Moment 2201 Mixed Media on Cotton
Storing Seeds 2211 (2022) Oil on linen 356mm x 305mm
Storing Seeds 2210 (2022) Oil on linen 356mm x 305mm
Cause And Effect 2201 (2022) Oil and incense ash on linen 20" x 16"
Cause And Effect 2301 (2023) Oil and incense ash on linen 20" x 16"
In a room filled with Cindy Leong’s oil paintings and paper scroll burnt with incense, the impression created is one of warmth, quiet absorption and the passage of time. Leong describes the rationale behind her selection of works as those created in a particular vein: pieces which allow a slow release as viewers spend more time with each fragment of the whole, like “a sigh of relief”. A respite from the intensity and flux of the world outside, each dab of oil paint builds organic lines that support one another within the linear confines of the surface. Like a durational performance recorded through the index of each mark, or more aptly, a mind absorbed in the disciplined practice of object-oriented meditation.
Describing her processes of repetitive mark-making and periodic burning–seemingly painstaking practices–Leong explains how this method enforces complete presence and stillness. Only a mind emptied of the day’s concerns and distractions can avoid holding the incense to the paper for a moment too long, at risk of breaking the regular intervals between each negative space carved out with smoke. Each trace made by Leong’s hand cannot be erased; lapses in attention and irregularities instil acceptance in the artist. In this sense both painting and burning are here a means to the same end, interrelated opposites informed by Buddhist and Taoist dualisms. Painting accumulates while burning subtracts by dissipating matter into space, two ends of a continuum of birth and death.
Each linen canvas vibrates with the time and consciousness that is transferred from the artist to the grain of the textile–stored seeds which unfurl as the viewer’s eyes follow each adjoining line. As variations on a theme, the painted Storing Seeds series have a shifting ground owing to the layers of textured oil tones, each light brushstroke shadowed by a darker counterpart. On close inspection, the variation and interdependency of individual marks become apparent. Take a step back and the borders of brushstrokes dissolve into atmospheric patterns and movement, another step and the paintings are all-encompassing and opaque. This visual complexity is counterbalanced by pieces containing a single colour against a flat background. The density of each monochrome brushstroke fading in and out creates the illusion of depth and shadow, emphasised when light interacts with their three-dimensional surface. Resemblances–billowing smoke, cascades of water–emerge from an accumulation of matter.
The monochromatic Cause and Effect paintings are a pure study of materiality. Their curious texture is formed by combining the sheen and lustre of oil paint with remnants of incense ash from the rice paper scroll. At once they resemble the dry and cracked bark of a tree and half-wet cement, a paradox of associations. The final layer of these works must be undertaken in one sitting due to their all over nature–Leong intuits when each painting is finished.
Leong’s commitment to consistency, meditative repetition, and constraint can be traced back through an artistic lineage to Dansaekhwa painting and post-minimalism art making, citing the likes of Lee Ufan, Ha Chong Hyun, Chung Chang-Sup and Agnes Martin as artists whose processes align with her practice. These are highly introspective works that place process over artistic outcome, while they also put forward a model for a way of being and interacting with the physical; a subtle nod to the cause and effect that our thoughts and actions have on the material world.
- Nina Dyer