Zeng Fanzhi is one of China’s most dynamic and expressive painters. Unlike many of the other well-known Chinese painters, Zeng’s subjects are not political but psychological. His series of paintings, about hospitals, meat and masked figures, as well as his latest series of portraits set along the coast, are powerful, expressive pieces that hint at the psychological state of man -- or woman -- in the modern world, and perhaps the inner psyche of the artist. His works have been called apocalyptic or dark portraits of reality. They are images of sickness, cruelty, pain and longing. In his well-known “Mask” series, Zeng’s figures wear a white mask; they are mostly well-dressed urbanites, but they have large, strange hands, weird expressions, blank stares or puzzling eyes. His works often have sharp brush strokes, or even slashing strokes that reveal tensions in what might be seen in a splintered universe.
Zeng Fanzhi’s notorious mask series conducted in the mid 90’s marks a turn in his aesthetics. All the figures in the series wear white masks fused closely with the facial features. The masks nevertheless possess a peculiar, haunting power. His figures look anxious or fearful, as if they are victims of their own roles. Through the mask motif, Zeng Fanzhi expresses suspended reality.
Zeng Fanzhi’s late paintings signify a shift in his focus from a formal concern with the representation of existential unsettlement to an interest in how we imagine ourselves interacting with nature. In his recent landscape paintings, there is a notion of permanent escape – an attempt to inhabit the uninhabitable. These images are expressively abstract. Rendered in cool shades of pink, black and blue, they represent the tension of failed community and human loneliness. Within these large-scale images there is a notion of fragility and vulnerability; like an attempt to create a terrain of uncertainty that inhabits both characters and landscape depicted. The grand scale of the paintings lends them a certain suggestive and sublime appearance. Over the years Zeng Fanzhi’s paintings have always been rich in colour and composition, compelling and linked strongly with history, politics, emotions, psychology, fantasy and memories.
ZF says: “I grew up in the environment of the Cultural Revolution and all these ideologies take a lot of space in my mind, but when I paint I just want to portray my inner feeling and the people around me. I’ve never been interested in my art becoming symbols of political ideas.”
Zeng Fanzhi was born in Wuhan, China in 1964. He studied oil painting at the Wuhan Art Academy. He lives and works in Beijing. He has had solo exhibitions at Singapore Art Museum (2007), Musée d’Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne de Metropole, Saint-Etienne (2007), Fundacion Godia, Barcelona, (2009), National Gallery for Foreign Art, Sofia (2010) and Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai (2010). He has also participated in numerous international group exhibitions including the first Guangzhou Triennale in 2002 and the 53rd Biennale di Venezia in 2009. Currently his paintings can be seen in “I mondo vi appartiene” at François Pinault Foundation, Palazzo Grassi, Venice through December 2011.
Zeng Fanzhi is one of the icons of the Chinese contemporary art scene of the past 25 years. Today he lives and works in Beijing. Zeng Fanzhi has exhibited widely at acclaimed institutions such as the Shanghai Art Museum, National Art Museum (Beijing), Kunst Museum Bonn, Kunstmuseum Bern, Santa Monica Art Centre, (Barcelona), National Art Museum, Singapore and Art Centre (Hong Kong).