After arriving from the more provincial Wuhan to Beijing in 1993, Zeng was overwhelmed by the cosmopolitan capital and his apprehension over the alienation and psychological strain materialised as the central theme in his iconic Mask series. As Zeng moved beyond the Mask paintings, his focus shifted to humankind's relationship with landscape. Painted in 2005, Bicycle features a lone man dressed in a bright red trench coat with a bicycle on an empty road. Zeng's inclusion of the red coat, like the red neckerchief depicted in his early Mask paintings, is a reminder of the subject's past, drastically different from the newly capitalist society pervaded by Western traditions and values. The bicycle stands as a symbol of China's socio-economic transformation. Perhaps it is in Bicycle where we are able to view Zeng's nostalgia for the days when two wheels were the primary means of transport; an era when bicycles ruled the city streets of China.
Zeng's landscape paintings embody the collective desire of cultivated men to escape their quotidian world to reflect with nature where one was able to find permanence within the natural world, retreating into mountains to find a sanctuary from the chaos of dynastic collapse. The existential image of the lone figure in Bicycle standing in nature symbolises the sense of detachment and alienation triggered by the overwhelming rush to acquire and consume in modern day China. Despite the sense of movement in the grass depicted in the foreground, the man stands motionless and his static expression reveals no more than would a masked face. Bicycle is the distillation of relentless superficiality experienced by Zeng in the rapidly changing landscape of contemporary Chinese culture.
Zeng's experimental work with the lines in Bicycle evokes the different strokes found in traditional Chinese calligraphy. In order to make this painting, Zeng painted with both hands, sometimes even holding two brushes in each hand. He explains this new style, 'This new technique, I create and yet I destroy. One of the brushes is creating while the other three have nothing to do with me. I like such creation which happens by chance.' He simultaneously creates and obscures his images, achieving a heightened sense of emotion and spontaneity. In Bicycle, the dense thicket of strokes replaced the artist's previous deliberate theatrical backgrounds, and the desolate metaphorical forest highlight the figure's vulnerability and fragility of his material existence.
The diverse cultural appeal of Zeng's art stems from his honesty, fragility and beauty in portraying his raw emotions and in expressing his thoughts upon a universally-shared trait; our recurrent human desire to appear other than as we are. As such, with Bicycle, Zeng once again demonstrates his extraordinary insight into the shifting dynamics of his social environment, as well as the emotional and psychological strain it places on individual lives. The artist's anomalous artworks consistently challenge the conceptual line between Western and Eastern art through the blending of Western artistic inspiration and aesthetics of Eastern traditions and culture.