Xiaogang Zhang (b. 1958)
Zhang Xiaogang (b. 1958)

Boy with Eyes Closed

Zhang Xiaogang (b. 1958)
Boy with Eyes Closed
signed in Chinese and dated '2005' (lower right)
oil on canvas
43 3/8 x 51 3/8 in. (110 x 130.5 cm.)
Painted in 2005.
Private collection
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, London, 16 October 2006, lot 131
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Tainan, Robert & Li Art Gallery, Cultural Revolution Memory, 2005.

Brought to you by

Eliza Netter
Eliza Netter

Lot Essay

Over the course of his career, from his earliest, lonesome and symbol-laden canvases, through his Bloodline - Big Family works, Zhang Xiaogang established themes and motifs that he has developed to new levels of conceptual rigour and sophistication. His adoption of a recognizable representational genre - the official family photograph - and his photo-realist style, suggested the interplay between public and private, the extension of family secrets and traumas across generations. Throughout, Zhang's palette become increasingly muted, the features of his figures increasingly stylized, heightening the sense that his paintings are less depictions of actual persons but of dream-like spaces or of emotional dispositions.
Zhang's heavily metaphorical approach to portraiture reached a new pinnacle with the Amnesia and Memory series. Zhang's references to the photography genre helped underline his concerns between the play between public and private, memory and forgetting, the particular and the universal. With Boy With Eyes Closed, these themes have been sublimated entirely by his hyper photo-realist technique, which suggests we are looking at something like a photograph, and yet also an image, moment and a mood that stands far outside the conventions of photographic representation. The boy's head takes up nearly the entire composition. His features are stylized, simplified, and serene. There is the faintest glimmer of possible tears under his closed eyelids, and Zhang's signature patch of light falls across his features. The painting has a kind of mythic, almost chthonic quality, suggestive of some fundamental aspect of human nature not previously explored.
Here Zhang has returned to ideas of memory and consciousness, the patch of pink suggesting his understanding of destiny and repressed memories as inherited like any other familial trait. Johnson Chang eloquently captured this aspect of Zhang's works. In 2004, on the occasion of Zhang's Umbilical Cord of History exhibition, he wrote:
Zhang's success is to have explored a sensitive area wedged in between various dichotomies, articulating secrets that long to be told but remain suppressed. Bloodline and Memory and Amnesia reflect the historical problem of the clash between family and nationhood, about conflicting loyalties and public wounds still seeking resolution. The artist has exposed this dimension of history through the confines of the photography studio. In a portrait studio the protagonists are held captive, fossilised as stilled faces. Each one tries to show his best side to the world as this is the memory he is leaving to posterity. Each is making an effort for memory in the future. This fixed moment is therefore a moment suspended between past and future, when each person is joined to the others for eternity. Here we find a common understanding between them that cannot be readily expressed; it is like sharing a secret, a common wound. We are not told the contents of this wound, but the artist seems to imply that we should know anyway because we have arrived from that same history. Perhaps this is the significance of Zhang's art for this era. He has portrayed a public history through the subtleties of a classical iconography, and has captured the complex emotions hidden by history's public face. (Imbilical Cord of History: Paintings by Zhang Xiaogang, Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong, China, 2004, p. 7).

More from Post-War and Contemporary Afternoon Session

View All
View All