Magical spirits of sculpture

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 September, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 September, 1993, 12:00am

Cheung Yee Sculpture: Ancient Imagery, Modern Vision. Museum of Art. Until September 19.

WITHOUT a doubt Cheung Yee is one of the best sculptors to emerge in Hong Kong. When I first met him in 1961 he was at the outset of what even then promised to be an outstanding career.

The subjects that fascinated him were early Chinese evidence of civilisation - the emergence of the rather unique way of writing in characters and their use for both decorative value and the conveying of information.

No sculptor had delved in this garden of images - forms of the great Shang and Chou bronzes with religious schemes embracing the spirits, magic and all other paraphernalia connected with good fortune - before Cheung Yee who made it his own.

His materials haven't changed much from the first bronze, copper sheet, and dense black wood he used. The few exceptions are the magical soft shield-form in natural wood in Everlasting (1962), which is a great favourite of the sculptor.

The theme of Cheung Yee's works focus on generations - with birth and organic growth - and he infuses much of this into various sculptural forms.

His great pierced wooden screens, Everlasting, 1962, Four Spirits and Fortune Twelve both 1975, and another Four Spirits of 1976, all stand majestically and with more than a hint of impenetrable mystery at this exhibition.

In the 1970s the sculptor turned to using stone, varieties of local granite in pink, oatmeal and green, and the occasional black granite to create a series of breast-shaped works, his only excursion into the human form. These deeply sensuous works with titles like Desire, My Love, etc, are an avenue which, oddly, Cheung Yee did not care to explore further.

This large retrospective show offers the best of the artist's works, and includes some very recent sculptures which are somehow less convincing than the main body of his output. But there is no mistaking the consistent and convincing sculptural achievement of Cheung Yee.