‘Lead the Way’ Cecile Chong and William Gropper at Figureworks
Lead the Way focuses on two like-minded artists from very different backgrounds and generations. Contemporary artist Cecile Chong was born in 1964 in Ecuador to Chinese parents. Her childhood was divided between these two countries until she emigrated to New York City at the age of 19. William Gropper was born in the lower east side of New York City in 1897 to Jewish immigrants from Romania and Ukraine. Both artists have created profound bodies of work directly inspired by their heritage.
Cecile Chong is a mixed media artist whose work addresses the process of cultural assimilation and the development of individual identity. Her exposure to different cultures and ideals has directed her creative exploration into how these influences are acquired, represented and interpreted. Specifically interested in how cultures copy each other and how borrowed ideas often find their way back to the original culture in curious ways, this body of work places figures from various origins into dreamlike landscapes. Chong has executed this series in encaustic. The surface layers are then delicately etched with colored line, reinforcing the philosophy that scratching the surface can uncover layers of history.
William Gropper, inspired by a 1948 visit to the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto, spent the next 30 years of his life painting Jewish subjects. He felt their plight epitomized all suffering mankind. In 1970 he created a portfolio of 24 colored lithographs entitled The Shtetl, which are included in this exhibition. The concept of shtetl culture is used as a metaphor for the traditional way of life for 19th-century Eastern European Jews who lived collectively in pious communities that were socially stable and unchanging despite outside influence. The Holocaust resulted in the disappearance of the vast majority of shtetls, through both extermination under Nazi occupation and exodus to the United States and Palestine. Gropper acknowledged this series as “looking for my roots…a village and people that no longer exists, but a faint memory.”
Both artists, thoughtfully processing their origins, have created engaging and beautiful works of art. These two series affirm that personal exploration within the creative process can both honor history and inspire future generations to examine the past from new perspectives.
Cecile Chong has exhibited work at El Museo del Barrio, Wave Hill, Kenise Barnes Fine Art, Corridor Gallery, Sue Scott Gallery, Praxis International Art in New York and with The Cynthia Corbett Gallery in London. Fellowships include Socrates Sculpture Park, AIM 2011 Bronx Museum, Urban Artist Initiative NYC 2010, Aljira Emerge 10 and the Joan Mitchell Foundation MFA Grant 2008. Cecile’s work is in the collections of El Museo del Barrio, Citibank Art Advisory, Peggy Cooper-Cafritz, Carmen Ana Unanue and other private collections in the U.S., Europe and South America. Her work has been reviewed in El Diario La Prensa, Singtao Daily, and The New York Times. She received an MFA from Parsons The New School for Design in 2008, an MA from Hunter College, and a BA in Studio Art from Queens College. Her early schooling took place in Ecuador, Macau and China. Cecile lives and works in New York and is currently in the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Studio Program.
William Gropper (1897–1977), was a U.S. cartoonist and painter who supported himself by drawing cartoons for the New York Tribune, Smart Set, Bookman, Dial, Vanity Fair, New York Post, New Republic, and The Nation while he studied painting. He was also a contributor to such left-wing publications as New Masses and the Yiddish Morning Freiheit. During the Depression, he painted murals for public buildings for the Works Project Administration. Gropper, for years a leading painter in the American social realism movement, used his art as a weapon in the fight for the betterment of the human condition. Gropper’s art in museums, galleries, government buildings and universities around the world including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MOMA, Washington D.C.’s National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian.
Figureworks is located at 168 N. 6th St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY 11211, one block from the Bedford Avenue “L” train. The gallery is open to the public Saturday and Sunday from 1-6 PM and is dedicated to exhibiting contemporary and 20th century fine art of the human form.