“Painting is not just an interesting exercise. To me, … it’s about humanity, it’s about human stories.”
Born Shantou, Guangdong, 1962. Lives and works in Hobart and Beijing
Chen Ping’s torturous, impasto-caked paintings are inspired by the daily news. He goes through the papers clipping pictures of people—famous or nameless—who are involved in armed conflict, terrorist attacks and natural disasters. These he translates onto canvas in thick oil paint. His vehement trowel strokes generate streaks and splotches that could as easily represent bombed buildings as human beings. Yet they demand attention, if only because of the physical heft of the grubby-looking paint, which seems to accuse the white surface as it reaches into it with long, thin dribbles. The art critic Peter Timms describes the effect as “like having a face suddenly loom up in front of you through the car windscreen on a dark, rainy night.” In works like Dalai LamaMeeting Journalists (2008), only the titles give a clue to the subject’s identity. They prompt us to look at the picture again, almost willing the indecipherable figure to look the way the newspapers have taught us it should. That reflex confronts us with our habitual, very different response to news images of people in strife. While we may feel a momentary twinge, we soon move on, to the next story or the sports page. In reworking news photos into unsettling messes, Chen Ping reminds us how reassuring they usually are.