Zeng Fanzhi (B. 1964)
Zeng Fanzhi (B. 1964)

Sky series: Gazing Afar

Zeng Fanzhi (B. 1964)
Sky series: Gazing Afar
signed in Chinese; signed 'Zeng Fanzhi' in Pinyin; dated '2005' (lower right)
oil on canvas
200 x 150 cm. (78 3/4 x 59 in.)
Painted in 2005
Srinakharinwirot University, In the view: Exhibition of Seven Contemporary Artists, Bangkok, Thailand, 2006. (illustrated, p. 82).
Bangkok, Thailand, Srinakharinwirot University, In the view: Exhibition of Seven Contemporary Artists, August 23 - September 15, 2006.

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Lot Essay

From the very beginning of Zeng Fanzhi's artistic career, his work has always been emotionally and visually powerful. The Hospital and Flesh series of the early 1990s demonstrate Zeng's humanitarian spirit and social awareness. The images in his work are taken directly from everyday life in Zeng's hometown, Wuhan. Drastic changes can be seen in his work after he moved to Beijing, for example, in the Mask series, an ironic reflection on the individual and prevailing social climate of the time. Zeng concentrates on Chinese painting techniques in the Portrait series, in which contrasting lines of varying width and direction set off the loneliness and isolation of figures. In 2004's Sky series, he abandons the 'masked' figures that directly confront his viewers, yet a sense of turmoil and uncertainty is created by the injection of an imaginative time frame, and the combining of the subject matter with abstract scenery made up of chaotic strokes.
The Sky Series: Gazing Afar (Lot 53) is representative of the series. Two men in sunglasses - one dressed in red and one in white - stand against a strong wind at the centre of the painting. A contrasting red, blue and black colour scheme and swift criss-crossing lines are used for shading the figures' faces, producing a conflicting yet harmonious effect. Zeng's signature backward strokes are used for the flying hair, shoulders and arms, evoking the speed of the wind, while the separated legs help the figures to stabilise themselves against the wind. The dropped arms, however, give a sense of emotionless relaxation. The triangular composition of wild grass at the bottom left balances the instability of the two figures in the painting; the cloud-like grass, blue sky and white clouds in the background form a sharp contrast; and the blue and green at the centre add uncertainty to the large patch of black.
Zeng had been living in Beijing for ten years in 2004, when he created the Sky series. Despite the shock of the deadly SARS outbreak of the previous year, China was maintaining its rapid growth in GDP. In developing its capital market and economy, the government insists it is constructing a 'socialist society with Chinese characteristics' and rejects foreign presumptions that socialist states are economically backward. Gazing Afar reveals Zeng's uncertainty about the political situation - the future of the opposing 'red' and 'white' powers, given their rather tumultuous history.
If the Mask series is about the struggle against history and personal beliefs, and a discussion of the indifference of people in modern Chinese society under the capitalist economy, the Sky series is about how 'history repeats itself, in a different form'. Zeng exaggeratedly extracts and puts together events and objects in an absurd time frame, just like the turbulent wind in Gazing Afar.
The work expresses the artist's anxiety and fear, beneath the layer of hope and confidence. Through Zeng's detailed observation, the 'sense of time' of the image is strengthened and consolidated. The artist demonstrates great sensitivity towards the rapidly evolving society, historical events and the gradual changes in humanity. His works are able to transit from one era to another, along a timeline. Yet his understanding is not limited to the linear development of the world or the transformations of the materialistic world, but gives a broader outlook of historic progression captured and projected in one's emotions, which are dynamic and unpredictable, at a single, particular moment in the vast ocean of time.

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