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Nebulous Skylines and the Question of "Gothic City"

After having studied art in China, the 33-year-old Paul Ching-Bor arrived in 1996 via Australia in New York City, where he initially painted street scenes and steel-framed buildings in romantic moonlight or ominous firelight. He soon found his personal theme, which still captivates him today: the urban scenery of Manhattan with its skyscrapers, street crossings, bridge constructions and harbor facilities between the Hudson and the East River. But his large-format figurative aquarelles steer clear of the documentary objectivity of vedutas and can only seldom be exactly identified, even when precise topographical information accompanies them. The airspace oppresses the city like a pall of smog. It spreads with the grey monotony of diffuse droplets of mist or as a crepuscular twilight, rarely in an ephemeral brightening, and almost always amidst an utterly uninhabited metropolis. An oppressive atmosphere permeates these bleak skies. An almost ghostly dreariness swallows and expunges every noise, every sound and every lively activity in the big city. It seems as though Ching-Bor’s city were burdened by a clandestine threat, a first intimation of decay, a latent pull toward abandonment and dissolution, an apocalyptic overtone.

But these urban landscapes and monumental bridges were obviously erected by engineers and armored with steel. A direct line on the historical horizon can be drawn from Paxton’s “Crystal Palace” to the Eiffel Tower, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan skyline. Manmade urban mountains tower above precipitous street canyons, but the contours are lost in shadowy zones and a grey melting. Steel frameworks repeatedly expand, stretch beyond the format like tentacles that brace, embrace and enclose their interior space. Snared in a confusing perspective of intersections, nodes and transverses, the gaze leads directly into the entrails of the steely strutted construction. The view from below has been left behind and the interior is seen from a considerable height. The lower floors of the stone buildings are cropped so the viewer is abruptly drawn into the picture and immersed in an undefined absorption. Where foreground and background interpenetrate, nearness and distance cancel each other out. Ching-Bor virtuosically plays with captivating presence on the one hand and vanishing architectural fragments on the other. Central perspective and bird’s-eye view interpenetrate, work in opposite directions, and ultimately merge to create an inextricable interweaving of near and far, tangible presence and insubstantial mirage.

If human beings are present at all, they’re consigned to a penumbral existence at the outermost margins. Iridescent as though shredded, their contours flicker like will-o’-the-wisps in jagged white light beset by massive blackness. They turn toward the front to face the viewer: are they lost zombies in a dead city? What had once been secure and coherent now unravels. Even majestic copulas and gigantic steel constructions seem tattered: not because they pale in the glare of impressionistic reflections of sunlight, but because they have become the fodder of a voracious darkness. The masonry leaves it unclear whether bright reflections or blackish splotches are assailing its surfaces. In the most extreme case, even steel beams crumble into fragile gossamers or transition into imaginary lanes of shadow.

Hard cuts and steeply plunging slopes accentuate the dynamism and the drama of skyscrapers and bridges. The lighting design, which juxtaposes nocturnes and bright lights, presents this against a background of theatrical contrasts. The corners and edges of buildings shove the sky forwards even as it simultaneously withdraws into murkiness. Perspectivally dominant intrusions of parts of buildings direct the viewer. Although human beings are seldom visible in these urban spaces, they nonetheless arrive here. The populace is absent but paradoxically present through guided and refracted viewpoints, before the eye is caught by fleetingly shifted lines and all is lost in nebulosity.

Considering the ill-omened void and the vertiginous verticality of these darkened “Cityscapes,” could one justifiably draw a parallel between these and Batman’s “Gothic City,” the American-style megalopolis suffocating in gloomy criminality? Looking farther back in time, could one perhaps recall the “Gothic tales” that firmly established themselves as a permanent literary notion in English Gothic novels since Horace Walpole? Does Ching-Bor’s gloomy urban world evoke an intimation of nightmares which Elmar Zorn, in a wide-ranging article about this artist, summarizes with a reference to Edgar Allan Poe? Peering still more deeply into the past, could one resettle these overcast “Cityscapes” amidst the tensions arising from the Industrial Revolution? After all, skyscrapers and engineers’ buildings number among the late triumphs of the Age of Steel. Unforeseen consequences followed Edmund Burke’s introduction of the notion of the sublime into aesthetics in 1754. At risk of oversimplification, this idea also stands for experiences with the emergent heavy industry upon which modern metropolises are largely based. A traveler wrote about the valley of Coalbrookdale in the mid 18th century: “Blast furnaces and ironworks belch tumultuous plumes of smoke that make all the buildings horrifically sublime and well matched with the rugged cliffs in the valley.” This reef-like character would later find its way into Ching-Bor’s urban landscapes. Does early industrialized manufacturing cast its twilight into the future and onto this painter’s vision of Manhattan? Francis D. Klingender, the art historian of the great upheaval, phrases it in even more drastic terms: “If the painter John martin painted hell in the image of industry, then contemporary illustrators make views of industry appear like scenes from hell.” Do such ambivalences from the early years of steel continue to exert their effects in an era when steam hammers and smelting factories await the wrecking ball? Or can nothing but exaggeratedly audacious speculations bridge the gap between intimations of hell and Ching-Bor’s miasmic skies?

The shadows and gray zones brighten occasionally. Then copulas, steel struts and skyscrapers have less in common with Piranesi’s “Carceri” and are more akin to the airy New York aquarelles of the American John Marin, not to mention older Chinese ink paintings. Blue streams into the cloudy sky, and the mountain range of the architecture continues in meteorological phenomena: sunbeams and sheaves of light harmonize with the constructed world. The painterly historical background draws a connective thread from William Turner, through James McNeill Whistler, to the spirituality of Mark Rothko. Fluid light glows from the depths, especially where the sun touches the water, e.g. in the series entitled “Your Boat Will Come.” The Hudson appears in the mythic gleam of Wagner’s “Rheingold” and even the harbor basins join in the shimmer. Along with the sun, a breath of utopia penetrates into this nebulous world.

Ching-Bor’s artistic means are glazes of the sort that only watercolor painting can layer onto heavy handmade paper. The high percentage of inks achieves colorless homogeneity with nuanced transitions. Not denying a strong affiliation with contemporary Western art, there can be no doubt that Chinese tradition also inspires the uniquely expressive quality of the airspace, even if this tradition’s Taoist immersion doesn’t resonate here. The aquarelle brush elicits both compact impenetrability and liquid transparency from the flow of watercolors, but this airspace repeatedly exhales an aura of latent eeriness. What Nikolaus Topic-Matutin called “layers and distortions, parings and spraying procedures, washing and wiping processes” merge in a technique that builds resistances and dissolves them. The ambivalence of the “Cityscapes” extends into both the style and the technique.

- Manfred Schneckenburger


Thoughts on the Practice

It intrigues me very much every time when I have the parallel paradoxes in my thought; watercolor painting coming from the conventional stage of being delicate/romantic, then confronting it’s opposite environments today; and human as we are, coming from the nature of being fragile/vulnerable, then crash into each other in this ocean of humans in our time. From the practice of water medium painting, thinking of water this giving element, how it etherealizes into air; synchronizes humanity; and how it carry color pigment, makes it’s remark on the paper… in parallel notion to human lives.

In the body of works which share a common subject – 9/11, the works depict the aftermath of the event, melancholically post to event, not directly of the event. Perhaps the mental states of the aftermath are more relevant, because we cannot change what has happened, but we are still living in the aftermath today/tomorrow.

The practice makes me think of an ancient Chinese phase: “For killing the chicken, never use the knife of killing bulls.” This is about the input, and the capability in solving the matterfrom the input, both in a comparable balance. And in it's sense perhaps refer back to the ethic sense. Watercolor is a kind of light knife for me, like the one for “chicken killing” in the Chinese methodology. If it addresses the issues well, and it is an outstandingsubstantial issue, then it would be “using the chicken’s knife, for the killing of the bulls.” Entirely opposite from the said Chinese phase. In such notion, one has to know the bulls so well, that to be able to execute it properly. In the end, it’s all about competency and capacity in what you are having in hand, according to what you are addressing in thoughts, seemingly an important part of the art making.

- Paul Ching-Bor


Curriculum Vitæ

1963 Born in Guangzhou - Southern China
1987- 1996 Sydney, Australia, lived and worked as professional artist
1996 -2012 Presently living and working in New York and New Jersey

Education
1975-81 Selected to study fine art at the Youth Arts Centre, Guangzhou, China
1984-85 Sculpture Department, Guangzhou Fine Art University, China
1985-87 Fine Art Department, Jing De Zhen Ceramic Institute, China 
1996-02 Painting and Print Making, National Academy of Design, School of Fine Arts, New York
 
Solo Exhibitions
2013 Künstlerhaus Marktoberdorf - Paul Ching-Bor | Dynamik der Stille, Marktoberdorf, Germany
2011,

2010
Schultz Contemporary - Berlin, Paul Ching - Bor Parallel Passage, Berlin, Germany, NEUHAUSER KUNSTMüHLE, NEUHAUSER KUNSTMüHLE -  SOMMERAUSSTELLUNG PAUL CHING - BOR, Salzburg, Austria, ART KARLSRUHE 2011/ONE ARTIST/PAUL CHING - BOR Werke 1992 - 2010, Karlsruhe, Germany
2006 Reeves Contemporary, New York, Chelsea, New York City, Neuhauser Kunstmühle, Sommerausstellung der Neuhauser Kunstmühle: Paul Ching-Bor, Salzburg, Austria 
2005 Spanierman Gallery, LLC, High Anxiety— New York City, New York City
2004 Graydon Gallery, In Transit, Brisbane, Australia
2002 Spanierman Gallery, LLC, Echo in Steel, New York City, Glen Eira City Gallery, The Pilgrimage, Traveling exhibition, Melbourne, Australia, Vista Blue Contemporary Art Gallery, The Pilgrimage, Traveling exhibition, Sydney, Australia, Schloss Neuhaus, Der Neuhauser Herbst, Salzburg, Austria
2000 Mary Place Gallery, Oppressive Glory, Traveling exhibition, Sydney, Australia, Butler Institute of American Art, Oppressive Glory, Traveling exhibition, Youngstown, Ohio, USA
1998 Brighton Horizons Art Gallery, Melbourne, Australia
1997 Brighton Horizons Art Gallery, Melbourne, Australia
1996 Brighton Horizons Art Gallery, Melbourne, Australia
1994 Brighton Horizons Art Gallery, Melbourne, Australia
1993 Melalecua Gallery, Anglesea, Australia Mary Place Gallery, Sydney, Australia
1992 Brighton Horizon Art Gallery, Melbourne, Australia
1991 Melaleuca Gallery, Anglesea, Australia
1990 Hilton International, Sydney, Australia
 
Awards and Prizes
2013 The 2013 New Jersey State Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship award in the discipline of Painting, by The New Jersey State Council on the Arts
2000 The Allied Artists of America 2000 Gold Medal of Honor Greg G. Thielen Memorial Award
1999 Watercolor USA 1999 Cash Award Prize
1998 The Allied Artists of America 1998 Silver Medal of Honor
1997 The Allied Artists of America 1997 Gold Medal of Honor Newington Award for Best Painting, American Artists Professional League Annual Exhibition
1995 First Prize for drawing by the RAS of New South Wales, Australia
1994 First Prize and Gold Medal by the Rotary Club of Camberwell, Victoria, Australia
1990 First Prize and the Special Prize, Annual Exhibition, RAS of Victoria, Australia First Prize and Highly Commended in the Mercedes Benz Youth Scholarship by the RAS of New South Wales of Australia
1989 Awarded prizes and the Special Prize in the annual exhibition associated with the RAS of Victoria of Australia
 
Grants
2011 Artists in Residence, Kulturzentrum Pasinger Fabrik, Munich, Germany 
2010 Artists in Residence, Neuhauser Kunstmühle, Salzburg, Austria Multipoint International Art Symposium 2010, Nitra, Slovakia
2009 Artists in Residence, Neuhauser Kunstmühle, Salzburg, Austria
2006 Artists in Residence, Neuhauser Kunstmühle, Salzburg, Austria
2003 Artists in Residence, Galerie Schloss Neuhaus, Salzburg, Austria
2001 Artists in Residence, Galerie Schloss Neuhaus, Salzburg, Austria in conjunction with a group exhibition, Salzburg in Neuen Ansichten
1991 Awarded the Overseas Study Travel Grant (Europe) by the Rotary Club of Camberwell, Victoria, Australia, Awarded the Mercedes Benz Youth Scholarship for the study of fine art in New York, by the RAS of New South Wales, Australia
 
Juried Exhibitions
2008 Art On Paper 2008, The Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro, North Carolina
2005 Allentown Art Museum 29th Juried Show, Myth, Magic, and Meaning, Allentown, Pennsylvania
2003 67th National Annual midyear Exhibition, Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio
2002 Allentown Art Museum 28th Juried Show, Allentown, Pennsylvania
2000 Allentown Art Museum 27th Juried Show, Allentown, Pennsylvania
1999 Watercolor West 31st Annual Juried Exhibition, Riverside Art Museum, Riverside California, 36th Annual Juried Exhibition, Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York
 
Group Exhibitions - selected
2013 FÜNF FÜR BERLIN UFERHALLEN, Berlin, Germany
2012 “KUNSTRÄUME” / "ART SPACES" Einladung in die temporären kulturellen Zonen, Frankfurt, Germany
2010 MULTIPOINT INTERNATIONAL ART SYMPOSIUM 2010 -- PROXIMITY, Gallery UNIVERZUM, University of Constantine the Philosopher, Nitra, Slovakia, GE 4th Annual Asian Pacific Heritage Month Art Exhibition, General Electric Company, Fairfield, Connecticut
2009 “Metropolitan Memories” Hudson County Arts Annual 2009, The Brennan Gallery at Justice William Brennan Court House, Jersey City, New Jersey State Of The Art 2009: National Biennial Watercolor Invitational, 
2008 Sprawl, Jersey City Museum, Jersey City, New Jersey
2004 New York City in Art, Spanierman Gallery, New York
2003 Steindruck 03, Galerie Schloss Neuhaus, Salzburg, Austria, Ching – Bor / Lehmpfuhl Lithographien Aus Der Werkstatt, Galerie Schloss Neuhaus, Salzburg, Austria
2002 Steel City, Sangre De Cristo Arts & Conference Center, Pueblo, Colorado  Allied Artists of America 2002 Annual Exhibition, National Arts Club, New York
2001 Salzburg in Neuen Ansichten, Galerie Schloss Neuhaus, Salzburg, Austria
2000 64th Annual Midyear Exhibition, Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio Watercolor USA 2000, Springfield Art Museum, Missouri
1999 Paper Works 99, Ridgefield Guild of Artists, Connecticut 63rd Annual Midyear Exhibition, Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio Watercolor USA 1999 Exhibition, Springfield Art Museum, Missouri Adirondacks National Exhibition of American Watercolors 18th Annual Exhibition, Arts Guild of Old Forge, New York Rocky Mountain National Watermedia Exhibition 1999, Foothills Art Center, Golden,  Colorado Allied Artists of America 1999 Annual Exhibition, National Arts Club, New York
1998 Allied Artists of America 1998 Annual Exhibition, National Arts Club, New York
1997 Allied Artists of America 1997 Annual Exhibition, National Arts Club, New York  American Artists Professional League Annual Exhibition, NY, New York
1996 The Contemporary Realism Exhibition, Philadelphia, USA Wynne Prize Exhibitions 1996, Art Gallery New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
1995 Wynne Prize Exhibition, Art Gallery New South Wales, Sydney, Australia Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prize Touring Exhibition, regional galleries in N.S.W. and Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
1994 Wynne Prize Exhibition, Art Gallery New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
1989 Sydney Morning Herald Art Prize Exhibition, associated with the City of Sydney Cultural Council, Australia
 
Publications

Verdichtete leerräume,  süddeutsche zeitungVon, KULTUR, Munich, Germany, 23. January 2013. Written by Sabine Reithmaier

Unheimlicher Luftraum über einer Stadt aus Stahl, with the catalogue DYNAMIK DER STILLE/PAUL CHING - BOR, Published by Künstlerhaus Marktoberdorf, Martoberdorf, Germany. Written by Prof. Dr. Manfred SCHNECKENBURGER

Die Dynamik Der Stille, with the catalogue PAUL CHING - BOR, published by NEUHAUSER KUNSTMüHLE, Salzburg, Austria. Written by Dr. Nikolaus TOPIC - MATUTIN

Dunkle Nähe, Helle Ferne, with the catalogue PAUL CHING - BOR, published by NEUHAUSER KUNSTMüHLE, Salzburg, Austria. Written by Dr. Elmar ZORN

Big Promise/ Salzburg 3: The Kunstmühle Presents the Artist Paul Ching - Bor, Süddeutsche Zeitung, KUNSTMARKT, Munich, Germany, 20./21. August 2011. Written by Dr. Gottfried KNAPP
Urbane Geheimnisse/Paul Ching - Bors Watercolor - Stadtlandschaften, Kunst & Material, 
KüNSTLERPORTRAIT - PAUL CHING - BOR, Schutzgebühr, Germany, Nov./Dec. 2011. Written by Dr. Elmar ZORN
Paul Ching - Bor: Bildlandschaften - von Verantwortung getragen, ART PROFIL, AUSSTELLUNGEN, Germany, September 2011 
New York Reviews, Artnews, May 2002
Artist’s journey of Discovery, Mosman Daily, Sydney Australia, July 2002
Butler features watercolor exhibit, The Vindicator: Scene, September 2000
I’ll take Manhattan, International Artist, August/September 1998
Finding a balance, Australian Artist, June 1991
 
Collections
Hilton International, Sydney; Shell Chemicals, Melbourne; Camberwell Civic Centre, Melbourne; Mobil Oil, Melbourne; Pioneer International, Sydney; Club Marine Insurance, Melbourne; Pacific Seasons, Melbourne; Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio; Springfield Art Museum, Springfield, Missouri; Ritz Carlton, New York, New York; Grand Hyatt International, Tokyo; Park Hyatt, Shanghai; Neuhauser Kunstmühle - Galerie und Druckwerkstatt, Salzburg; Sparkasse Bank, Salzburg; Mandarin Oriental Hotel, New York, New York; The Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, South Carolina.
Private Collections in Australia, United States of America, Japan, England and Europe