(Chinese, B. 1958)
Bloodline: Big Family - Brother and Sister
signed in Chinese, dated '2005' (lower right)
oil on canvas
120 x 150 cm. (47 1/8 x 59 in.)
Painted in 2005
Acquired directly from the artist
Private Collection, New York, USA

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Felix Yip
Felix Yip

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Lot Essay

Zhang Xiaogang graduated in 1982 from Sichuan Art Academy which is famous for starting the trend of Scar art, following the cultural revolution. His fellow students include Lou Zhongli, Cheng Conglin etc. At that time, Scar art adopted realism as a style. Aim directly at the political aesthetic of 'Hong Guang Liang - Red, Bright and Shining ' mandated during the Cultural Revolution, they chose to depict poverty among the mass, the reality of the suffering and backward lives as their materials. In his earlier years, Zhang also painted several genre paintings, which display the agonizing life full of struggles and depressed emotions. However, he did not carry on the realist path of creating paintings of unadorned locals scenes, but immersed himself with modern Western art such as elements of expressionism, surrealism. His creation moved towards the avant-garde. The early 90s is a significant turning point for both the Contemporary Chinese Art scene and Zhang's personal artistic career. As the artistic styles 'Political Pop', and 'Cynical Realism' gained popularity around the world, his Bloodline series, created since 1993, stands for Zhang's transition from the creating an emotional-driven, illusionistic, dreamlike imagery to, to a conceptual, rational and symbolic structure of visual language.

Bloodline: Big Family - Brother and Sister (Lot 1047) is a later work among the Bloodline series. Since the 90s, Zhang has transformed the recognizable individual of the Big Family in to a conceptual image. Their original image has been reduced to the simplest form under Zhang's skillful and exquisite use of brushwork. These include the similar facial features such as the oval-shaped faces, almond eyes with single eyelids and tiny mouths. He deliberately blurs the differences between each individual, and empathizes a commonality that is not incidental. Through the establishment of a unique portrait symbol, he transmits a certain sense of inner psychological state. The contemporary Western sculptor, Constantin Brancusi, depicts the elevated soul beneath appearances through simplistic and summarized sculptures. The puristic treatment of the facial features, the fluidity of the lines and the elegant style all echo with the characters of Bloodline. However, in the timeless purity of Zhang's portraits, there is sedimented memory that belong to the Chinese nation, to a particular era that succeeded the previous decades.

Zhang's emphasis on the 'Big Family' as a theme related directly to it being a traditional Chinese notion. Right from the start, China has been a country which based its economy on agriculture; due to the practical need of a great number of people to assist in farming, the Chinese considers the family as the basic unit, and seek to build big families. Under the feudalist ideology, the laws and etiquette of being 'a loving father, a dutiful son; affectionate and respectful sibling; a righteous husband, and an obedient wife ' restrained the minds and behaviour of the Chinese people. This extends to the direction of 'the self-discipline, manage the family, rule the country and bring peace to the world '. A harmonious society is built based upon stable and content families. Even emperors inherit the crown through bloodline, and hence the idea of 'family as rule '. In terms of personal achievement, gaining titles at the court and being successful also have the connotation of 'bringing glory to the family and past ancestors '. Thus, the Chinese is interdependent with their families; and the idea of individual existence is relatively weak. A big family is almost an inbuilt gene in the Chinese blood.

The New China in the 1950s is led by revolutionary ideologies. For political reasons, the People's Communes were set up and others unitary system and political movements also started. They shook the unit structure of the Chinese family. People's Communes is a system that ties with every aspects of a person's daily life. It is a system that requires literal execution more than the that of the keeping of traditions and rituals. Official community units took over the family, and sealed the fate of a person; there is no other options under such highly political society. The brother and sister in Bloodline: Big Family - Brother and Sisters might have come from a blood-related family; but concurrently, they could be taking up the other roles of family members under the socialist system. Everyone is living under the invisible 'Big Family of Revolution '. Under the revolutionary ideology, everyone addresses each other as comrades, everyone is the good sons and daughters of the revolution. The series, Bloodline: Big Family, expresses the fate and memory of the Chinese being at once part of the 'blood-related family' as well as the 'revolutionary family'. Therefore, even if the two figures in the painting are not blood-related, they can still derive incomparable intimacy through the symbolic red stripe of 'bloodline'. History reminds us that revolution family is in fact a very surreal concept, Zhang places the figures in front of a smooth, illusionary and unlimited space, which echoes with the method used by the Surrealist Yves Tanguy. It creates strong nostalgic sentiment in the viewer towards such family mode which lies between reality and the ideal.

The mysterious light patches on the two figures' face resonate with the visual impact Asper Jorn created by adding moustache to a ready-made portrait. They are like inherent birth marks that represent the longitudinal blood relations. At the same time, they are like merciless and profound scars that evoke the unforgettable turmoil millions of families of have experienced during the decade. Zhang has once said that, "We are certainly living in a 'big family'. In this family, we need to learn to face the different 'blood-relations' - those of family's, society's, culture's etc. Under different 'heredity', the concept of 'collectivism', is in fact, deeply embedded in our consciousness, forming a certain psychological complex that is hard to forego."

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