Meet Michelle

MEET MICHELLE


Meet Michelle Loa Kum Cheung, winner of the the Secret Art Prize 2018, hosted by Curious Duke Gallery on Zealous.

Michelle creates fictional environments exploiting the tactility and raw materiality of wood. Using techniques including pyrography and painting, her art focuses on landscape and displaced heritage, as a response to her own cultural heritage and identity as an Australian with a Chinese Mauritian background.

See Michelle’s work at Moniker Art Fair at The Old Truman Brewery from 4-7 October.

www.michellelkc.com
Follow Michelle on Instagram / Twitter

Hi Michelle. Congratulations on winning the Secret Art Prize 2018! Can you tell us a little bit more about your winning piece, Île? It’s beautiful.

First of all, thank you! I was pretty happy and shocked to be the winner of the Secret Art Prize 2018Île depicts utopia and idealised places, where the mountains and landscape became a form of escapism. It’s also a representation of the interior and exterior, and I am becoming increasingly interested in the use of patterns, particularly domestic patterns found on wallpaper and incorporating them into my art. Île is acrylic and pyrography on wood.

Île, acrylic and pyrography on wood 

As an Australian with a Chinese Mauritian background, the concept of displaced heritage is central in your practice. What inspired you to explore this in your art?

What piques my interest and forms a lot of ideas in my art practice is the angst of not knowing and desire – memories and nostalgia, particularly memories which aren’t my own and fabricated nostalgia for places that I’ve never been. Exploring the concept of displaced heritage was a result of starting to interact more with old family photos, and also one particular experience a few years ago which started it off for me, when I went to Cradle Mountain in Tasmania, Australia. I travelled all the way to see this iconic Australian landmark and when I got there, it was completely covered in fog. I became interested in the idea of being part of an experience but at the same time, not experiencing it at all.

As an Australian with a Chinese Mauritian background, the concept of displaced heritage is central in your practice. What inspired you to explore this in your art?

What piques my interest and forms a lot of ideas in my art practice is the angst of not knowing and desire – memories and nostalgia, particularly memories which aren’t my own and fabricated nostalgia for places that I’ve never been. Exploring the concept of displaced heritage was a result of starting to interact more with old family photos, and also one particular experience a few years ago which started it off for me, when I went to Cradle Mountain in Tasmania, Australia. I travelled all the way to see this iconic Australian landmark and when I got there, it was completely covered in fog. I became interested in the idea of being part of an experience but at the same time, not experiencing it at all.

Crête, acrylic and pyrography on wood

Has your move to the UK had any effect on your desire to explore geographical dislocation?

Definitely moving to the UK has strengthened my interest in geographical dislocation – I believe it drove my practice into looking at Chinese painting styles and depictions of landscape. As I don’t have family in the UK, it could be seen as a way for me to connect more with my family, though I have very little family in China now – most of my family are in Australia. I think I became interested in what I don’t have, where I am not, and places where I have never been – real or imagined. I returned to Australia briefly in 2015 and had a solo show at Studio Oriental in Sydney, which centred entirely around my Chinese Mauritian background. I don’t know if I would’ve engaged with this as strongly if not for moving to the UK.

A Divided Fabrication, oil and pyrography on wood.

Red Peninsula, pyrography and acrylic on wood.

You adopt a variety of techniques in your works, from pyrography to oil and liquid graphite to gold leaf. Can you tell us more about your creative process?

All of those techniques require quite a lot of attention, focus and delicacy, which I love. I love creating works which require a steady hand, technical skill and time – even if it is not the easiest or most time efficient way!

Many people who have seen my works, such as Île, immediately assume that the mountains are laser cut and the patterns are screen printed, but in fact, the pyrography is done by hand, as are the patterns. I transfer the patterns on and paint each one by hand, which means I can control the degree of repetition, leaving spaces and gaps.

Gold leaf is a wonderful enhancer and gives the works depth and a lushness. All of these techniques came into my practice when I changed from painting almost exclusively on canvas to now working almost exclusively on wood. I love the natural patterns of wood and how it feels to apply paint to the surface. Even though my images are sometimes digitally inspired, the hand rendering of it creates a more intimate, tactile relationship between me and the work.

You adopt a variety of techniques in your works, from pyrography to oil and liquid graphite to gold leaf. Can you tell us more about your creative process?

All of those techniques require quite a lot of attention, focus and delicacy, which I love. I love creating works which require a steady hand, technical skill and time – even if it is not the easiest or most time efficient way!

Many people who have seen my works, such as Île, immediately assume that the mountains are laser cut and the patterns are screen printed, but in fact, the pyrography is done by hand, as are the patterns. I transfer the patterns on and paint each one by hand, which means I can control the degree of repetition, leaving spaces and gaps.

Gold leaf is a wonderful enhancer and gives the works depth and a lushness. All of these techniques came into my practice when I changed from painting almost exclusively on canvas to now working almost exclusively on wood. I love the natural patterns of wood and how it feels to apply paint to the surface. Even though my images are sometimes digitally inspired, the hand rendering of it creates a more intimate, tactile relationship between me and the work.

Red Peninsula, pyrography and acrylic on wood.

You highlight your use of Chinese concepts in shan shui painting. Can you explain this?

My understanding of shan shui is that a realistic depiction of the landscape is not so important as how the artist perceives it, emotionally and mentally. Focal points and perspective function differently in traditional Chinese landscape painting than in Western art. Looking into Chinese mythology has also introduced me to Chinese utopia and mythological mountains and landforms which represent an idyllic world, which could exist concurrently to ours but is unmarred by human interaction.

The patterns in your work are very intricate. Where do you get the inspiration for each one – are they evoked from memory or new creations?

When I first started using patterns in my work, I would reference wallpapers and patterns found in old family photos and colonial Mauritian architecture. I’ve also used popularised symbols, both Western and Asian. Now moving forward, I want to try to create my own – the daunting step in my love for intricate painting!

Dragon Houses, oil, pyrography and gold leaf on wood

Crête, acrylic and pyrography on wood

What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?

I’ve actually just started a board at home with all the pieces of advice people have given me, and while I keep collecting them and find each new one the next best piece of advice, three that stick out to me right now are:

What are you waiting for?
You don’t need anyone’s permission to do what you want.
If you make a mistake, no one will notice. No one will even care.

These are three quite forceful and sobering pieces of advice, which can relate to art and life in general. They have been given to me from various people with the intention of challenging me about what it is that’s really important to me and why I’m doing what I’m doing. You must do things for yourself first and foremost because no one else will do it for you.

What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?

I’ve actually just started a board at home with all the pieces of advice people have given me, and while I keep collecting them and find each new one the next best piece of advice, three that stick out to me right now are:

What are you waiting for?
You don’t need anyone’s permission to do what you want.
If you make a mistake, no one will notice. No one will even care.

These are three quite forceful and sobering pieces of advice, which can relate to art and life in general. They have been given to me from various people with the intention of challenging me about what it is that’s really important to me and why I’m doing what I’m doing. You must do things for yourself first and foremost because no one else will do it for you.

Crête, acrylic and pyrography on wood

What do you have planned next?

I am very excited and extremely grateful to start working with Curious Duke Gallery. The Prize is really incredible and includes working with Metro Imaging, art supplies from Jackson’s Art Supplies and showing with Curious Duke Gallery at Moniker Art Fair in London in October. I’ve never exhibited at Moniker Art Fair before so that will be a really great experience. I think at this very moment what excites me most about working with Curious Duke Gallery is being mentored by Eleni Duke. I’ve been finding more and more that conversations and listening to other people’s experiences has been the richest learning tool for me.

Into The Fall, oil, pyrography and liquid leaf on wood

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