Obituary of artist, writer and teacher Mark Cheng of Bedford
17:39 8 April 2022
An exhibition featuring the works of the late Mark Cheng, a history teacher, writer and artist who lived in Crouch End until his death last year, is coming to Crouch End Broadway tomorrow (April 9).
Mark Cheng was born in Hong Kong in 1930. Mark fled to mainland China when Hong Kong was occupied by the Japanese during World War II. He and his family then lived in India for a time before returning to Hong Kong in 1947.
He was born a Buddhist but converted to Christianity and was a “closed” Catholic all his life, says his son Maurice Cheng, who has lived in Crouch End for around 30 years. One of Mark’s first commissioned artworks was for a church in Bedford.
Maurice remembers his father’s war stories very well. When he was a teenager, his family took him to monks for safety when the Japanese invaded Hong Kong, an experience that later inspired his writing.
“I used to have war stories on stereo,” Maurice said. “Dad’s stories were about fleeing the Japanese with Jesuits in various Southeast Asian countries. Mom’s version was surviving under Japanese occupation. Seeing friends lined up against the wall and shot. impressed.”
Mark trained as a history teacher and it was during this time that he met his future wife, Irene. They married in 1957 and were to be married for over 60 years. They had two children, Maurice, born in 1958, and Olwen, born in 1964.
During the 1960s, Maurice remembers his father worrying about the rise of Chinese communist activity in Hong Kong. “My parents were afraid that China would cross the border and invade at any moment. So we moved,” Maurice recalls.
The family moved to Bedford, England. During his teacher training, Mark had already taught in Bedford, so they returned to the area and settled in well. Mark taught history at St Gregory’s School for 25 years. Irene was a music teacher in an elementary school. “They both had a lot of fun teaching,” says Maurice.
A passionate musician and artist, Mark was both choirmaster and director of a group of Gregorian choirs. He also proved to be a talented writer and his semi-autobiographical novel Father Paul’s War was published in 2013.
Maurice describes the novel: “The story is about a monk and that kind of environment around World War II, but also about the encroachment of the communist regime on society and life and particular religious orders and the invasion of Japan. It sold pretty well.”
Mark will be remembered for his art. He painted “throughout his life”, and had time to do more when he retired in his 60s. When Maurice and his wife, Margaret, emptied Mark’s inventory, there were approximately 400 pieces.
Mark was a founding member of Eagle Gallery Artists in Bedford and exhibited regularly at the gallery in Castle Road. He was particularly gifted with oils and watercolors.
His art has changed a lot over time as he experiments with different styles and is influenced by his travels. “There’s stuff that looks vaguely like Cubism and stuff that looks like Modigliani. Over the last 10 years he’s mostly focused on what he’s seen on his travels in Europe and South America. “, explains Maurice.
When Irene fell ill, she and Mark moved from Bedford to Crouch End in December 2019, just before the pandemic hit, so they could be closer to their children. They lived just above Sainsburys on Hornsey High Street. Irene sadly passed away 18 months ago and Mark passed away suddenly in April 2021; they both died of “diseases related to old age”. Mark was “happy to paint and write until the very end”.
The exhibition will be held at the CPotential Boutique Charity Shop, 25 Broadway, Crouch End, London N8 9DE on Saturday April 9 between 1pm and 6pm.
All proceeds from any purchase of artwork will help children and youth with movement disorders reach their full potential.