Vernissage: November 9 2022, 19 h
Exhibition from: November 10 2022
Tue – Fri 12-18 h, Sat 11-16 h
In Zhang Wei’s second solo presentation in Galerie Krinzinger, he is showcasing a selection of 24 works, made between 2016 and 2022. Among them, three were painted in 2022, all unmistakable pointing towards Russia’s invasion into Ukraine. Taking the colors from the national flag of Ukraine, Zhang Wei covered a large expanse of each canvas in blue. In the Ukrainian flag, blue denotes the skies over the vast land. On both of Zhang Wei’s canvases, the blue colors occupied nearly two thirds of the canvas on the upper side, meticulously and evenly painted in most part and hard-edged. In one of them, titled “Z-AC2022”, he painted a smear of yellow from the Ukrainian flag on the lower edge of the blue paint. Much of the blue area is solid while the yellow paint is solid on the upper half and sketchy on its lower part. In the second Ukraine-specific work “Z-AC2203”, the yellow color appears being splashed onto the lower edge of the blue sky, much in disarray.
Such an approach brought to mind an experiment he carried out in the early 1980s. As he was exploring ways to steer away from figurative representation of the landscape paintings he was making in the 1970s, Zhang Wei once climbed on a ladder and from the point of about 4 meters high, he dropped a basin of paint onto the canvas so that the paint was splashed all over, not just on his canvas but inside of his room. The uncontrollable effect of this action was actually a desirable outcome and the pursuit of such an effect continues in his subsequent works. He looks for and enacts processes that lead to uncontainable manifestations. For instance, he has in recent years, tried painting with his motorbike. He’s poured a bucket of paint onto his canvas and ridden motorbikes over it, leaving tyre marks on it. Sometimes, he runs toy cars across his canvas through a remote control. All efforts aspire for playfulness and dynamism in his works.
The third piece that reconfigures the Ukrainian flag is “Z-AC2204”, a rice paper book album painted in oil, interweaving blue strokes of blue with yellow ones, one intersecting another in a riotous and vigorous way. A familiar format in traditional Chinese paintings, the book album opens into a long stretch of horizontal scroll that gives generous space for the unfolding of Zhang Wei’s playing with blue and yellow. While compact and quiet in a folded form, the album is an elaborate and dynamic symphony when it is opened up to reveal its many surprises and energy on the pages. Zhang Wei has also painted onto folded paper fans. Like the paper album, the curves of these folded surfaces dissect as well as intersect Zhang Wei’s strokes and enhance the dramatic sense of change in their flows.
Zhang Wei is forthright about his empathy with Ukraine and its people under war. Since its outbreak, the war on Ukraine has caused enormous rifts among members of both Chinese public and its artistic and intellectual communities. Some were even hesitant to call it invasion, aligning with the Chinese government’s pro-Russia position and rhetoric. Being an unwavering liberal, Zhang Wei has felt compelled to articulate his position on the matter through his paintings. This series of new works lends a valuable perspective into understanding Zhang Wei’s practice beyond that of purely formalistic exploration. The critical distance from any form of authority and hegemony underlines Zhang Wei’s artistic career, as well as his philosophy of life. As early as in 1976 (or 1977), Zhang Wei took to heart a translated book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by American writer Richard Bach. In it, Bach wrote about a seagull flying high and free despite odds and mockery. This story showed Zhang Wei how to live and handle art in a free and personal way. Zhang Wei identified strongly with the courageous seagull in perpetual quest for freedom and unperturbed by any obstacle that comes along the way. This book was among the major influences on his way of living and working as an artist, before he took the chance of participating in a show in New York to leave Beijing and live in the States in the following two decades from 1986 to 2005. There, he resisted the idea of following his gallerist’s advice to plan his artistic career, and rather stood by the human spirit which he deemed far more important than becoming a successful artist.
This liberal and humanistic outlook towards life and art is a consistent and inherent aspect that upholds the tension and relevance of Zhang Wei’s artistic practice towards the varied social and political contexts that he’s lived through. He’s always engaged in some dialogue with issues at hand. In the early 1970s, the choice of making plein en air paintings and impressionistic landscapes distanced him from the dogma of socialist realist art of the time. In the beginning of the 1980s, his further dive into abstraction afforded him a space for self-expression and artistic freedom. In the wake of the Intellectual Liberation (sixiang jiefang) Campaign after the end of the Cultural Revolution, there was less control and more room for free thinking in the Chinese society. It was then that older artists took the opportunity to champion stylistic diversity and formal exploration as an outlet for artistic autonomy. Younger artists in and out of art academies at the time pursued faithful figurative depictions of non-heroic characters, events and aspects of everyday reality such as rural life, in defiance of idealized rendering of subject matters in socialist realism. Zhang Wei and some of his like-minded artist friends such as Wang Luyan and Zhu Jinshi looked for freedom in painting in abstracted forms.
ZHANG WEI: Colors of Emotions
9 Nov 2022 - 14 Jan 2023
Seilerstätte 16, 1010 Wien, Österreich
Zhang Wei, Z-AC2117, 2021, oil on linen, 150 x 200 cm, courtesy Galerie Krinzinger and the artist