Galerie du Monde is pleased to present “Cheung Yee – The Early Years”, a solo exhibition of pioneering sculptor Cheung Yee, featuring his most iconic paper castings, bronze relief, wood, stone and bronze sculptures made from the 1960s to the 1990s. As one of the founding members of the Circle Art Group and one of the first generation sculptors from Hong Kong, Cheung possesses a strong personal style with a unique vocabulary, employing the framework of Modern Western art to contain traditional Chinese aesthetics and ancient cultural elements. Featuring over 20 works, the exhibition covers the first four decades of Cheung’s artistic career, from the experimentation with materials and modelling, to creating his iconic crab sculptures, ultimately providing a comprehensive understanding of Cheung Yee’s art.
“Art should not be confined to a visual language. When you close your eyes, you should still be able to touch and feel it, that is the ideal form of art.” says Cheung Yee. With this belief, Cheung was compelled to create a series of works with strong visual tension and texture. The artist has a strong command of creativity with ability to master different materials.
Primitive art is an expression of man’s reaction in response to the forces of nature. Cheung believes that artistic expression itself is an impulsive act. He finds a parallel between the creative urge and the essence of primitive art. In the 1960s, Cheung produced large numbers of wood carvings conveying the concept of primitive art. Through creating images of snakes, birds and totems and inscribing oracle scripts, Cheung’s works are filled with references to Chinese heritage. Cheung also adopted modern means of expression on his metal reliefs by juxtaposing heavily folded metal sheets with stretches of smooth surfaces, thereby resulting in contrast and variety in grain, texture and shade which express concepts of Chinese painting. In 1963, Cheung co-founded Hong Kong’s avant-garde Circle Art Group with fellow artists such as Van Lau and Hon Chi Fun. Their abstract art practices were described as “entrenched within a Chinese tradition”, whilst “fighting internal battles” between East and West, which inspired unexpected forms and new concepts. In 1964, Cheung held his first solo exhibition at the City Museum and Art Gallery at Hong Kong City Hall, and received a grant from the Institute of International Education to study abroad in the United States and Europe in the following year.
In the 1970s, Cheung Yee turned to stone carving, adopting tortoise shell and human figure as his two main subjects. Cheung uses the hardness of stone to capture the enduring and timeless quality of the tortoise shell. In ancient times, the mystery of human reproduction led to the development of phallic cults. Inspired from his research on primitive culture and the Chinese ideology of Yijing (Classic of Changes), Cheung’s human body sculptures are seemingly erotic, and through his works Cheung communicates this primitive instinct to the modern man. Furthermore, Cheung’s human body sculptures are created in accordance with the two sexes, Qin (Heaven) and Quan (Earth) from Yijing – the two powers that give birth to everything. Cheung Yee held his first solo exhibition in the Hong Kong Museum of Art in 1978.
The crab form was Cheung Yee’s breakthrough in the 1980s. After five years of experimentation, Cheung completed his first crab bronze sculpture in 1984, titled the “Crab General” series, and it is now part of the permanent collection in the Hong Kong Museum of Art. In discussing the artistic concept of the crab form, Cheung said, “The crab form may not necessarily be a reproduction of a crab. It may be a human form, a deity, a building or even an abstract structure.” The second crab sculpture is now located at the Sculptural Walk in the Kowloon Park, it is 3 meters high with six claws standing on the ground and the chelae pointing up to the sky. The third and fourth crab sculptures will be showcased in Galerie du Monde’s exhibition. “Crab General No.3” is smaller in size, about 2 meters high and the shell stands up with four nipples on it. Although “Crab General No.4” is the smallest crab sculpture in abstract form that Cheung has created, with two chelae, four claws, a pan-like shell and three hooks, this crab shows a strong sense of pride and aggressiveness. This crab has also been featured in Hongkong Post’s 2012 special stamp issue “Hong Kong, China and France – Joint Issue on Art”.
Three dominating themes render Cheung Yee’s works in the 1990s as metaphysical: the form of the Xuanwu (known as the North God, is a combined form of tortoise and snake), compositions deriving from the ancient Hetu (River Chart) and Luoshu (Inscription of the River Luo) magic squares and images deriving from the four spirits and eight trigrams. Through his complex patterns and rich texture, the philosophy of harmony from Yijing is transformed. In 1993, Cheung Yee held his second solo exhibition in the Hong Kong Museum of Art. Cheung’s works form a timeless intersection between Modern art and ancient culture, while also being deeply rooted in the metropolitan culture of Hong Kong. Galerie du Monde’s “Cheung Yee – The Early Years” exhibition is not only a retrospective of the first four decades of the artist’s career, but it also provides a perspective of the culture and life in Hong Kong of that era.