Gordon Cheung News Works Biog Archive Contact
  About the work by Charlie G Hare


Enter the Matrix

Welcome to collapsing buildings, graffiti covered ruins and neon palm trees in overgrown phosphorescent pools that occupy Gordon Cheung’s epic landscapes devoid of humans wrenched open with chasms and craters. Cheung’s complex material combinations and images resonate with universal themes and archetypes of Paradise, Earth and the Underworld. In Skyscraper, a distorting Modernist building echoes the 911 tragedy and also the Tower of Babel Myth. In War of Reason, a monstrous tree and the mountain shadows combine to form a mushroom cloud in a post-apocalyptic world or a UFO with a laser blast. Cheung’s monochromatic sepia images evoke a nostalgic sentiment but he aggressively blasts this comfort zone with luminous voids of spray paint as if scorching open a virtual dimension.

Gordon Cheung with Technophobia in background / Photo by Rui Matsunaga

The paintings tap into the collective archetypes of the unconscious where ancient mythological vistas merge with the contemporary technological world. They intentionally blur the lines of fiction and reality so that in this liminal space we question our habitual perceptions of reality. Think Matrix – the entire world as a computer construct – crossed with David Lynch’s dream spaces, the multiplicating realities in the sci-fi novels of Philp K. Dick and the urban surreal dystopias of J.G. Ballard’s fictions, and you have the cultural background of Cheung’s paintings.

Cheung’s parents came from Hong Kong to London in the late 60s to make a new life in a Brixton squat. He is a 1975 British Born Chinese (BBC), and “his energetic, witty work is a classic product of an urban 70s and 80s childhood, caught between the fast street-cred and blaze of cheap materialism outside and the inner world of computer games in which his generation was the first to grow up." (‘Market Gains’, Jackie Wullschlager, Financial Times magazine, Oct 16 2004). He says that he feels he is rooted in both cultures but neither as well....”I never took anything for granted." It is this sense of in-between-ness that became one of the main undercurrents of his work. Between 1994-98 he was a Central Saint Martins art student and the first thing he did was to set himself a challenge of painting without paint to question the nature of the medium itself. Initially it led him to substitute paint for collage, seeing this as a way of side-stepping the Modernist notion that painting should only be about itself but still work within its linguistic framework and expand it. It was in the process of cutting, tearing and gluing down fragments from the everyday that he realised he wanted his work to literally reflect current events. Cyberspace and the information Superhighway were terms that were just making its way into the mainstream. The digital frontier and global villages were the latest utopic proclamations to be used where notions of borders and boundaries were blurring under Globalisation. The feeling of in-between-ness was a sensation that Cheung felt was literally around the whole world and he felt compelled to find a way to mirror it through his work.

By the time he graduated from the Royal College of Art (1999-2001) his choice of collage was distilled to the stock listings of the Financial Times which for him was a direct metaphor for our contemporary landscape. He chose it for its density of information, global reach and because in a sense it is a dreamworld where investors chase after promises of instant wealth; a virtual reality where shifting numbers affect all our lives.

Supernatural Detail gordon Cheung

Supernatural (detail)

City Limits 2004 Gordon Cheung

His paintings are also a complex mix of collage, ink, pastels, print, oil, gloss and spray paint. Sepia images seem to float in an indeterminate background of stock listings punctuated by luminous voids of colour and drenched in dense black ink. Visually pleasurable like a hypnotic mandelbrot pattern, they assertively shift your perceptions between illusion to reality. The cohesive image dissipating into the abstract lists of the Financial Times as you move closer to investigate the hallucinatory surface; the whole landscape literally cascading with numbers. We are presented with a feeling that the colour has drained into the pools or that the whole image is waiting to be computer rendered with smooth surfaces. He intentionally fractures the pictorial elements, so that the blurred boundaries and borders between them become perceptive spaces where we can dwell and raise deconstructive questions about contemporary landscape.

City Limits 2004 enlarge / detail

He is interested in the notion of datascapes that saturate our environment; as we become more dependently hardwired with technologies to maintain our modern life-styles we in turn electronically merge into a virtual environment. Think beyond the materiality of our technologies to the ethereal mobile phone signals, radio waves and the zeroes and ones permeating our physical world, forming a landscape of information where streams of data allow us to traverse and access virtual dimensions.

The communications and digital revolution have collapsed notions of time and distance into the instant, altering our existence and reconfiguring our perceptions of time and space into a state of constant flux.

Brueghel's Highway 2004 enlarge / detail

"Essentially the paintings can be understood as hyper-paint-by-numbers depicting virtual landscapes oscillating between utopia and dystopia", Cheung says. "They reveal the fractures in the glossy surfaces of modern life so that we might slip beyond to the emergent patterns and underbelly of what shapes our world. They reflect the techno-sublime where information overwhelms the individual causing a flickering perception of realities blurring between the virtual and actual.” In Cheung’s mesmerising, phantasmogoric view of the world, he presents to us the great chasms between virtual and actual realities fused as a brave new world of technology and myth. Cheung challenges himself to explore routes for painting to extend and expand the ‘inbetween’ so that in his own words we can ‘lay down our historical dead at the funeral of painting and move towards the future’.

Text (abridged) by,
Charlie G Hare 2005

War of Reason (detail) - Gordon Cheung

War of Reason (Detail) enlarge

Gordon Cheung Studio View
Gordon Cheung studio view with War of Reason in background
2005 © Gordon Cheung. All rights reserved. International copyright laws apply to all content.