Zeng Fanzhi: Beneath and Beyond

Our Chinese Language Site Launches with an Intimate Portrait of China’s Leading Painter

Record-breaking Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi looks back on his time at the Hubei Academy of Fine Arts and explains his obsession with calligraphy in this short by Hong Kong-based filmmaker Ringo Tang. Propelled onto the global stage after one work from his seminal Masks series sold for $9.7 millions dollars at a Christie’s auction in 2008, a record for contemporary Asian art, the thoughtful Zeng was captured in his studio over three days of shooting. “I decided to backlight the artworks so that the brushstrokes and techniques are very clear,” explains Tang. Employing a unique method in which two or more brushes are employed simultaneously, Zeng uses one brush to carefully paint his subject on the canvas while the other destroys it with a frenzy of linear strokes, thereby creating a landscape of underlying tension. His extensive Masks series of the 90s explored the psychological challenges confronting the rapidly modernizing Chinese population—depicting his subjects with white-masked faces, blank stares and grotesquely oversized hands, uncomfortably posed in their new Western-style suits and ties. Longtime friends, Tang first met Zeng nearly 20 years ago in his hometown of Wuhan during an art tour with a curator from Hong Kong. “I met him right after he finished school. He didn’t have much money and his studio didn’t have a washroom, so he used one at the hospital,” Tang says of a circumstance that led to Zeng’s Hospital series. “Then in 1993 after Zeng’s first exhibition in Hong Kong, it really opened art critics’ eyes to China.”

NOWNESS launches its Chinese language website today. Explore it here.

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