in 'India' with some suitably adorned Elephants as part of the scene, or in downtown 'America' with all the cinema of the back alley. But they are static environments disengaged from the body, and not meant for exploration. Unlike most other games, rather than explore a place you explore a body.

It is in this genre of game especially then, that Zhong's insertion of 'place' is notable. The New Year woodblock prints from the Ching Dynasty, that have for centuries shared an idea of nature and its relationship to Chinese culture, shine brightly upon the players, granting them a kind of classical majesty akin to mythology. From here Zhong steps back, taking in a broader scene by shifting the camera's focus. Our gaze passes over the drama of the figures in the foreground and travels into the serene landscape beyond. We are above all in a landscape. Or are we?

By representing that paradox of digital imagery whereby the closer you get, the less you see, Zhong's pictures announce a formal interest in information. The Size and function of the pixels he uses are carefully determined relative to the canvas size and relative to the viewer's body. The complex scale of the pictures operates carefully on our position in space, pushing us a certain distance away from the image surface, while creating a tension in our desires for the image. Zhong uses pixelation to control the flow of information, and we find his impressionism leaves us desiring more.

"China wants to be Global". In Zhong's eyes the digital offers a global platform of less conflict. When positioned in Hong Kong he explains, the digital age has a Western face with a neon glow. But this is not so clear perhaps to the Westerner. Zhong's pictures continue to view traditional Chinese beauty through a Western lens. In many ways, these paintings, which refrain from giving us too much, lead back to the screen, as if that's where you have to go if you want to find out more.

(1.) For me, Zhong's paintings' perform a similar operation to Adam Phillips' aphorisms in Monogamy: "Outwitting time and change he builds a monument of continuty among the promiscuous ruins. Valuing a relationship because it lasts, as if time proves something", Faber and Faber, London 1996, p.18.

(2) As Julian Oliver succinctly explains in Polygon Destinies: The Reproduction of Place in the Computer Role Playing Game, "Where our shared generation of experiential knowledge produces 'place"'.

(3) Murakami, Takashi: Super Flat, p.123. Madra Publishing, Japan 2000.


Zhong Chen

Born in 1969 in Zhongshan, China and arrived in Australia in 1989.
1998 Master of Arts, Chelsea College of Art, London.
1996 Bachelor of Visual Arts (Honours), University of South Australia.

Solo Exhibitions - Selected

2001 Romeo and Juliet - Eva Breuer Art Dealer, Sydney. Juliet, Juliet - Adelaide Central Gallery, Adelaide.
Shaolin Spin Kick Combo - Studio 12-200 Gertrude Street, Melbourne.
2000 Bird and Flower Portraiture - Span Galleries, Melbourne.
1999,1997 Recent Paintings - Adelaide Central Gallery, Adelaide.
1994 Second Journey - Nexus Gallery, Adelaide.

Group Exhibitions - Selected 2001

Roche Contemporary Art Prize, PCL Exhibitionists Gallery, Sydney, The Linden Post Card Sh~v, Linden Arts Centre, St Kilda; Mediations, The Mass Gallery, Melbourne.
2000 Melbourne Art Fair 2()00, Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne; Chemistry: South Australian Art 1990-2000: The Faulding Exhibition, Art Gallery of South Australia; Geelong Contemporary Art Prize, Geelong Art Gallery; Conrad Jupiters 2000 Art Prize, Gold Coast.
1998 The Pump House Gallery, London; Masters Exhibition, Chelsea School of Art, London.
1997 28th Alice Springs Prize, Northern Territory.
1995 Sir Robert Helpmann Academy Exhibition, Adelaide and Indonesia.

Awards - Selected 2001

Australia Council Greene Street, New York Studio Residency.
2000 The Ian Potter Cultural Trust Grant; Conrad Jupiters 2000 Art Prize, Acquisition, Gold Coast City Art Gallery; 200 Gertrude Street Studio Residency.
1999 Premier's Award, Emerging Artist of the Year - ARTSA.
1997 Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarship.
1996 Major Prize Winner, Emerging Visual Art Exhibition, Adelaide - Tour to Paris.

Collections Art Gallery of South Australia
Gold Coast City Art Gallery
Western Mining, Australia
Artbank, Sydney
F.H. Faulding, Adelaide
Private Collections in Hong Kong, Japan, China and Australia


Credits: Curated by Geno Rodriguez