Zhang Enli’s paintings are filled with a sense of the prosaic and every-day, using common objects as a means of expressing the artist’s unique regard toward space. In A Pair of Socks, the eponymous objects are painted as an abstract shape, creating a sense of dissociation and encouraging contemplation of the socks’ essence and individuality as objects.
In his work, Zhang is not interested in the simple depiction of a subject; rather, he hopes to demonstrate a concept: revealing the “truth” within a pair of socks to the viewer. In order to achieve this goal, Zhang flattens his subjects using simple block colours and organic lines, while still accurately depicting how the object might exist in real space. A similar approach to still-life painting was adopted by Italian artist Giorgio Morandi, who sought to capture the essence of the objects he painted by stripping them of their realism. By removing the aspects that are traditionally regarded as realistic and true to life, Zhang and Morandi both succeed in capturing a purer idea of the object being depicted.
Zhang also does not shy away from acknowledging that this is a two-dimensional depiction, manifested in the gestural qualities of his brushwork. The light grid in the background was used to help Zhang plot out the composition of the work, but he has left traces intact as evidence of his painterly process, and as a means of placing the work firmly outside a standard chronological timeline. By doing this, Zhang depicts a frozen moment that can be accessed by the viewer at any given time. By depicting a plain pair of socks in this stripped-down manner, Zhang Enli seeks to shatter the everyday continuum of time and space. By simplifying his subjects, the artist amplifies their overall resonance, encouraging the viewer to reflect upon these from an aesthetic perspective.