The exhibition is reflective of a multi-layered approach since the artist works concurrently on several series. As a result a perpetual dialogue, between abstraction and representation across histories and cultures, is at the core of his practice. See more images of the show.
The exhibition allows viewers the opportunity to gain an unprecedented and in-depth understanding of the bold development of the artist’s creative process as each locale features new works which have not been previously exhibited. In Zurich the exhibition features abstract landscapes from the last two years; in London the focus is portraiture from the late 1980s to the present day; and in Hong Kong new paintings and drawings deftly draw on conjunctions of Oriental and Western artistic traditions reflecting Zeng’s ongoing research and experimentation.
Over the course of three decades, Zeng has continually challenged convention to transcend a simple representation of the physical world. His approach is a highly personal search for a fundamental understanding of painting and its potential as a means of expression through the medium itself. In this respect elements of the artist’s process – such as the painted gesture, the creation of pictorial space and use of colour – are at once a means of conveying human experience and a meditation on the inherently subjective nature of perception. As Zeng Fanzhi explains, ‘Painting provides me with a gateway to stay in contact with the world. What I feel, see, hear, and think are all articulated through my paintings.’
The paintings which feature in the Zurich section of the exhibition are an evolution of a series of abstract landscapes which the artist began in 2002. Zeng has developed new techniques, using diverse brushstrokes in vibrant hues against a darker ground disrupt and traverse the surface plane in intricate expressive skeins. Previously elements such as fire, water and sky appeared in this series, yet the recent works, such as ‘Untitled’ (2017), are resolutely abstract giving an impression of an indeterminate territory reflecting the artist’s expressive plane, the scale of which envelops the viewer.
In this respect, Zeng is pursuing a prevailing line of investigation in Chinese aesthetics in which the forms of the natural landscape are used as a metaphor for the character and emotions of the artist. Zeng has an acute awareness of the dynamics which occur as the viewer continually adjusts the focal distance to arrive at their own ideal vantage point, and the configuration of the works in the gallery space forms a rhythm.
The human figure remains an essential theme throughout the artist’s career and Zeng describes the genre as a means of observing ‘the fundamental emotional state of humankind’. The figurative works on view in London reveal the aesthetic range of the artist as his approach has evolved, from early paintings ‘Smiling Beck-ning’ (1989) and examples from the renowned Mask Series which followed in the 1990s, to several new series of works and portraits featuring the cultural icons Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and Victor Hugo created in recent years. This presentation aptly demonstrates Zeng’s dedication to experimenting with a multiplicity of approaches over the course of three decades. In this respect it gives unprecedented insights into the artist’s work by revealing how the process of painting itself takes precedence as a means of conveying meaning and experience over the subject matter depicted.