McClain Gallery is pleased to announce an exhibition of new oil-stick-on-paper paintings by Ping Zheng (b. 1989 in Zhejiang, China).  Zheng’s imagery is rooted in nature but operates in a richly symbolic realm where the vibrational energy of the natural world merges with biomorphic abstraction. In depicting landscapes both real and imagined, Zheng embodies a space where she has long found freedom and solace. The Voice of Water is the artist’s second solo exhibition, following our inaugural presentation of her work online in 2020.

In these recent works, Zheng captures the potential and sense of magic she feels through uninhibited self-expression. Each painting is essentially a meditation, granting access to a place pulsing with symbolic potency. With reverence for art movements from spiritual abstraction to surrealism, Zheng’s depiction of nature is integrally tethered to bodily forms: sensual curves, undulating peaks, orbs, and fuzzy textures often reappear. In “Shimmering Sea Mountain,” a sun shines through a valley, and the resulting reflection off the water has an animistic quality: a painterly, yet cartoon-like chorus of neon-citrus ripples toward us, until it finally resolves into the calm of a mottled blue and green sea. As Barbara Pollock commented in her recent essay about the artist’s work: “Zheng views light as a kind of life force, necessary to propel a painting into a relationship with the viewer."

Forgoing a paintbrush, Zheng favors a bright palette rendered in oil sticks. Her process is physically demanding despite the intimate scale of the works. She is interested in the energy transference between her hands and the plasticity of her medium. She will often manipulate the dense layers with her fingers, and sometimes the pressure from her hands and fingerprints is made visible. Zheng’s handling reveals a versatile range of colors and textures: at times her vivid palette reads velvety soft, while other portions are scraped, ribbed, or speckled.

Like most of us, Zheng struggled with isolation throughout the pandemic’s lockdowns as her access to nature and the outdoors became severely limited. As a substitute for natural light, Zheng had to rely on artificial city lights, paying close attention to how they manipulate the sky as night gives way to day. The escape from reality her work had always provided was suddenly more necessary than ever. Nature both grounds and scales, and Zheng’s practice takes root in the humbling effect of being present. She acknowledges “human beings are a part of the universe” and whether “you are male or female, eventually our bodies become soil or dust into the air or on the ground.” 

Ping Zheng (b. 1989 in Zhejiang, China, lives and works in Brooklyn, NY) received an MFA in Painting from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2016 and a BFA in painting from the University College of London, Slade School of Fine Art in 2014.  Her works have been exhibited at Microscope Gallery, Brooklyn NY, Nancy Margolis Gallery, New York, NY, the Chinese American Arts Council/Gallery 456, New York, NY, and Trestle Gallery, Brooklyn, NY, among other venues.  She has completed artist residencies at the Rancho Linda Vista Arts Community, in Oracle, Arizona, and the Vermont Studio Center, in Johnson, Vermont among others. Recently, Zheng has been reviewed in ArtForum, the New Yorker, and featured on Glasstire. She is co-represented by Kristen Lorello, New York.