Aries Che­ung: Artist ex­plores and ex­pands iden­tity

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By CLORIE NG in Toronto For China Daily

Aries Che­ung is a man with many iden­ti­ties. He is the art di­rec­tor of his graph­ics com­mu­ni­ca­tion company Tran­sMe­dia9, a visual artist, an il­lus­tra­tor, a film and video maker and a teacher.

His port­fo­lio ranges from paint­ings and in­stal­la­tions for solo or group exhibitions to il­lus­tra­tions for chil­dren books, graphic de­sign for pub­li­ca­tions and ad­ver­tise­ments, and dig­i­tal imag­ing projects and mul­ti­me­dia pro­duc­tions, which see him or­ches­trat­ing things be­hind the scene or per­form­ing on stage.

Re­cently, he at­tended the un­veil­ing of the Royal Cana­dian Mint 2015 Chi­nese Zo­diac Coin Col­lec­tion for the Year of the Ram. As the win­ner of a Royal Cana­dian Mint de­sign com­pe­ti­tion, Che­ung has cre­ated the popular lu­nar se­ries since 2010.

Meet­ing an artist like Che­ung makes one feel like en­coun­ter­ing the zo­diac character he por­trays — the ram (a ho­mo­phone to the Chi­nese word “yang”) that em­bod­ies the en­ergy of the sun, and a new be­gin­ning that’s bright and aus­pi­cious. Although not a zo­diac afi­cionado, he did ex­ten­sive re­search on the Chi­nese zo­diac in the de­sign process, and he opted for the ram in­stead of a sheep or goat be­cause of the ram’s ma­jes­tic spirit and strength.

On the coin, a ram stands at ease on a hill­top, set to the sun­set, em­a­nat­ing agility, courage and progress.

In­ci­den­tally, Che­ung’s con­nec­tion with the ram goes beyond the Chi­nese zo­diac; he also was un­der the as­tro­log­i­cal sign of Aries. Thanks to a friend who told him he per­son­i­fied Aries traits such as be­ing artis­tic, mag­i­cal and en­er­getic, he de­cided to call him­self Aries.

With the en­ergy Che­ung ex­udes, it is no won­der he stays up late, just to seize the dawn of his in­spi­ra­tions.

Over the past 30 years, Che­ung has been ex­pand­ing his hori­zon as an artist who crosses gen­res, sec­tors, cul­tures, and com­mu­ni­ties. Che­ung’s works of­ten deal with racial iden­tity and sex­u­al­ity and use por­traits, fig­ures or the hu­man body to il­lus­trate them. He con­tin­u­ally ex­plores pol­i­tics that af­fect his com­mu­ni­ties.

Che­ung em­i­grated from Hong Kong more than 20 years ago and de­scribes him­self as part of a di­as­pora, although he said that his iden­tity has be­come very dif­fer­ent since he ar­rived in Canada. He would now call him­self a “Chi­nese Cana­dian”, adding that his sense of be­long­ing would ex­tend to the Asian com­mu­nity, be it Ja­panese, Korean or other eth­nic groups.

“Art is per­sonal, per­sonal is po­lit­i­cal,” is Che­ung’s mantra.

Che­ung’s exhibitions and projects bear in­trigu­ing ti­tles such as

His lat­est works in­clude a fea­ture film about an Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist in China, which was mostly shot in Asia and is now in post-pro­duc­tion. He’s also writ­ing a mu­si­cal about a trans­sex­ual woman, which was based on a true story that hap­pened around him.

Whether it’s about iden­tity or sex­u­al­ity, Che­ung said his in­spi­ra­tion and pas­sion some­times stem from his re­ac­tion to cer­tain is­sues and anger about the in­jus­tice he wit­nesses hap­pen­ing to cer­tain marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties.

Che­ung ad­mit­ted that there’s bit of an ac­tivist in the artist. When he was in high school, he was drawn to so­cial work and was an ac­tive mem­ber of the So­cial Ser­vice Club, which helped chil­dren and se­niors.

Yet his heart was set on art, and he found that path less aca­dem­i­cally de­mand­ing than so­cial work. So now he com­bines ac­tivism with his art, strik­ing a bal­ance be­tween com­mer­cial and fine arts.

He at­trib­uted that prac­ti­cal­ity to his child­hood back­ground and ex­pe­ri­ences, grow­ing up in a fam­ily with par­ents mi­grat­ing to Hong Kong as “boat peo­ple” from Chi­nese main­land. Liv­ing a mod­est life with mere sub­sis­tence, he was at­tuned to work ethic, re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and mak­ing ends meet.

Che­ung got a job after high school, but didn’t give up on his dream of be­com­ing an artist. He stud­ied graphic de­sign at the First In­sti­tute of Art and De­sign in Hong Kong, and then took il­lus­tra­tion, de­sign and com­mu­ni­ca­tions cour­ses at Hong Kong Poly­tech­nic Univer­sity.

Fol­low­ing the ca­reer path of a graphic artist, he later be­came the art di­rec­tor of lead­ing ad­ver­tis­ing company J. Wal­ter Thomp­son. Yet it was all work and no so­cial life, as his days passed with one project after another and many nights on the floor of his of­fice in a sleep­ing bag.

Che­ung weighed the limited op­por­tu­ni­ties in Hong Kong for study­ing fine arts, so he de­cided to im­mi­grate to Canada and start a new life as a visual art stu­dent at York Univer­sity.

While work­ing as a Toronto-based de­signer, he has put on nu­mer­ous solo and group shows in Hong Kong and Canada. He also has been an art-grant jury mem­ber for the Toronto Arts Coun­cil and has re­cently taught at the Cen­tre for Cre­ative Com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Cen­ten­nial Col­lege in Toronto. He fre­quently con­trib­utes his artis­tic skills to non-profit cul­tural or­ga­ni­za­tions and com­mu­nity events.

Che­ung had worked as a full- time staffer at Asian Com­mu­nity AIDS Ser­vices, fa­cil­i­tated and co­or­di­nated

• com­mu­nity art projects for var­i­ous or­ga­ni­za­tions, and col­lab­o­rated with dance and theater com­pa­nies on mul­ti­me­dia projects.

Some of the most mem­o­rable mo­ments for him in­clude group­ing to­gether dif­fer­ent artists, per­former and Asians with HIV for a show called

(in­spired by a no­to­ri­ous street in Hong Kong in­hab­ited by street per­form­ers and for­tunetellers) at the In­ter­na­tional AIDS Con­fer­ence in Toronto.

Look­ing back at his achieve­ments, Che­ung is re­luc­tant to call him­self a “suc­cess­ful” artist, and mused on the mean­ing of suc­cess: “When I was 20 years old, I would be dream­ing of be­com­ing a well-known artist; but now, I be­lieve that what mat­ters is to do what I love, and money will come.”


Aries Che­ung ARIES CHE­UNG Visual artist, graphic de­signer and art di­rec­tor Ed­u­ca­tion:

BFA, Visual Arts Hon­ors Pro­gram, York Univer­sity, Toronto

Higher cer­tifi­cate in il­lus­tra­tion, de­sign and com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Hong Kong Poly­tech­nic Univer­sity Ca­reer:

Art Di­rec­tor, Tran­sMe­dia9, Toronto (2012-present)

In­de­pen­dent visual artist, teacher, arts event or­ga­nizer, work­shop fa­cil­i­ta­tor, arts pro­gram­mer, cre­ative com­mu­ni­ca­tion con­sul­tant, graphic/ web de­signer and il­lus­tra­tor, Toronto (1990-present)

Art di­rec­tor, J. Wal­ter Thomp­son Ad­ver­tis­ing Ltd, Hong Kong (1985-89)

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