Zhang Enli (CHINA, B. 1965)

The Binding

The Binding
dated ‘2015’ and signed in Chinese (lower right); titled in Chinese, measured ‘150 × 170 cm’, dated ‘2015’ and signed in Chinese (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
150 x 170 cm.(59 x 66 7⁄8 in.)
Painted in 2015
ShangART Gallery, Shanghai, China
Private Collection, Asia

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Lot Essay

Zhang Enli, born in 1965, has long been a unique force in China’s contemporary art world. While commercialisation and commodification took over the art world during the 1990s, he remained aloof and detached, using an alienated point of view to depict his perceptions of society and quotidian details. It is precisely this distinctive distancing and serenity that helped him become one of the most internationally-recognised Chinese artists in the modern era. The Binding, completed in 2015, reveals a deeper layer of abstraction compared with his earlier works, using simple brushstrokes to formulate an abundance of internal tension. In the same year, his work was even collected by the Centre Georges-Pompidou in Paris.
Viewers often find it hard to pin down Zhang’s aesthetics – he is always experimenting, and has never stopped polishing his art. Regardless of context, however, he invariably finds inspiration from everyday objects, distilling a sense of grounded impartiality out of life’s repetitive vacuity. In The Binding, Zhang uses the unremarkable oval shape to express artistic concepts that are anything but ordinary: the use of colour and brushstrokes express dynamism and tension, as well as balance between the composition’s core and its fringes. In replication, the mundane imagery is given new meaning, and common objects are imbued with motion and vitality – in that sense, Zhang’s discernment is reminiscent of Andy Warhol.
The Binding depicts a fulsome and lavish scene that is filled with innate tension and balance, reflecting Zhang’s sensitivity towards the physical aspect of painting. Thick, smooth strokes swirl to create vibrant and varying golden orbs, encircling the dark abyss in the centre and establishing discrete entities, casually existing in a two-dimensional space. Like Barbara Hepworth’s sculptures, the smooth and rounded surface juxtapose with the dynamic core and form an oppositional energy, reaching a harmonious and holistic equilibrium. Even on a flat surface, Zhang manages to communicate a similar sense of infinite movement, which is a testament to his aesthetic mastery.
Through this work, viewers can seemingly feel the changes experienced by the objects in the artwork, which is perhaps a presentation of Zhang’s own psychological journey. The rough and lucid black strokes pierce through the tranquillity of the canvas – they are perhaps an expansive web, or a network of related lines, joining together all the circular planes. The lines in the painting establish relationships and dynamics between each entity, settling into an equilibrium and peacefulness amidst compression and rebound. Across countless waves and movements, Zhang consistently sought harmony among objects from without and within, moved beyond distress and monotony, and achieved serenity and interconnectedness on the canvas.

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