When Jeffrey Deitch and Urs Fischer drop into the opening of an artist’s first-ever solo show, you know there’s a story to tell. Such was the case with the hotly anticipated January opening of an exhibition of paintings by Mr. Chow—the founder and owner of the legendary line of self-titled Chinese restaurants around the world—at Hong Kong’s Pearl Lam Galleries, titled “Recipe for a Painter: Mr. Chow aka Zhou Yinghua.” Some 50 years ago, Michael Chow gave up one passion for another, taking a hiatus from art-making to focus on his restaurant chain, the New York location of which would become a hangout for the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Julian Schnabel, both of whom feature in Chow’s personal art collection, along with the influential 20th-century Chinese ink painter Qi Baishi.
In 2011 Chow took up his brushes once more, working under his Chinese name Zhou Yinghua, and found symmetry between his two passions. Describing the process for creating his vibrant mixed-media paintings, many of which have witty titles such as God Bless Christie’s and Diptych is Twice As Good, the artist said, “The idea is to build and build and stop when it reaches a climax. It is like whipping cream, where you need to know when enough is enough. With painting, you can ruin the whole thing by just adding one more thing.” As with cooking, Chow’s sculptural paintings are concoctions of a finely tuned assortment of ingredients, including manipulated metals, bubble wrap, milk, egg yolks, paint, and Ziploc bags full of $2 bills; and much like fusion-style cuisine, his work blends references to his cross-cultural inheritance, comprising a veritable melting pot of Abstract Expressionism, Color Field painting, and traditional Chinese ink painting and calligraphy.
Chow splashes, strokes, and drips paint onto his canvases, sometimes flinging materials at them in a process that recalls Jackson Pollock and the Action Painters. Yet amidst the chaotic lashings of brushstrokes and textured materials, there is also a sense of harmony and balance to his paintings, grounded in Chinese ink painting, and their rectangular format could reference scroll paintings. This mash-up of East and West is rooted in Chow’s biography: born in China, the young Zhou was sent to school in the U.K. by his parents before the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution erupted across the country. His parents would later disappear and Chow never saw his father, the former grand master of the Beijing Opera Zhou Xinfang, again. Now based in Los Angeles with his family and extensive art collection, Chow still feels deeply invested in his Chinese heritage: “I love China. Although it was taken away from me at a very young age, it has remained with me for my entire life,” he has said. “Everything I have done or accomplished has been an attempt to reconnect with my culture.”
“Recipe for a Painter: Mr. Chow aka Zhou Yinghua” is on view at Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong, Jan. 14th–Mar. 8th.