(B. 1958)
Bloodline Series No. 19
signed in Chinese; dated '1997' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
40 x 30.2 cm. (15 3/4 x 11 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1997
Schoeni Art Gallery, Hong Kong, China
Private Collection, Asia
Schoeni Art Gallery Ltd., 8+8-1: Selected Paintings by 15 Contemporary Artists, Hong Kong, China, 1997 (illustrated, unpaged).
8+8-1: Selected Paintings by 15 Contemporary Artists (travelling exhibition), Hong Kong, China, Schoeni Art Gallery Chicago, USA, Chicago Art Fair Vancouver, Canada, Buschlen/Mowatt Fine Art Ltd., London, UK, Connaught Brown Berlin, Germany, Vierte Etage Galeris, 1997-1998.

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Lot Essay

Painted in 1989, Untitled (Lot 1215), reflects Zhang Xiaogang's major artistic theme and style during mid and late 1980s. After years of excessive drinking, Zhang suffered from a sudden and serious illness and was hospitalized for two months. During this period, the artist had increasingly contemplated on death and illness. His works after this experience often reflect his anxiety and fear towards death, and his weakness as an individual; such sentiments are transformed into different forms of metaphors and symbols in Zhang's paintings.

"Such disconsolate and desperate feeling has urged myself to hold on to my faith to face the cruel reality, to positively perceive the existence of tragedy and death; though the depiction of the tragedy of life and grandeur of death, to reveal the absurdity and mystery of existence." Zhang said.

Untitled was created under such psychological condition; it depicts the imagery of the lost, loneliness and sacrifice. The common subjects in this period include incomplete bodies, yellow severed head, twisted human figures, and white cloth that symbolizes martyrdom and sacrifice. The red nude which embodies primitivism, with her sad and confused eyes, helpless though does not cease to meditate in perplexity. This image further amplifies the theme on contemplation which Zhang frequently discourses in, one that represents the fragility and isolation of individuals in the historical progress. Like his contemporaries in the Southwest, Zhang Xiaogang in this period endeavoured to establish a new aesthetic standard and style, to explore the spirit of his era. The visual image of Untitled is strong but absurd, set in a tranquil but lonelsome and melancholic atmosphere, aptly mirrors the spirit of the era.

Zhang's expression and his use of medium in Untitled is worthy of note. Zhang's applications of oil on paper, his delicate lineation by stencil pens, and the bright and opaque colours are the unique features of his works during this period. The red symbolizes vitality, success and happiness, while yellow was the imperial colour in ancient China. However, Zhang used these bright colours to express the theme of grieve over lost. The inherent meanings of colour had been altered and became beautiful but fragile. This novel interpretation also reflects Zhang's artistic ability to inject his subjective feelings into his use of colour, hence reveals his exceptional sensitivity and observations. Zhang is among the group of famed artists active in Southwest China, and was influenced Yunnan's ethnic colourful, and thus developed his unique way of colour application. First he outlines his subjects on oil painting paper, and then rubs the paper with dry pigments, forming a misty brilliance on the paper after the absorption of oil pigments. With repeated rubbing, the paper would appear to be textured and blurred, creating a misty and dreamy visual effect on Zhang's work. Such application was to become his unique visual language which extended to his later "Bloodline; Big family" series.

In 1997, Zhang Xiaogang held his first solo exhibition at the Beijing Central Academy of Art. The Bloodline series was widely recognized and became his representative works. Bloodline - Comrade (Lot 1216) and Bloodline Series No. 19 (Lot 1214), painted n 1996 and 1997 respectively, were selected from this collection. The figures in the paintings were painted according to the image in traditional Chinese family portrait photographs. Yet, Zhang deliberately depicted them as inert, cold, and stiff individuals with vague facial features and expressions. He also highlighted their uniform, unisex revolutionary uniforms. Zhang implied that these figures formed a "whole", without their own family but to be merged in the "Big Family" of their country. With the ideologies of the Cultural Revolution, where political movements and social mobilizations followed one another, political slogans such as "Chairman Mao should relate to you closer to you than your father and mother" were widespread across the country. Such movements destroyed the traditional value of the core family, where the nation had officially replaced the family units. Political and social identities had overshadowed natural affections within a family; collectivism and uniformity were valued over individuality and the intimate familial relationships. Zhang Xiaogang has once stated: "We all live in a big family. The first lesson we have to learn is how to protect ourselves and keep our experiences locked up in an inner chamber away from the prying eyes of others, while at the same time living in harmony as a member of this big family. In this sense, the family is a unit for the continuity of life and an idealized mechanism for procreation. It embodies power, hope, life, envy, lies, duty and love. The family becomes the standard model and the focus for the contradictions of life experiences. We interact and depend on each other for support and assurance." Such obscured family relation is indeed the personal experience of the artist. It is also his treatment to interpret the changes of different layers of relationship between individuals, families, and the country, which has thus become the core theme of the series.

Zhang applies monochrome colours flatly in many layers, imitating the technique in traditional Chinese charcoal painting, and transformed it into his own artistic language. The result illustrates a misty and soft tone and creates a surrealistic sense of distance to express the artist's nostalgia. It seemingly brings viewer back to a past era to reminisce a sad story. In terms of the treatment of light, Zhang continues with his Expressionist and Surrealist style. The light seems to be shining on the figures from the back, yet it is difficult to identify the source. It makes one wonder if the source of light is indeed coming from the front. The birthmark-like patches of colour on the figures are seemingly accentuated by the light, or they are indeed patches of light shining on the faces of the figures, continuously changing their positions. These patches resemble discoloured marks on old photographs, amplifying the nostalgic feeling of the works, at the same time seems to reveal the anxiety, confusion and sensitivity of that generation of people. The figures of Zhang are rid of the boundary of time. They no long belong to a specific place and time, instead telling the story of their time in an eternal imagery.


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