LEE : Why did you start your art activities?
ZHENG : I was moved by many extraordinary masters and started to imitate some Renaissance paintings since high school, then I set my goal to go to the best art academy, to become an artist and further in the future, to become a master.
LEE : What was the town where you were born and grew up?
ZHENG : Rizhao, Shandong. My hometown is by the seashore in North China. The city roads are broad and flat. You can see long stretches of hills and peaks in a distance. At nights, there are few pedestrians; the streetlights and roads merge and become friends. Strictly speaking, my hometown could hardly be called a city; it’s more like a tribe. Even though it has city’s imprints and symbols, still it’s deeply enrooted with local culture. It’s quiet, desolate, vacant and vast. I often go to the seaside - it’s like my works where you could find some hidden horizons that balance all the mess.
LEE : You are working in Shanghai. How does this city inspire you?
ZHENG : I’ve only been in Shanghai for one and a half years, partly because my studio in Shandong was pulled down. I’m not really a fan of metropolis, for now the city civilization is not part of my concepts of art. My concepts and thoughts mostly come from humanities - understandings of and responses to the life itself; also it’s about searching of a way to describe and going back to nature.
LEE : Did you have any important events or people around you when you started your work?
ZHENG : Yes there’ve always been people helping and inspiring me. The John Moores Prize discovered me and thus my works were introduced to a wider audience on a better platform. DSL Foundation supported and collected my first project Pieces into One. Also those who’ve been modeling for me over a long course of time are my benefactors as well.
LEE : I know you are using the pseudonym LEE CHA. Why do you use a pseudonym? Also, what does it mean?
ZHENG : My pseudonym is Lee Cha. My real name is Zheng Haozhong. I use Lee Cha when I publish novels, to hide myself from the identity of a painter. Because I think if everyone knows I am an artist, it will make it feels like amateur when I write. I am very serious about writing. Therefore I have also put down writing and devoted myself to painting.
LEE : You often draw pictures from the outside or nature rather than the workshop. Is there any special reason?
ZHENG : The reason is the same as what I’ve mentioned in question 3, it's a result of my views and concepts. Every painter is unique; the methodology adopted derives from their understandings of the world.
LEE : All of the characters appearing in the works have no expressions or are dark. Is there any special reason?
ZHENG : Partly because of the models themselves; partly because of my understandings. Because the models I painted are all very close to me, so I feel more comfortable painting them. For me, painting someone is drawing myself - I have the most intimate relationship with my model. We talk about our private stuff, cook together, and almost live together. In this way we could reach tacit understanding.
LEE : There are works that are just outlined and not painted. How did you proceed?
ZHENG: I never do drafts. I see when I paint, and stop when I think it’s done. I don’t think to finish is to be fully-painted. For me to finish a painting means the end of my self-expression and the end of story-telling by the painting itself.
LEE : Is there any reason to paint ordinary people?
ZHENG : It’s a good question. I have profound connections with those people I painted. Maybe that’s because I can see myself in them. Just like writing, when you write about a character, there will be not only the impression of the character from real life, but also some personal understandings and imaginations about the character. I work with a close partner thus we inevitably influence each other. The my choice of model also reflects my status at a certain time. Because I don’t choose the same model every time.
LEE : There are many people who are not active in the picture. They all seem helpless. ZHENG : Do they resemble your usual personality?
Maybe, but my personality does not comprise of helplessness and pessimism. Maybe that’s in your personality, because every painting could be seen as a mirror.
LEE : There are many series works about Qiu Chen. Who is Qiu Chen?
ZHENG : Qiu Chen is my friend and he is the most long-term model for me up to now. Qui Chen is someone who hardly has any social attributes. He has no job and no love affairs; he starts all daily routines by himself. He has a quiet character, while there is also some elegance and craziness, some conceit and inferiority. These belong to him but that’s also something we all might possess. But he is unique; he makes me feel secured - I always paint him and I always feel that way. I used to be obsessed with this figure, especially in my paintings.
LEE : How are your works changing from initial work to current work?
ZHENG : At the very beginning I painted only single figure. Then when I paint a familiar person I would try to use different methods to paint. Gradually as time goes by and models change, it would affect my states and the influences are mutual. All those changes would make me paint in different ways. Ultimately it’s all about my personal exploration of painting, and I want to paint in more accuracy.
LEE : What are the overall key words of your work?
ZHENG : Inclusive and accurate.
LEE : What will you do in the future?
ZHENG : Future is everything that I do not know.