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Zeng Fanzhi

Chinese Painter

Zeng Fanzhi Photo
Movement: Expressionism

Born: 1964 - Wuhan, China

"What remains unchanged is my pursuit of beauty."

Summary of Zeng Fanzhi

For over three decades Zeng Fanzhi has been working to clear a path for Chinese art that offers a frank critique of contemporary Chinese life while creating an art historical dialogue between East and West. Zeng's oeuvre shifts between portraiture of artists, of himself, and of everyday workers; abstract color fields; landscapes; and satirical figurative works. Dedicated to the utilization and representation of emotion in painting, his works are challenging, hard-hitting, and evocatively rendered reflections on political and personal worlds.

Key Ideas

Zeng Fanzhi's most important contribution to contemporary art and painting is in his critique of communist-era Chinese propaganda, including the restrictive controls on art and artists, where Socialist Realism was the only permitted figurative painting model, featuring idealized images of political leaders and happy, healthy citizens.
Zeng's paintings present his own hybrid identity comprised of Western and Eastern influences (artistically, personally, and stylistically) and broader East/West hybridity brought on by increasing globalization. He also often challenges Westernization and Chinese tradition simultaneously in one painting, presenting complex renditions of global relations today.
His early work used thick, painterly techniques to reproduce flesh and meat - creating haptic, corporeal images of contemporary China through the literal bodies of the country's everyday workers and citizens.
Later, masks became an important signifier of loss, alienation, and the whitewashing of Asian identity in Zeng's work, where white-masked figures repeat themselves in different groupings.
His recent work includes abstract techniques to render landscapes, whose process (for example painting with two brushes simultaneously) gives them complex political meanings for example challenging the idealized landscape of a famous nationalist poem, thus continuing his interest in place and the weight of recent history in China.
Zeng Fanzhi Photo

Zeng Fanzhi was born in 1964 in Wuhan, Hubei, and grew up during the later part of the Cultural Revolution in China. His parents worked at a printing house, and he says that they encouraged him to take up painting "to keep me out of trouble, off the street." He recalls, "When I was young, life was so tough that it was difficult to think about one's future. At the time, the most important thing was whether we could make ends meet and feed ourselves. I think before my 20s the most important thing to me was whether I could feed myself."

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