In 1994, a friend gave Zhou Chunya a German Shepherd named Hagan, which quickly became a valuable companion for its master. The artist began to include Hagan in his works. The black Hagan featured prominently the Green Dog Series and became an important symbol of Zhou Chunya’s work. He has reiterated many times the story of Hagan and the enthusiasm and inspiration that the dog brought to his work. "Painting a face is like painting a stone: I am thinking about the outer appearance and image. In both cases, the subject is an object, but when I paint ‘Hagan,’ I feel truly alive." (Zhou Chunya). Hagan became a source of creative inspiration for the artist’s reflections on figure and image. Whether walking, running, standing, scratching, or playing, the animal lived in a way that was more direct than any human. It acts without affect or pretense, revealing emotions that are immediately recognizable to us. The artist was able to imbue his sketches of Hagan’s figure with all of the joy, fear, defiance, depression, gratification, and self-mockery he felt.
When Zhou Chunya returned from his study abroad in Germany at the end of the 1980s, he began to study classical Chinese painting. He immersed himself in methods of viewing literati painting and integrated them with Western expressionist painting methods, creating a fusion of cultural viewpoints and sensibilities. Chinese traditional painting focuses on the use of white. White space is used to create an effect of 'empty without emptiness' or 'scene within the unpainted area.' This technique seeks out unintended points of interest, creating boundless landscapes that lie beyond the pictorial scene. Four Sides of Hagan is an expression of these traditional Chinese aesthetics that abandons the 'physical object' (wushi) space of Western painting.
Using a single color of oil paint, Zhou Chunya creates a rich contrast of light and dark through his allocation of pigment. His nimble application of paint emphasizes the balance of real to imagined, light to dark, and coarse to fine in each of the four profiles of the dog, all of which are constructed in a single space. Although each image of the dog is composed in an independent three-dimensional space, the artist has cast off constraints of spatial modeling, color application, and brush forms. The image of the dog becomes a reflection on matter like those in classical Chinese painting, reaching a realm of 'ubiquitous truth.' Like the Song Dynasty painter and Zen monk Mu Xi demonstrated in his Six Persimmons (Fig.1), 'Close at hand, each path is the way.' The work expresses a natural Zen state in which 'The body reveals the truth.'