“I want to use some kind of filter to get rid of colours. So my work is about pure thoughts, pure ideas.”

Born 1955, Chongqing. Lives and works in Chengdu

During the Cultural Revolution, He Gong was sent to the countryside for seven years to do manual labour. That experience, he says, “made me realise the true condition of China” and ignited his hatred of ideology and political control. In the mid 1980s he went to the United States to study—ironically, one of the first Chinese artists to do so with government support. It was a turning point: for the first time he was free to choose what he wanted to do. One day he came across an old railway station, preserved intact for a century. “It was all black and grey with age. It took me back to the past. It was like going back to the origin of things,” he recalls. At that moment, he decided to abandon the use of colour: “Black and white represents the original state of being. It’s about dream and reality, contradiction and conflict.” His series The Occasion recaptures his memories of that vision in four huge paintings, each more than two metres square and covered with cobweb-like meshes of brushstrokes. Close up, the canvas looks chaotic, yet with distance recognisable forms emerge. When monochrome became trendy, He Gong began using colour again. Two works in the series employ rich blues, and two, including The Occasion No. 1 (2007), include only black, white and grey.

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