The shift in Zeng Fanzhi's artistic style was rooted in an emotional detour. He experienced a new creative phase in 2000, as he experimented with 'chaotic strokes', a painting technique involving hectic, overlapping lines to depict web-like structures found in intertwining trees and dried withered branches. This particular approach is used to create a type of Chinese aesthetic described as 'ancient trees in a frigid forest'.
Chaotic strokes, though having employed oil painting techniques, are capable of capturing the spirit of Chinese calligraphy. Utilising the oil's ductility, Zeng works skillfully to portray the resilience of branches and twigs in the yet-moist colour blocks with deceptively scrambled brushwork, giving the piece a refreshing visual take. The ease of his application resonates with 'the spirit of expressiveness and movement of a mind unfettered' in characterising Chinese literati paintings. It is also redolent with the mood of landscapes created in cursive script by Dong Yuan, one of the three most prominent artists of the Northern Song period: 'though formless in close-up, the vista becomes vivid when appreciated at a distance.' As a result, the viewer is 'emotionally carried to the great beyond'. The silhouette of the vines and the entangled twigs, outlined in dark oil paint, extend to an aftertime on the footpath and connect with the space in which the viewer stands. The red thread traveling in the woodlands is the blooming plum blossom that flouts wintriness, giving the composition a breath of life and dramatic visuals; those boldly outlined twigs bear a compelling testimony to nature's resilience, and remindful of the sturdy tree trunks in A Solitary Temple Amid Clearing Peaks by Li Cheng of early Song: both have successfully recreated the ambient solitude and tranquility of the mountains.
The dark clouds envelop the whole sky in Untitled 06-3: a column of bright white light explodes from the horizons and guide the viewer's vision to travel across a spectrum of varying shades, and reach the distant mountain peaks standing out from the mist. The snowcapped mountains form an impression of glacial spaciousness. The dreamlike composition is a nod to View of Toledoby El Greco: the dramatic rays of light from an overcast sky on the ominous mountains, though a far cry from a facsimile of reality, represent a realm of trance, and the homeland of El Greco's fantasia. The same observation applies to Zeng's work: the overpowering composition in perspective allows the space to expand to the vanishing point, giving the viewer something to look forward to. The lush woodlands seem to lead to a Promised Land, where spiritual peace can be found: it is a destination reachable only by virtual expedition.
There is a similarity between the withered branches and the empty, arctic space in Untitled 06-3, and the piece by German Romantic landscapist Caspar Friedrich, whose work embody noble simplicity. In the arboreal vista in Untitled 06-3, Zeng again presents a faithful portrayal of the resilient foliage with detachment and neutrality to forecast the hope of spring. Friedrich stated, 'Close your bodily eye, so that you may see your picture first with your spiritual eye'. Against the juxtaposition of spatiotemporal dimensions, Zeng enlivens the breadth and mystique of his work with purplish blue, luring his audience to the state of Miao Wu (divine experience) as they wander in the allegorical space created by Zeng's chaotic stroke.