Cecile Chong’s Lush Paintings Fuse Children’s Books with Her Chinese and Ecuadorian Heritage

Ayanna Dozier
May 4, 2022 7:05PM

Cecile Chong’s lush, layered paintings are filled with elemental and cultural eruptions. The artist builds up thick layers with beeswax and volcanic ash from Ecuador to create paintings that have a sculptural feel and evoke traditional Chinese blue-and-white pottery. Chong’s works are informed by her lived experiences: She was born and raised in Ecuador to Chinese parents and is now based in Brooklyn, New York. As a result, her paintings encapsulate aesthetics and natural materials from China, Ecuador, and the United States, while unfurling cultural histories of exchange and division.

Chong’s current solo exhibition “Lore,” at Kates-Ferri Projects in New York through May 7th, features new paintings and sculptures that draw inspiration from the characters found in vintage children’s books from China and the Americas. Chong harnesses the visual language of children’s books, including characters, scenes, and narrative arcs, to reflect on and reinvent her own sense of self.


“In my work, I use the figures of vintage children’s books to recreate my own East-West narratives as a way of storytelling,” Chong wrote to Artsy via email. “Each figure becomes a placeholder for the viewer and a window into the landscape. People find it interesting that most often I identify myself with the western child learning about my ancestors’ culture.”

Chong’s deeply layered personal history is mirrored in her elaborate process of encaustic painting. Each piece involves 25 to 30 layers of heated beeswax, resin, pigment, and natural materials, such as volcanic ash or seeds from the Amazon like huayruro and pambil. “I get attracted to and collect many different materials,” Chong explained. “Sometimes they sit in my studio for weeks or months and sometimes even years before I find ways to use them in my work.”

The artist fuses these layers and materials together to create a pigmented swirl of rich blues, greens, and whites, as seen in works like Parenting Tips (In Blue) and Para Ti, For You (both 2021). Child figures that evoke both Chinese and Euro-American imagery are literally threaded on top of the densely layered canvas. And unlike the books that Chong cites, the paintings themselves are incomplete narratives, which also speak to her experiences of fusing fragmented cultures together. “I grew up learning and forgetting languages (Spanish, Cantonese, Hakka, and English),” she wrote, “so picture books and especially picture dictionaries were very important to me. I could interpret meaning through immediate visual clues.”

For Chong, children’s imagery has become a means through which to bring her varied cultural practices together. The paintings in “Lore” share that potential of togetherness, the universality of child’s play that reminds us of the incredible power of imagination.

Ayanna Dozier
Ayanna Dozier is Artsy’s Staff Writer.