Blue (2015) by Zeng FanzhiUCCA Center for Contemporary Art
Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi, born in 1964, has been painting since 1987. He graduated from the oil painting department at Hubei Institute of Fine Arts, and lives and works in Beijing.
During his youth, Zeng was inspired by China’s ’85 New Wave movement, which saw artists search for a new, often more conceptual, language after the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.
Following his move to Beijing in the early 1990s, Zeng developed a very distinctive personal style. This painting, Blue, was made in 2015 and is highly representative; it is visually complex, with striking colours, and the suggestion of natural forms.
With a bright background and dark foreground Zeng's painting has the appearance of a tangle of bushes set against a cloudy, moonlit sky. But without other details, it's difficult for the viewer to place themselves in the scene. Perhaps we're lost (or even trapped) here.
Zeng uses unusual techniques to create his paintings. He will sometimes work with a brush in each hand, letting himself move 'automatically' over the canvas, in a style similar to the abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock.
Taking a closer look, we can see how he paints in distinct layers. First laying down a dark surface, before touch it up with lighter blue patches. He then smears thick black streaks and finally scratches at the surface to remove layers of paint, revealing white strips.
This seemingly delicate work is the result of intensive, physical, and emotional effort. The painting is huge, 7×4 metres. Zeng would have to move about the studio, carrying heavy canvases, litres of paint, and working for days.
While Zeng found much inspiration in European artists, there is a long history of this kind of large, abstract landscape painting in Chinese art. In making this work, Zeng join a long tradition of trying to picture the world in a very new, emotional way.