Michael and Chiyan Ho’s Midnight Pearls

The Return of the Perpetual Foreigner, 2020 Oil and acrylic on canvas
130 x 105 cm

Text by Molly Cranston

For Intra-action: part 2 Michael and Chiyan Ho display five paintings that create the world of a ‘dark-haired, pale-skinned cowboy’ inside the glass tank that is Soft Opening in London’s Piccadilly Circus underground station. Hanging shrine-like along a central axis, the paintings seem as though they are kept afloat in some kind of perfect, magnetic orbit around one another.

Michael and Chiyan Ho make paintings that ‘respond to the notions of the Chinese diaspora, cultural mismatch and subsequently cultural (re)discovery.’ Here, they interlace Eastern and Western iconography, creating a magical non-place where the cowboy returns, not to his sun-cracked desert, but his silvery forest (making reference to Hong Kong’s New Territories, a densely forested area that shares a border with mainland China). The ground is mossy and damp, an abundance of leaves and slick grass suggest a high humidity and a water source nearby. Jade beads and a Qing Dynasty embroidered boot are nestled in the forest floor around where the cowboy lays down to sleep. The collaborative duo starts by painting from the back of the canvas first, pushing pigment through to the front in large, muted stains, that give their paintings a moist and saturated thickness underneath the delicacy of each scene. 

Michael and Chiyan Ho manage to create a complete and caring realm in so few images. In her accompanying text, curator Kate Wong, articulates the importance of these imagined ‘interstitial places that exist past the edge of landscapes and beneath city streets’ as the context in which ‘new politics of entanglement’ and gentleness can be formed and nurtured. Intra-action: part 2 is on view at Soft Opening until July 11th.

Where Moonlight was Drowned, 2020 Oil and acrylic on canvas
50 x 40 cm

Quick on the Draw, 2020
Oil and acrylic on canvas
50 x 80 cm

Heavier Than Air, 2020
Oil and acrylic on canvas
20 x 30 cm

All images courtesy the artist and Soft Opening, London. Photography Theo Christelis.