Beijing-based Zeng Fanzhi is one of the most prominent painters working in China today. Currently his paintings can be seen in I mondo vi appartiene at the Franois Pinault Foundation, Palazzo Grassi, Venice, and at Gagosian Gallery Hong Kong. He first came to prominence two decades ago with his series of mask paintings, which feature people with outsized hands and bulging eyes wearing stiff, white masks. A reaction to the isolation he felt upon moving to Beijing, the Masks paintings commented on the social facades erected by China's new class of upwardly mobile city dwellers. Following this success, Zeng changed track and pioneered a boldly expressionistic style in his psychologically charged portraits and Wild Strokes series.
Constantly evolving and always eager to test aesthetic boundaries, Zeng has embarked on a new style in his Nature series, blending a Chinese calligraphic line with the lush color and rich texture of western oil paints. Thematically, the series takes up the human connection to the natural world, a concern that is also evident in Zeng's meditative still life compositions. In the intimate Watermelon, Zeng presents a triangular chunk of the titular fruit atop a dark gray table in front of a light gray wall; the setting, so bare as to appear like two abutting monochromes, infuses the painting with a poetic air and recalls the economy of the great master of still lifes, Chardin.
In contrast to this reductive poetry, Zeng paints the watermelon's flesh with a thriving immediacy. The fruit takes on the look of butchered meat, evoking the flayed animals of the artist's earlier Meat series. The ripe fruit, speckled with sharp black seeds, pulsates against its simple background. The tension produced by this contradiction evidences Zeng's painting philosophy. Of his paintings, he has said:
"They are about an experience of miao wu (marvelous revelation). Miao wu does not fall into the common categories of cognitive process. Nor has it anything to do with reason. Miao wu is a kind of revelation. Instead of making something obvious miao wu brought about an unmarked world, which underlies the deep strata of life, both novel and familiar. In this respect, the miao wu type of revelation concerns a disclosure of what is already embedded in the artistic ego-the revealed world is there, but it is unfamiliar and amazing. Miao wu constitutes a restless journey of discovery." (F. Zeng, in Zeng Fanzhi (New York: Acquavella Contemporary Art, Inc., 2009), n.p.)