Families gather around artist Zheng Chongbin as he demonstrates his artistic process

Material Play: A Contemporary Collaboration

November 9, 2017
Karen Satzman, Director, Youth and Family Programs

“It was so cool to work with an actual artist that is in the museum because he shared his techniques and tips and we were able to try it out ourselves, we will always remember this. We got advice from an actual artist, how cool was that!?!” —Siblings Elena and Ixil Tambito

Installation photograph, Zheng Chongbin's Material Play, 2017, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

At museums we are surrounded by art, but how often do we get to meet the artists who made it and collaboratively make art with them? Recently the Education department bridged this divide and invited contemporary artist Zheng Chongbin, who is in LACMA’s permanent collection, to lead three free workshops in the Boone Children’s Gallery. Families learned from Zheng as he shared his artistic process. Their ability to embrace experimentation energized him and influenced his site-specific installation designed for the Boone Children’s Gallery. 

In the workshops, families started as Zheng did when he first learned to paint as a teenager—with a lesson in classical Chinese brush painting. Using sumi ink on Xuan paper, they practiced a traditional motif: bamboo branches and leaves. The exercise helped them to understand Zheng’s classical training and allowed them to practice techniques to control the ink on the paper.

Zheng works one-on-one with participants

Following the brush painting, the group looked at Zheng’s painting on view in the adjacent Chinese galleries and was able to see what Zheng’s work is like today: a mix of Chinese ink traditions and Western pictorial abstraction. Zheng chatted about Turbulence as families asked questions about his artistic process, technique, and sources of inspiration.

Zheng Chongbin, Turbulence, 2013, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of Stephen O. Lesser, © Zheng Chongbin

Back in the Boone Children’s Gallery, new brushes with jugs of white acrylic paint were brought out. Zheng demonstrated how he paints in his studio: on the ground, using big wide brushes to apply water, sumi ink, and white acrylic.

Families followed his lead and switched gears from depicting bamboo to working abstractly. They experimented with the new materials and tools, paying attention to the playful interactions. 

Zheng encourages participants

The Xuan paper became so saturated that it could not be lifted off the table. For some, the paper began to rip and tear. “Do not worry!” he assured everyone, excited by the energy in the room, and clearly loving these creative “accidents.” 

A very wet painting with rips and tears

The paintings created by families were left in the Boone Children’s Gallery to dry overnight. The next morning Zheng and his studio assistant Zhongqi Jia sorted through the work. They peeled the now-dry paintings off the tables, revealing organic fractal structures on the back created by the interactions of ink, acrylic, and paper. 

The backside of the paintings reveal the interactions of ink, paint, and water

Zheng quickly mapped out a plan and over the course of eight hours, using the paintings created by families, he made Material Play, the collaborative work currently on view in the Boone Children’s Gallery.

The experience of having direct contact with an artist was impressionable for families and it was inspiring for the artist too. “The work becomes a collective unity; it is shared amongst all of us," Zheng said. "The sharing of each individual experience, each individual person's energy, the sharing of imagination, the process of modeling—which is the transformation from the autonomous physical material to an interchangeable vitality.”

Stop by the Boone Children’s Gallery to see the work in person!


Co-creators who contributed to Material Play: Adnan, Anthony M., Aria C., Arthur M., Austin E., Bryan T., Camila A., Carla C., Christine W., Cole H., Cole R., Connor T., Danielle S., Darrell Y., Debbie A., Elena C., Elena T., Fatimah, Hendrix, Ixil T., Ja’Nicecia N., James C., Justice B., Kimberly H., Lauren M., Leigh F., Leslie I., M.J. K., Marilyn F., Megan H., Melissa V., Mia S., Mohamed, Nate L., Nic N., Nora H., Ola, Olivia I., Oren S., Pearl G., Ryan R., Sabrina G., Shelli B., Sion H., Tyler R., Victor P., Victoria I., Xander F., Xoe F., Yates H., Yates R., and Zainab  

Special thanks to Education staff: Jane Burrell, Susi Castillo, Amara Hopping, Sarah Jesse, Michelle Sin, Carmen Velasquez, Julia Velasquez, Tuti Velasquez, and Joey Vasquez