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Irene Chou Impact II

Ink and colour painting on paper depicting a red circle in the centre, layered with yellow markings and faint grey splatters. Spirals of black washes surround the red circle, expanding to the sides of the horizontally oriented painting.

M+, Hong Kong. Gift of MK Lau Foundation Ltd, 2018, © Catherine Yang. Photo: M+, Hong Kong


One of the most fascinating things about this piece is how the artist, Irene Chou, used really unconventional tools to create such an engrossing image. We spoke with her son, Michael Yang, about his memories of her practice.  


She’d use anything! She’d invite friends over to her place, show them biscuit tin lids she’d used to draw the circles and things like that. Hair dryer, spraying the paint—she used everything; household things, kitchenware and things like that. Different types of cooking utensils, brushes and things, not painting brushes but brushes for whatever else. Bits and pieces of sheepskin for her to splash inks and things like that.  

Oh, the type of ink she uses, she got people to go to the hardware store to buy different types of ink, different types of paint and things like that. So, she's just always thinking of weird things and incorporating them. After she passed away, we had to clean her apartment. That was an amazing sight. A lot, a lot of weird things. Weird and old things there! 


Hairdryers and sheepskins aside, Irene worked on this piece during a particularly dark period in her life, something often discussed in art criticism. We asked Michael how he felt when he looked at the artwork in this light.  


This one, Impact II, 1977 was around the time when my father was sick or dying or things like that. I think I quite like it because it looks quite nice. But apart from that, she was painting this among the time which was a dark period of time; there’s a lot of black and grey and things, but this one did have a bit of other colour as well. When I look at the paintings, her dark paintings, I really felt so sorry that my mother's depressed.  

But when I look at that, my first reaction is—not as an art critic or whether I like it or not—but thinking that, ‘Geez, my mother wasn't that depressed after all, probably’. So, I'm quite happy to see that she got a bit of colour in it. She's not that bad, although she's always very depressed and things. So that strikes me the most.  

I see this as quite a big, huge and powerful work here, however, when you look at the painter, my mother, she's not such a big and powerful person. She can make it this way, but she got lots and lots of thoughts and very delicate, very sensitive thoughts in her as a person. She tried to show off her power to make a big, powerful painting, but she does want to show off a delicate, sensitive part as well. She did try to do things like that, she didn't just want to draw a pretty-looking painting. 


Impact II, created in 1977 by Irene Chou, is a painting in ink and colour on paper, measuring 66 centimetres high and 139 centimetres wide.

The overall impression of this piece is one of movement, as you see the gestures the artist made as she lyrically moved her brush across the paper up and down as well as in a circular motion.

In the centre of this painting, there is a reddish pink circle that has a diameter of about half of the painting’s height, and is slightly washed out in colour. This pink circle lies on top of a bigger white circle, comprising an orb-shaped area of negative space where the artist has not painted. Over the entirety of the circles, hints of yellow seem to burst out from the pink circle and diffuse into the white, while very small splotches of black paint are scattered all over the area. This centre orb-shaped area moves our eye in a circular motion as we follow the artist's loose circular brush strokes.

Starting at the bottom right of the pink circle and moving upwards towards the top of the paper are about eight to ten black brush strokes. Most of the strokes are of varied thicknesses and lengths. Some strokes have very little black ink where the artist's brush has rested only briefly against the paper, leaving more white empty space. All these black lines extend upwards with a slight curve and form the right border of the central white circle, the round negative space. Some broader strokes also touch the base of the pink circle inside the negative space, as if the lines are holding the pink orb like a ball in a palm.

On the left side of the painting, more curved black brush strokes constitute the left border of the white circle. Starting from the bottom left of the white circle, these loose and randomly sequenced strokes appear to extend beyond the top edge of the paper. On this left side, two thick strokes of red lie near the inner edge of the bundle of black strokes. They run along with the black then fade and become obscured under thick painted black lines. Further to the left, about five to seven uneven circular black strokes continue, until they reach the end of the paper.

The black brush strokes on both sides morph into smudges of black ink just above the circles in the centre, and they appear to continue past the edge of the paper out of your view. A very small red rectangular seal of the artist’s name marks the bottom right of the painting.