A Girl in Guishan (Lot 802) is a thematically different work from the later series of Tang Zhigang that we know better, such as the Children in Meeting. Painted in 1994, it is a rare depiction of simple daily life in the rural area of Guishan where he ventured alongside other artists. Since the 1960s, it had been a small sanctuary for artists to escape and paint quieter moments and follow the Western practice of landscape paintings until the 1980s when contemporary artists such as Tang himself went to escape the realities of post Cultural Revolution.
Vibrantly rendered, the image of Guishan is idyllic; she sits bare footed, feeling the texture and softness of the soil while her eyes roam easily over the plains of the farmland. The stones which compose the wall in the painting are loosely piled and lack a rigidity we would associate with a soldier's work ethic. Instead, we find Tang has painted a woman at complete ease with nature, she is a refreshing vision and completely oblivious to life beyond this village such that it is not surprising that Tang was captivated by the close relationship the residents of Guishan have with nature.
"My earlier painting in the military was similar to the growing flowers and plants. I was actually growing myself. Today's Children in Meeting' is more of 'strategies' or 'pre-meditated plans.' Variety is created for the variety of culture and art history is being made regardless of economic and cultural development. My earlier works are 'sincere' or 'good' and my existing ones are 'successful.' My earlier works have reached an end; they are healing, soothing and down-to-earth. My existing ones are worrisome, unconfident and without limits. I think about further expansion everyday."
American filmmaker Oliver Stone has been an avid and adventuresome collector of contemporary art for over twenty years. From nearly the earliest of his filmmaking career, Mr. Stone's projects brought him to Asia, giving him access not only to locations suitable for his films, but also to the earliest stages of the breathtaking modernization projects that would propel the continent into the 21st century and set the stage for the most unprecedented breaks with traditional art and culture in recent history. Asian contemporary art became a cornerstone of his collecting interests, and with an auteur's eye, he sought out some of the finest examples from China's burgeoning avant-garde. Mr. Stone gravitated to works by artists who in turn have proved to be visionaries in their fields, artists whose works point to and precipitated powerful new and influential directions in Chinese contemporary art. Highlighted by major works from the period between 1992 and 1995, these paintings from the collection of Oliver Stone feature artists who emphasized subjective, intuitive and personal visions, asserting intimate and poetic experiences above the official narrative of Chinese history, creating a radical new vision of contemporary Chinese experience.
It was only soon after (1998) that Tang returned to depicting a life he knew better, a life in the army which had been engrained in him from his earlier years and childhood experiences. His father was an officer in the Red Army and his upbringing at the Kunyang Labor farm, where his mother was a prison warden, bestowed on the artist a unique introduction to the highly institutionalized world that was to become a prevalent part of his later life. As a child, and thus impartial bystander at the camp, Tang developed a profound understanding of this system from the perspective of both the leaders and those being led. It is perhaps these very experiences that compelled him, as a painter of propaganda for the Political Department of the Army whilst serving in Vietnam, to eschew the much encouraged Socialist Realist style for his more humanistic depictions of soldiers going about simple everyday tasks. Tang's many years of serving in the PLA have given him more than adequate license to use his aesthetic vocabulary as commentary on the scenes that he knows all to well. Tang's Meeting Room series can be seen as a product of his background and a progression from his early Realist style.
In the featured work Children in Meeting (lot 801), two children in military uniforms are seated at a formal meeting table with official-seeming - but notably blank - red banners behind them. The microphone, teacups and hot water thermos add a level of pompous civility. The two children seem to be excerpted from a larger and apparently contentious meeting. One figure leaps to his feet in apparent vocal objection to the proceedings, while the other cowers meekly by his side. The theatrical gestures and expressions of the figures are perfect caricatures of adult posturing; the innocence of his imagery belies Tang's deep insight into the folly and politicking of institutional, bureaucratic life.