b. 1961 in Shanghai, lives and works in San Francisco and Shanghai
Throughout his career of three decades, Zheng Chongbin (b. 1961, Shanghai) has held the classical Chinese ink tradition and Western pictorial abstraction in productive mutual tension. Systematically exploring and deconstructing their conventions and constituents—figure, texture, space, geometry, gesture, materiality—he has developed a distinctive body of work that makes the vitality of matter directly perceptible. Central to Zheng’s art is the notion of the world as always in flux, consisting of flows of matter and energy that repeatedly cohered and dissipated. Inherent in pre-modern Chinese and especially Daoist thought, this worldview enables contemporary inquiries into complex systems like climate and social behavior, artificial intelligence, and quantum physics. Through the interactions of ink, acrylic, water, and paper, Zheng’s paintings generate and record the processes that underlie the emergence of order (including organic life and human consciousness) and its inevitable dissipation. His paintings thus resemble natural structures ranging from neurons, blood vessels, and tree branches to mountains, rivers, and coastlines, but by instantiating their formation rather than by objective depiction.
Maintaining his commitment to painting, Zheng Chongbin has extended his conceptual explorations into the media of installation and video. His landmark light-and-space installation Wall of Skies (2015) consists of a complex folded structure fully enclosed by a tilted ceiling and slanted walls, creating a delicate interplay of nonparallel lines and planes. Resolving neither into painting, nor sculpture, nor pure light and space, it insists on its material presence even as its objecthood is dissolved in a spatial experience. In his video installations, Zheng represents processes of nature—from molecular and cellular to topographical and climatic—in the scale of human perception through microscopic and macroscopic imagery and accompanying soundscapes, unfolding these processes spatially and temporally.
Zheng Chongbin was educated as a classical Chinese figurative painter at the elite China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, where he taught for four years after graduation in 1984. Acclaimed as one of China’s preeminent young experimental ink painters in the 1980's, he mounted his first solo exhibition at the Shanghai Museum of Art in 1988. In 1989, he received a fellowship from the San Francisco Art Institute to study installation, performance, and conceptual art, receiving his MFA in 1991. A resident of the San Francisco Bay Area for over three decades, Zheng is inspired by the region's distinctive atmospheric and environmental effects and rich ecologies, as well as by the California light and space movement.
In recent years, Zheng Chongbin has been recognized by a growing number international curators and institutions. In 2015, Zero Movement scholar Renate Wiehager exhibited Zheng’s White Reflection (2012) with a work by senior German artist Max Uhlig at Daimler Contemporary in Berlin. Zheng debuted his environmental video installation, Chimeric Landscape (2015), at the European Cultural Centre’s exhibition Personal Structures during the 2015 Venice Biennale. M+, under the direction of Lars Nittve, former founding Director of the Tate Modern, acquired eight works that document the development of Zheng’s practice since the 1980’s. In November 2015, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art began to feature the recently-acquired Turbulence (2013) in a two-artist presentation of Zheng and Roy Lichtenstein. In March 2016, the Metropolitan Museum of Art finalized its acquisition of Unfolding Landscape (2015) and the Brooklyn Museum its acquisition of Skylines (2014), both major abstract paintings by the artist. For Wall of Skies, Zheng was selected one of eleven highlighted artists by curators Raqs Media Collective at the 2016 Shanghai Biennale Why Not Ask Again?
Zheng’s work can be found in the collections, among others, of the British Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the Orange County Museum of Art in California, M+ in Hong Kong, the Daimler Art Collection in Stuttgart, Germany, the DSL Collection in France, and the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. Zheng is the subject of a documentary film, The Enduring Passion of Ink, and an in-depth monograph Zheng Chongbin: Impulse, Matter, Form, edited by Britta Erickson and distributed by D.A.P. in the United States.