PaperCity Magazine

September 2016 - Houston

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The pool house/screening room has metamorphosed into Chow's studio. Michael Chow at home with a canvas from his series that addresses the pollution of the oceans. delighting in collaborating with our photo team. When it is time for our conversation to begin, we head to the dining room where a palette of cool neutrals is interrupted by slashes of color from a Julian Schnabel painting. Facing the Schnabel, Chow occupies the head of the long table, and we plunge into the interview when he says, "We've better start because of the invasion of other people," as a half-dozen office staff arrive. Let's go back to the beginning of your new chapter: How you returned to painting. I painted for 10 years, about 60 years ago. I'm old, but don't look old. I don't know if that is good or bad. I started painting when I was 18 or 19 and had reasonable success. I have always been involved with the creative process. Even the restaurant is part of the theater. This recent return to art was encouraged by Julian Schnabel, my good friend. But also by Jeffrey Deitch. He saw one of my early works; he knew my creative process through the restaurant, and architecture, so he took me very seriously as an artist. He was very encouraging. So that was the beginning. Fate, I think, had a hand. Artistic breakthrough. I discovered a new material — silver, made into sheets — so that was my breakthrough. I did a huge painting with the silver. Ten feet by 8 feet. I did it on the floor. I've done hundreds since then. I said, "Wait a minute. I can do this shit." So I got the important people to see it. They all responded. So I painted, from that moment on. On your painting ingredients. I created a lot of vocabulary, and some other things came to me very easily, by fate. The silver sheets are very difficult to make. I got very lucky and found a jeweler to make them. No one else can make them except him. They are solid silver. I marinated. I sculpted with it. It is a fantastic material. It gives light. And I also created paint sheets, which are very unique. By accident I discovered them. What inspires your canvases, and the biography few know. All my experience in my past. What I learned in my youth. It's very complicated. My story is my father … He is like Shakespeare in China. There's a tragedy story right there. I left China when very young. Twelve years old. Lost everything. Culture, smell, rice, the human being next to me. No relations. Nothing I can grasp on. I should have died, but I didn't. I came through that, through that acute, frightening suffering. So here I am. So optimistic and appear to be very ha-ha-ha. I have this internal desire, this need to paint. That is inside me. Your father and your film script. My father is very famous, a big deal. Household name. Cultural Revolution, great tragedy. I did a movie script, which I was going to direct. A bio epic of the 20th century. My father's life touches upon every important political event in in China. I never saw him after I was sent away from China — ever. Never wrote to him, never talked to him again. Nothing, from 12 years old on. Then he tragically died in the Cultural Revolution. My mother was beaten to death. There's a lot of tragedy. And a lot of disconnect between me and the West. Here, people don't know who my father is. People don't know anything about me. Even the restaurant is designed as theater to make Westerners respect the Chinese people, the Chinese culture. That's what I do. And I'm very lucky in my third act, that I can paint, and that I have the luxury to do that. You and art history. The breakthrough painting was about four years ago. Like Barnett Newman's zip or maybe Jeff Koons' rabbit. Mine came very quickly. I believe in destiny and fate. It's a romantic idea, I know. I do an old-fashioned kind of painting, although in the modern vocabulary — like caveman painting. Goya, Turner, the expressionists are inspirations. But my work is always very much influenced by the period when I first painted; the late '50s and early '60s. At that time all the expressionists are in Europe. Fontana, Tàpies, I came from that school. So when I got frozen for 50 years and woke up, I adopted post-Pollock. Abstract expressionism cannot be ignored in the media of the 20th century, if you are that kind of painter. 102

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