I would like to offer a non-academic appraisal of Chen Zhonghao’s work, focusing on a tangential aspect of the artist himself – that being his musicality -rather than any particular paintings. Please excuse the personal tone of this short essay. I would rather think of it as an investigative documentary whose purpose it is to understand something of Chen Zhonghao’s fascinating (and mysterious) images. In this way, what he chooses to paint might be examined. I can’t offer any definitive examination because . . . who could? But I can say a few things.
I’ve known Zhonghao since 2004 and consider him one of my very best friends. I’ve seen his work develop in theme and content over the years; his prowess as a painter magnify; his approach become more and more focused. But I have not just been a spectator: Zhonghao and I have collaborated on a number of musical projects and I have seen him working first hand in this respect. Strangely, I have never seen him paint. This seems to be a private affair. Outside of the studio though, Zhonghao is in fact an extremely talented musician and composer and I believe his tendencies as a musical architect run in tandem with his painterly ones. And if I might say so, his paintings strike me as wonderfully musical. The interplay of foreground and background, the deliberate tinkering with the ‘space’ of the composition (often playfully skewed), the use of dynamics in the moments of stillness and abrupt crescendos, the inspired non-sequiturs, recognition and ambiguity (the recognizable instruments and the unrecognizable abstractions), moments of tonality over melody and vice versa, classical and punk, folk and experimental electronica, a journey both linear and non-linear. I see these as powerful structural elements in his work, as they are elements of his music.
I offer this as an alternative perspective on his images rather than a left-brained appraisal of art historical context and political statements. Zhonghao and I went through our mid twenties listening to the same music, becoming inspired by similar aesthetic trains of thought, and were on the same wavelength when collaborating with sound. I will say this: over the years Zhonghao tried his hardest to make musical statements that transcended expectations while still remaining listenable. Can you see this in his paintings? When making music Zhonghao would find the most unusual sounds to play in the middle of a song, or talk in an altered voice, play a keyboard in such a way to destroy the song, add impractical layers of polyrhythm, pick a dulcimer in 13/4 and record a bike wheel over it, anything to create a beautiful or intriguing sonic place while adding elements in a surprising or humorous way. Not unexpectedly, his compositions also tended towards complexity. Zhonghao instinctively knew that if done right, the complexity would collapse into a simple space of its own and he (and I) found this meditative in its own right. The complexity would stimulate the listener obliquely, and in the eye of the storm there would be calm. When calm, the ‘picture’ would open up.
Zhonghao would also contrast bright plastic noise-some sounds with plains of roiling digital darkness, and therein would be another structurally interesting juxtaposition. And he was always concerned with the authenticity of the music because it was never enough to be merely conceptual; the music had to be real. I doubt I could tell you what exactly this means, but I see it in his paintings. He is concerned with skill and craft as well as ideas. Screwing up a piece of paper and throwing it on the floor of an art gallery is not art to Zhonghao, or at least, it lacks quality. And you can see the effort and the attention to detail that goes into his work, which can only come from years of dedication to perfecting his techniques. In music, too, he was a perfectionist with his performances. It was never enough to merely edit everything in Pro Tools.
I believe all of these elements are in Zhonghao’s paintings. When I see his latest images I hear the same artist who made such challenging and four-dimensional music in my presence. I hear the same flexible performer who can play guitar, xun, dulcimer, harmonica, didgeridoo, and gu qing, among many other things (I think he could play any instrument if he wanted to). I hear the same artist who would push us both further and was not satisfied with music that didn’t offer something original. So it seems to me that what he chooses to paint, while informed by his philosophy, by his depth of feeling and by experience, is also pure music.
We made music together during the years we both lived in Christchurch, New Zealand. In 2011 we both left and went separate ways and for the first time since we met, we now live in different countries. As our paths diverge I wonder where my good friend’s painterly sensibilities will go. What kind of music will he will make in the years to come? I bet it will be quite unreal in content, but always real in execution.
Independent Critic/Sound Artist
我提供的是一种对他图像的另类的视角而不是偏左脑的艺术历史语境和政治声明的赞扬。钟昊和我在听着同样的音乐中度过了我们“二十年龄段”的中期， 为同样的美学思想而受到灵感启发，我们也同样在音乐创作时心有灵犀。我可以这么说：这些年钟昊尽最大的努力去尝试让音乐在超越期待时又同时保持可听性。你能在他的画面中看到这些吗？在制作音乐中钟昊会找到最不常见的声音并将它们置放在曲目的中间，或者用变声对话，用怪异到能摧毁曲目的键盘弹奏，添加没有实用性的复合节奏层，用13/4的节奏弹一段扬琴并录制自行车轮胎的声音覆盖其上，任何可以创造出美丽的或者有神奇魅力空间的东西同时以令人惊喜的或者幽默的方式加入各种因素。不出乎意料，他的音乐结构也趋向于复杂。钟昊直觉性地发现如果执行的成功，这种复杂将会坍塌裂变为一种属于她自己的空间，他（和我）发现这个过程本身是冥想的。 这种复杂会非直接地激励听众，就像暴风中心的平静。 当平静到来时，“画面”就会打开。