Chinese young artists in the eighties embraced modern and Western art practice with an unbridled enthusiasm. During the "85 Art Wave", a number of different independent modern art groups cropped up across the nation. The possibility of personal and independent expression offered by Western styles and techniques as equally perfectly suited to a new generation of academics. Zhang Xiaogang, along with good friends Mao Xuhui and Ye Yongqing, established the "Southwest Art Research Group" in Kunming, Yunnan, and held four group shows under the theme New image. For the group, "new image" meant "the heart's image, the soul's image", and their works stressed the relationship between art, life and the soul. Following the June 4th incident in 1989, China's art world experienced a rude awakening, losing the optimism of the earlier decade and entering into a new stage, equally introspective, but with respect to the larger implications of their social and historical context, ultimately inspiring a renewed search for a "modern" language that had its roots in China's contemporary cultural identity. For Zhang Xiaogang this meant the pursuit of a visual language and symbolic system that could speak to both individual and collective experience. It was the discovery of old family photographs that gave him inspiration, leading to his extraordinary breakthrough painting series, Bloodline: Big Family.
Zhang's Amnesia and Memory series began after the artist moved from Sichuan to Beijing in 1999. Amnesia and Memory series emphasizes modified smoothing techniques, featuring conceptualized portraits of characters, often featuring a lingering patch of scars in ambiguous spatial arrangements. Unlike the Bloodline: Big Family series, where our attention was drawn to the interpersonal conflicts of family, fate, and, ultimately history, the Amnesia and Memory series draws our attention purely in the realm of affective aesthetic response. In these glimpses into dream states, we feel the pull of memories and half-remembered dreams, and in the widened gazes and gasping mouth, we find a lifetime of unresolved losses and disappointments.
People will always remember, whether it is happiness or sadness, are naturally stored in the corners of the minds. People would like to retain happy memories, while trying to forget the negative happenings, and with the amnesia treatment, this is the free spiritual activity. In Zhang Xiaogang's youth, Chinese society passed through a period of intense political campaigns, experiences that were perhaps impossible to forget, but that one might ultimately feel must be forgotten in order to move on and face life again. During political campaigns like "Destroy the Four Olds" and "Down to the Countryside Movement", the public was forced to forget traditional life and culture, and in the wake of upheaval, an entire generation's minds are left with indelible wounds.
The creation of Art is itself an act of pluming and reproducing memories. It is the result of filtering and integration. A few memories are like treasures sinking into the deep thoughts. Artists often require the sudden instinct of inspiration to evoke intimate feelings and emotions. As such, Amnesia and Memory plays upon the viewer's own will and subconscious. Zhang does not offer a narrative, and the contextualizing details are minimal to nil. Zhang Xiaogang graduated from Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts in 1982 but was unable to stay there for work. He was being sent to work in a Kunming troupe to do so-called "art job". But according to him was "very boring and weary". To an artist who is full of passion for life and hopes, this is indeed a torture. In Amnesia and Memory (Comrade) (Lot 1411) the red face may represent elements of revolution, it may be the artist recalling about a life of passion and reflection. In 1984, Zhang Xiaogang was hospitalized after a period of heavy drinking. He reflects on this period as one where he felt deeply the unpredictability and loneliness of existence. In Amnesia and Memory (Comrade) (Lot 1412) the background of the cold white bed sheets brought back old memories for him, from his own history of hospitalization to his mother's mental illness. He once wrote a letter to Mao Xuhui and mentioned, "I do not clearly understand if my deep feelings are a kind of sympathy or a kind of fear!" in Zhang Xiaogang's life, trauma often went hand in hand with memory and amnesia, but finally everything was transformed into the driving force behind his artistic creation. Amnesia and Memory distills the artist's personal experiences but once again raises them to the level of the collective. As in Bloodline: Big Family, use a macro point of view to examine the relationship between his personal life and the era of that time.