Whether painting green dogs, red scholar’s rocks, or extravagant peach blossoms bursting with vigour, observed reality has never constrained Zhou Chunya’s expressionistic creativity. Like the German Neo-Expressionist painters from whom the artist derived much of his early inspiration, Zhou Chunya seeks an emotional resonance in his works that can only be achieved by departing from the confines of reality. When painting a scholar’s stone, he recalls, "I did not seek to understand it from the angle of the materials' properties and patterns of imagery like a Chinese painter; instead, I followed my expressive intent to find things that felt unfamiliar and might bring surprises. I exerted a lot of energy on surfaces and texture, obsessively capturing and ruminating on the natural properties and visual elements of the rocks."
By rendering the stone in this classical Chinese garden - originally a dull gray - in shades of purple and brown, the subject is imbued with a powerful life and energy. His love of these shades is evident in his repeated use of the same colours throughout his Garden Series, which are inspired by the confluence of stone, foliage and water found in classical gardens throughout China.
Zhou has professed a profound love of the classical Chinese garden, taking trips to Suzhou and once spending several days in Shanghai’s famed Yuyuan Gardens to absorb the changing colours and impressions of the landscape. In accordance with Chinese aesthetic tradition, these classical gardens are entirely man-made, incorporating miniaturized versions of natural scenery to produce an artificial landscape. Elaborate rockeries often serve as the garden’s focal point, featuring artfully designed cliffs, peaks, caves, and winding gorges that could be explored and contemplated by visitors. In selecting these artificial gardens as the subject of his most recent body of works, Zhou Chunya responds to both Western and Chinese approaches to landscape painting. He depicts a classical Chinese subject using techniques borrowed from the West, and in doing so he reinvents a landscape that is both real and imaginary. By playfully capturing a traditional garden scene with vibrant colours more often found in the contemporary contexts, Zhou reinvents his subject, imbuing it with new life and perspective.