Zhang Wei is regarded as one of the first abstract painters in China. After having been excluded from any educational artistic program, Zhang joined the self-organised and unofficial artist collective Wuming (No Name) in the mid-1970s. The young painters of the group tried to develop their own ideas as well as artistic approaches and attempted to express themselves in contrast to the established, politically supported art forms.
During the post-Mao era of the late 1970s and 80s, at a time that was more culturally open, Zhang learned about Abstract Expressionism of western artists in exhibitions, such as Jackson Pollock, and also met Robert Rauschenberg during his visit to Beijing. These encounters offered him a different view on his own artistic practice and encouraged Zhang's aim for personal freedom of expression by dedicating himself to a non-representational form.
In his exhibition with Galerie Max Hetzler Zhang shows a selection of new abstract paintings. His works pick up particularly the immediate and intuitive approaches of action painting. Nevertheless, alongside references to western modern painting, Zhang's works also allude to traditional Chinese ink and calligraphy techniques. Similarly, his practice reminds of the Asian tradition of “qi”, that describes painting as a process of releasing energy when ink and paper touch through the brush.
Zhang's spontaneous brushwork and the dynamic and direct paint application enable a vivid and sometimes even dramatic imagery. Every brushstroke is visible and allows the viewer to retrace the production process. Bold colours overlap and build an intense interplay of shades. However, large parts of the canvas remain blank and thus mark an important component of Zhang's paintings. He himself calls it incompleteness, though this term does not indicate a missing part but rather a purposely intended compositional element.
In addition to Zhang's paintings the show presents early works on paper which emerged in cooperation with his partner Elaine Woo. Dated between 1973 and 1978, the works depict figurative scenes, mostly landscapes and offer an insight into Zhang's early oeuvre. At a time where landscape painting and in particular outdoor painting was frowned upon in China as a bourgeoisie past-time, these works illustrate Zhang Wei's longing for individual expression which eventually led to an exceptional abstract language.