Can you tell us about yourself, your background and the background of your arts practice?
Yeah, I am from Malaysia of Chinese descent. My grandparents on both sides of the family came to Malaysia in the early 20th century, right when China was entering a very tumultuous time. I was raised in a mixed heritage of Chinese cultural traditions and western media, being able to identify with a great majority of pop cultural references of Americans my age.
Being from a Chinese family, I was expected to enter into the parent-approved professions: doctor, engineer, accountant, lawyer. I rebelled against this for years till my parents finally capitulated and let me study art in college. ( I am starting to think that a desire to be a contrarian played just as big a role as my natural interests in pursuing a life centered around the arts).
And so through cultural and familial objections, through the wayward interests of youth and an unfortunate foray into architectural school, through divorce and unemployment, leading to self-employment and single-parenthood, my artistic practice has ebbed and flowed.
Trying to juggle running a business and nurturing my daughter means I had to pare down a lot of distractions and “like-to-dos” in life, but I have found that I flourish most when I am immersed in a creative art practice. This tells me that my artistic practice is fundamental to my sense of being. It is a necessity by which I can feel most in contact with the material and spiritual realities, and by which I feel that I am contributing to this thing we call existence.
What are some of the consistent themes and concepts in your work?
I have always ( as clearly as I can recall beginning at about age 5) had a fascination with the archetypal themes of order and chaos, of death and the struggle against it, of the sublime (the way Emmanuel Kant would define it), and how many traditional and ancient cultures have tried to visually portray such themes through abstraction and geometry. I am exploring that visual practice in my art.
What or who influences your work? What are you reading, listening to, or observing outside of your art practice?
I have been very affected by the works of artists like Francis Bacon, Clyfford Still, Fra Angelico, Bellini, and Velasquez.
I used to read The Divine Comedy and Milton’s Paradise Lost in my earlier years. I could barely understand it intellectually, but I was drawn to the imagery and more so the themes of chaos and order that form the foundational concepts of the works. Nowadays I listen to Jordan Peterson’s lectures. The life philosophies of David Goggins and Jocko Willink have been central to my picking myself up after the wreck of divorce and unemployment. Their credos of self-discipline and iron-willed determination now form the bedrock on which I strive to build a somewhat profitable life daily.
What are your plans for this Residency? What medium or mediums do you plan to work in while Upstairs at Modern West, and what subject matter do you plan on exploring?
I plan to make between 5-10 paintings during this residency. I have a lot of new ideas for paintings that could be a slight departure from what I have usually done. I will still paint with oils, and incorporate a little mixed media in a few pieces that warrant it. Still planning on exploring the themes of chaos and order. I have found some very nice paints from Stuart Semple that could help me expand my visual language in these explorations. I am thinking of a multi-panelled piece, but it depends on time and space constraints.
What are your goals for after this residency and how will this opportunity support you in achieving them?
This residency will provide a very nice spur for me to bring some new ideas into fruition. The new studio space will definitely affect the art, and being able to work in SLC will be wonderful. It's not New York, but it's not Springville either. I have high expectations that this residency will change my self-perception as an artist. Being able to paint in an established gallery like Modern West, being able to talk with the staff, critiques, and the show after will definitely raise the expectations I have for myself. I have always maintained that I will be a full-time artist in the future. This residency is a pretty big step towards that direction.
View our Artist Interview with Kheng in the Studio at Modern West