Author: ZENG FANZHI 曾梵志
Signed and dated: Painted in 2000
Final Price: RMB 14,000,000
signed in Chinese and pinyin, dated 2000
Poly Hong Kong 2014 Spring Auction Lot0201
Current Collector brought the painting from the auction above
The item is held under the bonded status, for more details, please see the Notice on Auction of Bonded Lots.
Zeng Fanzhi is a maverick artist in contemporary Chinese art scene. He has excelled himself in his career spanning 30 years, and has been committed to redefining the boundaries and expression models of oil painting creation. Despite his penetrating and diverse artistic styles, he focuses on the relationship and interaction between social reality and an individual’s spiritual world. His works, ranging from “Union Hospital” series in the 1980s, to the “mask” series in the 1990s, and to the “disorderly” series in the 2000s, have both lighthearted humor and severe social criticism. Through historical narration and contemporary reality, the works convey complex emotions in the tones of irony and sympathy, becoming a class of its own based on metaphorical and symbolic expressionist language.
Since the “Mask” series produced in 1994, the artist has been making improvements in themes, expression modes and colors, and adds new elements at each stage. The “mask series” in the early 1990s feature group portraits. In the 2000s, the works generally have a single person or a few individuals, but the composition forms are richer. This Mask created in 2000 has the rare narrow and long size, visually stressing the sense of vertical spatial perception. The scenes in the works shift from the closed spaces to the vast coastal environment. The changes in the scenes show that the painter thinks about the relationship between the objective world and individuals, and between man and nature, as well as exploring the relationship between the times, society and individuals. The figures in the painting are typical urban white-collar professionals clad in suits and spotlessly clean black leather shoes, with a top hat in hand. The painter designs a glamorous but affected shape for the figure. It has a slightly distorted body, the hat in front of the chest, and one foot in front of the other, presenting an image of a gentleman, a fashion model, or a movie star. It interprets the pivotal theme of the “Mask” series – the alienation and conflicts of modern urban dwellers.
In the work, Zeng Fanzhi stresses a sense of illusion similar to the stage: “I in fact want to produce a brilliant painting, but it is spurious, like a setting on the stage. People like self-consolation. It is an affection waiting for someone to take a picture, including a human hand. It is a sham posture of a proud urban dweller.” In the picture, the figure seems to be glamorous and have airs and graces, but the affected posture and wooden expressions are poor imitations of the so-called successful people and urban elites in search of ridiculous vanity and inner emptiness. In the course of urbanization, people generally have great anxiety about disorientation of personal identity and social status, and are eager to integrate into society and the others. At the same time, however, this pursuit of social identity as often as not causes the distorted human nature. Therefore, lying behind the seemingly indifferent picture are violent internal conflict and strain. Generally, the “Mask” series can be viewed as a potent response of artists to modern urban life. In the city, people have no choice but to interact with others with hypocrisy, indifference and vigilance in order to avoid harm. The figures in this series share the commonalities, such as disproportionately large hands, glazed eyes, and dazzling red lips. The individual’s identification and personality are deliberately concealed, becoming a kind of ordinary human beings in a general sense. In making the picture, Zeng Fanzhi drew on the expression techniques and critical spirit of Beckman, Bacon and Lucian Freud, and also referred to the contemporary Chinese social context to produce a unique style with metaphorical and symbolic meaning.
In the work of art, Zeng Fanzhi used a scraper to remove the traces of the brush, so that the background of the painting looks like a printed material to create an overall feeling of oppression. At the same time, he uses rough and creased brushstrokes to describe the face and exaggerated large hands. The alternating bright red lines and thick ink lines indicate the individual’s oppressed and fidgety mental state. In terms of color expression, this painting shows Zeng Fanzhi’s new practices in the early 2000s. The ocean and beach in the background are reduced to three pure color sections of “blue, blue, and yellow”. Above is the vast blue, which is flatly colored to create a sense of grand space. The middle part is the changes in the blue depth in imitation of the dynamic waves. The changes of a single color show the progression of profound space. The pale yellow tone in the lower part is presented as a triangle, and the viewpoint is extended to the space outside the picture through diagonal lines, creating a dynamic sense of the figure walking toward the viewers. The yellow triangle color blocks and the protagonist’s straight yellow garment and shoes constitute vertical and horizontal lines, and contrast with the blue part above. Both the color change from blue to yellow, and the combination of rectangle and triangle present a bright and lively rhythm. As distinct from the brown-gray tone in the earlier “Mask” works, this painting uses colorful highly saturated colors to highlight the effect of the picture. This experimental exploration of color concepts and the picture forms also portends subsequent abstract landscape series.
Since 2002, Zeng Fanzhi produces works that are gradually divorced from the “Mask” series, and uses the “chaotic brush” series with a different style instead. The “chaotic brush” approach originated from an accidental event. Zeng Fanzhi once injured his right hand, but he wanted to continue painting with the left hand. However, the left hand is dwarfed by the right hand in terms of control capability and proficiency, and mistakes creep in on the works, and damages the picture. The more he wants to correct it, the more mistakes he makes. Zeng Fanzhi felt the power of destruction in this painting experience new to him. He kept on and created the “chaotic brush” style. Zeng Fanzhi redefines his creative approach in this series as a consequence of mistakes: “I use two pens at the same time when I paint. The pen held between the index finger and the middle finger is used for painting, and the other causes destruction in the creative process. This will produce the seemingly messy but in fact orderly brushstrokes.” Thereafter, Zeng Fanzhi drew more inspiration from the unrestrained strokes of cursive script and the observation of plants and vines, thus creating more lively brush strokes.
Zeng Fanzhi consciously combines eastern aesthetics with Western aesthetics in the “chaotic brush” series, but this integration is not superficial. As the artist put it, “The eastern culture values flexibility, yin and yang, balance, and artistic conception. When mature technology is reached, there is a pursuit of higher level and the “Taoist” thought and spirit. Therefore, he focuses on this aspect in the subsequent works, and adds the oriental elements not for superficial image but serve the needs at the content and spiritual level.” Zeng Fanzhi combines realistic objects, clear space, brushes of cursive script and unrestrained brushstrokes of oil paintings to constitute a novel visual image. This image is well-designed with clear structures, but has its casual and uncertain nature like cursive script. It explores the spiritual world and the relationship between man and nature, and also uses rhythmical lines to produce the vibrant charms of ink wash paintings.
The theme of the paintings is always the people in the “Union Hospital” series, the “Mask” series, and the early “chaotic brush” series. New themes and composition began to appear in the “chaotic brush” series produced around 2010. At this time, the artist adds the landscape and animals into the painting to describe the perception of individuals through the skillful combination of nature and approve the existence value of life. It alludes to the spiritual world of humanity, implying the Taoist philosophy of “unity of man and nature”. The distinctive “animal” series are more emotional, lighthearted and lively than previous works. A case in point is the Lucky Deer. In traditional Chinese culture, “kylin, dragon, phoenix, and tortoise” are the four auspicious beasts. Dragon and kylin have the characteristics of deer. It can be seen that deer is very important in ancient propitiousness culture. A symbol of longevity, deer is also a representation of political power. The Historical Records – The Biography of the Marquis of Huaiyin states that “Qin state loses the deer, which is chased by the whole country.” Dear is homophonous with power in Chinese, which means that the warlords vie with each other for the control of the country. Zeng Fanzhi uses deer for the theme as a symbol of traditional Chinese culture, and also gives voice to his feelings in an anthropomorphic manner. Bada Shanren, a painter of the late Ming and early Qing dynasties, used symbolism to express the meaning and personify the objects. The animals “looking at people in a contemptuous way” show the feelings of cynicism. The deer looking back in the Blessing Deer is similar to the Pine and Deer by Bada Shanren.
On closer inspection, the Lucky Deer features ingenious conception, with solid scene near and blurred scene far away, and rich spatial levels. A sika deer looks back while climbing the slope. In the distance is a gray-white water surface, and the foreground is a forest with dense trees. The branches are intertwined in all directions in a seemingly disorderly but pleasantly staggered manner. The solid brushstrokes extend upwards to cover the entire scene. The lines are numerous, but orderly, pleasant and affirmative, with changes in thickness and black and white colors. The branches below have a clear sense of perspective and quality. The higher the place, the more exaggerated the lines. It does not follow a set pattern, like the effect of casual actions in calligraphy. Innovative techniques can also be seen from the painting. Some lines are painted with one stroke, while other lines are broken and connected. In terms of color matching, the warm yellow color of the deer and the red lines on the black branches are in sharp contrast with the blue and green on the ground. The deer has a realistic shape and color, while expressionist techniques are used for the landscape. This painting shows Zeng Fanzhi’s view on blending Eastern and Western aesthetics. In conjunction with concrete and abstract styles, it shows the spirit and emotional state of the subject in the painting through rich expression methods. The lines and colors intertwine to expand the development scope of contemporary art through the new artistic language.
In fact, I want to make it particularly brilliant, but it is especially false, just like a kind of scenery on the stage. People are a kind of self consolation, waiting for someone to take photos. It's a very prentensions gesture, including people's hands, a kind of pretended attitude of proud city dwellers.
— Zeng Fanzhi