Thomas C. Chung can remember the first time he discovered art. He was in kindergarten, there was a pretty little blonde girl sitting across the room, and he was struck by the first flushes of a childhood crush. His path became blindingly clear. He would make arts and crafts for her.
“I feel like everyone has a compass, you know, to direct them in life, and the compass I’ve known since I was about six has been directing me towards finding a girl,” he laughs. Though the chuckle is light-hearted, there’s a hint at some heartache encountered along the way. But like any great artist, the highs and lows of looking for love have helped to shape Chung’s work today.
“I’m all about feelings,” he explains. “I love concepts, but I’m not about trying to make a big fuss in the art world. I just talk about how I feel and hopefully people recognise that and can relate.”
Born in Hong Kong and raised in Australia, Chung has been splitting his time between home in Sydney’s Northern Suburbs and Scandinavia since 2008. Unsurprisingly, it was a relationship that first led him abroad, but it was his art that kept him there, exploring new mediums through which to tell his story.
“I’m a very patient person,” says Chung. “That’s maybe bad for me in relationships, but it helps in terms of making art.” Initially trained in drawing and painting, his meticulous practice involves sculpting paint like “cake icing” with toothpicks. But travel required him to shift focus to a more practical form of expression. “I couldn’t carry my paint with me. So I thought I had better learn knitting.”
Chung decided to go straight to the source. “My mum’s a nurse so I felt quite comfortable meeting elderly people at a Scandinavian nursing home. We couldn’t exactly speak the same language but I became friends with them and over half a year they taught me how to knit.”
Dedicating himself to the process of hand-knitting, Chung went about creating bodies of work around subjects drawn from memories, relationships and folk tales. Chung’s pieces are all hand-done by himself, free hand and without any formal plan. He’s knitted everything from banquets of food rendered in wool (shown at Galleri Athene in Norway) and a small forest of bonsai (installed at Blacktown Arts Centre in Sydney) to taps and a toilet plunger (for the closing exhibition at Enmore’s Hardware Gallery).
“I needed something that could speak of seeing the world through the eyes of a child. And to talk about that I needed the materials to be quite innocent and playful,” he says.
Chung most recently presented a solo exhibition at Buskerud Kunstsenter gallery in Norway as part of a residency. Entitled “Looking for Niceness...”, the show featured balloons with coloured pieces of paper inside that guests could swap for coloured eggs each holding a small knitted artwork. “It was kind of an exhibition Kinder Surprise,” he says. Though novel, his knitted work expresses loss and hope and the search for something elusive in life.
But despite his clear love of knitting, Chung says textiles is just the beginning of his career. “I’m planning to evolve using video, performance and photography techniques,” he says. Familiarising himself with cellular technology is the first step after just acquiring his first mobile phone.
“I’m a little old fashioned on the inside but on the outside I’m not,” Chung says of the contrast between his penchant for sensitive pursuits like letter writing and his new-gen uniform of jeans and an ever-present hoodie. “I want to present that to people; it’s not always the outside that counts or the inside. That’s the defining factor; you need both to link it all together.”
Right now, it’s off to Switzerland for a top-secret project, and the near future holds an artist’s residency in New Zealand. And as for romance, Chung says he’s putting that on hold. “I’ve been led by my heart so far, but this year I’ve decided to focus more on myself.” But as they say, you never know when love might strike.
See more of Thomas C. Chung’s work at www.thomas-c-chung.com
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