Adam Chang has a way with tone. His practice has evolved through the subtle annunciation of form, found in the variation of a single colour— its depths from light to dark. Thematically, Chang’s subjects are always important. However, they become— in purely aesthetic terms— subordinate to the abstract exercise of finding harmony within the picture plane. Every stroke from his board brush articulates the artist's purpose. He has a stripped-back approach. He eliminates unnecessary distractions and, in doing so, has created a methodology that is precise in its execution.
Over three decades and two homelands, the artist has worked with one singular purpose— to push a difficult methodology to new aesthetic heights. Although living in Australia for twenty years, Chang is intrinsically linked to China— the country of his birth. His paintings unify what the East and West both hold dear— a shared rich cultural history. China is a land abundant in iconography and subliminal meaning, sought in all aspects of life. Luck and good fortune are drawn from numeracy, astrology, and zoolatry. They provide deities and a light path forward for a good life. Revered iconography can come from the most obscure places and acts as a metaphor for a life where anything is possible with hard work and good fortune.
In this exhibition— his first in three years, the artist explores the giant panda, native to the mountain ranges of south-central China. The panda is the best-known animal from this vast country. It’s a revered and protected icon of the natural world. For the Chinese, the panda is a symbol of peace and harmony, whilst possessing a quiet inner strength. This understanding of the elevated order of meaning in his subject is important when investigating Chang’s work. The artist is inviting the viewer to look into the painting— to be lost on the intricacies of his dynamic yet controlled brushwork. As the panda appears through the mist of a monochromatic palette, one is reminded of all that is inherent in the mythology of the animal as a deity, and in doing so, is provided with a portion of the blueprint for a peaceful life.
There is an interesting intersection of man and myth in this exhibition. It’s a central theme in the expansive portrait of China’s leader Xi Jinping. Akin to a billboard in scale and red in colour, there is a Rosenquist epic-ness to the portrait. The juxtaposition of China’s strong man with a benevolent smile—installed next to portraits of the giant bears of Sichuan— creates a dialogue about the nature of, and the desire for, peace, meaning and use of strength in a turbulent contemporary world.
Adam Chang's impressive oeuvre as a portrait painter is world-renowned. Xi Jinping is arguably Adam Chang’s finest portrait. In Australia, his expansive canvases have been included in multiple Archibald prize exhibitions at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (winning the People’s Choice award in 2011). His work is included in the permanent collection of the Australian National Portrait Gallery collection in Canberra.
It’s a truism that art is not only about the image— there are greater forces at play. History, time, place and leading protagonists become set in stone through the creation and curation of cultural history. It was once the state that controlled this idolisation. Chang is creating paintings in a globalised world. They speak of global issues—in doing so, he is making the history painting of our time.