18 November – 14 January, 2023
WADDINGTON CUSTOT GALLERY, LONDON
“Theatre is all about the moment. Every performance is different. It's the same with painting, a painting can take you anywhere and as an artist, you don’t try to control it. Even with an artist like Mondrian, inside his world of control there’s so much spontaneity.”
This November, Waddington Custot presents the first UK solo exhibition in nearly 60 years by Michael Chow (b.1939, Shanghai, China), also known by his signature name ‘M’.
Six large scale paintings are presented alongside a number of “One Breath” works on paper. M’s process is highly performative and unique, adding layer upon layer of paint and other matter onto the surface plane to create works that are both painterly and sculptural. M creates the three-dimensional forms first by pouring household paint, which form giant sheets of colour. He then sculpts the paint sheets onto the canvas, a technique he started over 60 years ago.
M incorporates a multitude of found materials into his work – including leaves, eggs, footballs, sterling silver and gold leaf. Painted plastic sheets are stretched onto the canvas and burnt into the surface with a blow torch used like a brush. In a single explosive gesture, M hammers a large wooden mallet down onto deep pools of acrylic paint and whole eggs, splashing them across the canvas. The collaging of these multiple materials and techniques is a natural choice for M. “In collaging, you can put things together that shouldn’t be together, and that’s my life.”
M first trained as a painter at St Martin’s School of Art and worked as an artist for the first decade of his career, between 1956 and 1968. Exhibitions include RBA Young Contemporaries (1957 and 1958), Redfern Gallery (1958) and the Institute of Contemporary Arts (1964). A work from his Redfern show was bought by MoMA and his work was well received by his peers including Peter Blake and Richard Lin. From 1968 M channelled his creativity into a group of highly successful restaurants in London and the USA, transforming the experience of dining into a nightly theatrical performance. Such drama and spontaneity are key elements throughout M’s practice, something he owes to his father, the grandmaster of Beijing Opera and national treasure, Zhou Xinfang (周信芳).
M’s professional return to painting came in 2011, when Jeffrey Deitch, then Director of MOCA, Los Angeles, discovered his work and encouraged him to pursue it as an artist once more. Jeffrey Deitch said: “I knew that he came from an artistic background, but I didn’t know that he was a very serious painter. There is this energy and drive of a young artist, but also this wisdom and experience of a mature man.”
Since then M has had major institutional exhibitions at UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing (2015); Power Station of Art, Shanghai (2015); and The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh (2016), as well gallery shows at Pearl Lam gallery, Hong Kong (2014); Vito Schnabel Gallery, New York (2014); and Sotheby’s, Dubai (2022).
Tim Marlow, Director of the Design Museum and formerly Artistic Director of the Royal Academy of Arts has written the catalogue text for the exhibition. He says: “Talking to M is like jumping into the Hadron Collider. Ideas are bounced in multiple directions, going everywhere all the time. But there’s always a feeling of us going somewhere. And I find that both a challenge and quite inspiring.”